The Spear Sisters
You can't talk about Miami without considering Alison and Laurinda Spear. Cindy Allen goes right to the source
Staff -- Interior Design, 2/1/2002 12:00:00 AM
Two of Miami's biggest names, Alison and Laurinda Spear grew up in the city when it was a very different place—and have helped transform it into today's thriving design center. Alison Spear has her own architecture and interiors firm, currently working on a showroom for Stephanie Odegard and a building for the Aqua development in the Miami area and AT&T offices and a duplex in New York. Laurinda Spear and her husband, Bernardo Fort-Brescia, are the founding principals of Arquitectonica, renowned for Miami's American Airlines Arena and Atlantis condominium building; they're now working on the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Miami and a Westin in Times Square, among other major commissions.
Have the two of you ever considered teaming up professionally?
AS: Well, we operate in different geographies and scales. Arquitectonica's projects are making cities change. I hope I'm making communities change.
Laurinda, why has it always been architecture?
LS: Actually, my husband and I have sort of backed into interiors as well because—I don't know how to say this politely—we just didn't like how other designers were interpreting our buildings, so I stepped up to the plate and did the interiors for many of them. I'm really detail-oriented in the architectural aspect of interiors, and then, in no time, it gets down to floor lamps and rugs. I haven't gotten down to the towels yet.
Not yet? OK. What turns you on most when you wear your interior-designer hat?
LS: I've somehow rationalized the whole thing. A building looks a certain way and holds its place in the city and the skyline a certain way. It relates to its surroundings. It calls people to look at it. But the real litmus test is when you walk inside. Does everything fall apart at that point? Hopefully not. Hopefully the same story that you were reading on the outside just continues—and is made clearer and clearer as you move through the building and use it over time. This explains my exceptional interest in making interiors an integral part of architecture. Our early buildings, when we had to work with other interiors people, did fall apart a little bit as you crossed the threshold, and we were always disappointed. Right this minute, at the U.S. Federal Courthouse here in Miami, we're doing all the interiors, really down to the chambers, trying to direct those judges to pick the right stuff.
Alison, you've been more frequently published as an interior designer…
AS: I set up my first office in New York, at the National Arts Club, and most of my projects there were interior projects.
What led you to get increasingly involved in architecture now?
AS: The opportunity of getting those projects. In New York, you have to start somewhere, so I started out with people's living rooms and bathrooms and kitchens. In Miami, people have open sites. There's actually the opportunity to build buildings. It's basically a program issue and an available-projects issue.
What about Miami style?
AS: Miami goes through changes and trends a lot faster than many other places. Miami style can be anything, but it's always open-minded. Laurinda and Bernardo's first building, the Atlantis—which happens to be where I live—was the very first example of romantic modernism on the map. Now people are moving toward the very simple and very poetic in architecture and design. It all has to do with political and social trends, of course. People aren't so fast-paced as they were in the '80s. Now they're a little more self-aware and self-concerned, connected to their inner selves. And they want design that places them there. You can even see it in nightlife. There's a nightclub called Rumi, after the famous Persian poet, that opened here recently, and the design is very subtle, very understated.
LS: When I went to college at Brown, I'd often come home from school with friends, and I was mortified that I had to take them down the road from the airport. What they'd imagined was going to be a tropical paradise suddenly was just the worst urban blight as far as one could see. This was in the early '70s. When I came back to Miami as an architect, I began to see the light. There were really great things that just needed to be emphasized. One of these things, of course, was our art deco district, which hadn't been discovered yet. I remember first meeting Barbara Capitman, who's now the doyenne of Miami Beach, at that time. When I drove over there, I immediately realized how beautiful the whole neighborhood was. There was just so much of it, and it was all one cohesive series of perspectives. That really was Miami style.
Which Miami architects do you consider particularly important?
LS: My style experience continued to grow when I worked for Morris Lapidus for two summers. He did the architecture of the resort, the architecture of leisure or physical culture. As you can read in many essays about him and by him, he always tried to make people feel as if they were on stage, as if they were somewhere else. And of course, there's Al Parker, a seminal figure for Miami and Florida. He was very much influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright but took it into a tropical dimension. He used honest materials like wood and exposed concrete blocks, making houses for indoor-outdoor living, which was possible because of our climate. Your patio as your living room, basically. Miami style is open-air.
What do you see in the future for Miami?
AS: It's going to be a real place to have a home. It's becoming a home land rather than a vacation land. People from New York are moving here in swarms, families that want their kids to have better weather, a better environment, a better and stronger sense of community. People are now making Miami their first home.
So even though the lion's share of the business has clearly been in urban development and hospitality, residential is going strong, from what you're saying?
AS: Absolutely. And of course that means the social services that are associated with community building as well. Arquitectonica does a lot of sports facilities. People love their beautiful Miami Heat arena—they're very proud of it.
How is the Design District faring?
AS: That's a big, big, big issue. The Design District is becoming a wonderful area. It's where my office is. And to think that design almost died out in Miami. Craig Robins, a young developer responsible for making it all come back, has done an incredible job with Holly Hunt, Waterworks, Kartell, etc. We're really, really excited about that.
What are your hopes for your own futures in design?
AS: I think I can say that my sister and I both believe in trying to do work that's new, that stretches the imagination, and that also stretches a client's ability to believe in different possibilities.