By David Adams
MIAMI (Reuters) - For renowned international architect Zaha Hadid, something in Miami never added up: the architecture didn't match the city.
The city lacked residences to back up its diverse, international population and burgeoning reputation for high-end culture, including Art Basel, a large, annual contemporary fair.With that in mind, she recently broke ground on her luxury tower on Miami's downtown bayfront. Employing her trademark sinewy curves and column-free spaces, the structure will twist over 700 feet into the sky to provide views reaching across Biscayne Bay and past Miami Beach to the Atlantic Ocean.
Located opposite the city's new waterfront Museum Park and a stone's throw from a modern concert hall and opera house, Hadid's tower is encased in a white exoskeleton shaped like a zipper over a recessed glass facade and set atop a bulbous podium.
Billed as offering a "six--star lifestyle" with a private rooftop helipad, scented ambiances and an indoor aquatic center, it seeks to set a new standard in Miami's growing number of luxury residencies with prices starting at $6 million. The asking price for the two-storey rooftop penthouse: $49 million.
"Of course, the beaches and weather have always been popular with tourists, but Miami is also becoming an international hub," she told Reuters in an interview. "It's an exciting time ... to investigate new possibilities for the city."The first woman to win the coveted Pritzker prize in architecture, Hadid is sometimes compared with Frank Gehry, both credited with taking their profession into new dimensions of design and construction.
The Iraqi-born "starchitect" is better known for her innovative cultural works - museums and opera houses - as well as sports stadiums, dotted around the globe from Michigan to Beijing.
Hadid's presence lends itself to the argument that Miami is being transformed into a world class metropolis, including new museums and art spaces, adding new layers of sophistication to its sun-kissed appeal.
"After a period of urban planning that prioritized the automobile and private space, Miami is rediscovering the public realm with a real commitment to creating a variety of exciting civic spaces and engaging cultural buildings," she said.
Hadid's penchant for innovation poses a challenge that can be met by few structural engineers, said Walid Wahab, who heads his own construction firm in Miami, and is a close friend of Hadid.
"When she started doing this there wasn't software developed to curve things in that manner, and she's still taking us into the future," he said. "It's so complex, yet it's necessary to push the boundaries."No stranger to controversy, some of her own designs, including Tokyo's 2020 Olympic stadium and the massive Galaxy SOHO office and retail complex in Beijing, have been criticized for being insensitive to the surrounding urban fabric.
She brushes off critics with disdain, noting that none of the Japanese architects who entered the 2012 competition for the 80,000 seat stadium initially objected to its scale.
The Miami area has recently attracted top name architects, such as Hadid, fellow London-based Norman Foster, and Dutchman Rem Koolhaas. Hadid has been called the "Lady Gaga of architecture," so Miami's hipster image may be a good fit for her eye-popping style.
"This is an iconic building that will set forever the blueprint of Miami's future," gushed Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, at a tequila and champagne groundbreaking party in December.
For those who can't afford One Thousand Museum's prices, they may soon be able to experience one of Hadid's more accessible projects in Miami Beach where she has designed a curvaceous car park.
Looking straight out of the cartoon The Jetsons, it is expected to break ground later this year.
(Reporting By David Adams; Editing by Alan Crosby)