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11 11: Prestige at the Parking Lot

Photo: Iwan Baan
When multistorey carparks are hailed as artistic masterpieces, do we put it down to grandiose chutzpah or the transformative power of starchitecture? Katie Kitamura pulls up at Herzog & de Meuron’s 11 11 parking lot-cum-shopping palace in Miami Beach.
Photo: Iwan Baan

When 1111 Lincoln Road in Miami opened last year, it received marked critical and social success. Located at the top of Lincoln Road, the city’s long flagging retail strip, the building is a multi-use parking structure with shops, a restaurant and private residences. It is also designed by the architectural practice Herzog & de Meuron, a starchitectural association that prompted The New Yorker to declare that ‘Herzog and de Meuron have reinvented the parking garage’.

Already the site of regular art and fashion world parties, the building has been branded ’11 11′ by its developers. The logo encapsulates a lot about the project, both in terms of design and ideology. The careful spacing of the digits is less capricious than might appear at first glance; tipped on its side, with the numbers running vertically rather than horizontally, the logo loosely replicates the basic design of the parking structure, which alternates between open sided single- and triple-height floors.

But the graphic insertion of the space also represents the promise of some indefinable supplement – the message being that this is no ordinary parking lot. Not since the opening of Moscow’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture has the art world been so thoroughly entranced by what is – this time – literally a car park. 11 11’s promise of something more than mere parking is relentlessly hammered home in its marketing language, which pays tribute to the design while laying emphasis on the project’s promise of ‘a parking experience’ enhanced by ‘curated retail’.

Curated retail means ground floor shops featuring up-market brands like Nespresso, Taschen and Y-3, Yohji Yamamoto’s clothing line for Adidas. There is also a fifth-floor glass-encased retail pavilion selling cult fashion labels like Maison Martin Margiela, Rodarte, and Rick Owens. The selection is described by the developer as a ‘mix of exclusive and internationally diverse retailers’. 01 This car crash of associations – the adoption of artspeak in ‘curated’, the vague and associative nod to multiculturalism in ‘internationally diverse’ – is in the service of emphasising the project’s exclusivity.

Photo: Iwan Baan

All of which to say that 11 11 is selling more than the opportunity to park your sports car and buy espresso pods. The dramatic structure feels like a theatre set, and also like a city loft on steroids. Once architectural spaces called to mind the power of the state and religious epiphanies; now they evoke luxury goods and fine home furnishings, and the hedge fund salary to match. This fits in with the elevation of the domestic realm in architecture, and the general social trend whereby the private is increasingly performed for the public, whether in reality television or online.

Indeed, the building’s house of cards design lays emphasis on this culture of looking and performing. Built without exterior walls, the building is transparent and exposed. It is a feat of beauty and engineering, with the design affording a lightness that counters the weightiness of its concrete material; the staircase running through the building is itself a sculptural achievement of sharp angles and airiness. But more than its architectural triumph, 11 11 represents a firm marriage between lifestyle branding and architectural design.

And at 11 11, the economic hierarchies that come with the notion of lifestyle are preserved rather than overturned, finding a literal representation in the organisation of the building. Put simply, the building becomes increasingly inaccessible the further you ascend. Anyone can browse the shops on the ground floor, and if they have a car, it’s $4 for an hour of parking – so far, so reasonable. But heading skywards the restaurant on the top floor, currently under construction, is rumoured to be the operation of a celebrity chef. And above there are further plans for a private rooftop penthouse.

Of course, 11 11 is a car park. And that is, in a sense, the giant joke of the entire project (and also part of its slightly deranged chutzpah). That so much hype, so many people, parties and so many designer brands, can be lured to a concrete parking lot is tribute to Miami’s good weather, the canny marketing of the developers and above all, the star power of Herzog & de Meuron.

Photo: Iwan Baan

At 11 11, apparent signs of a utilitarian aesthetic – concrete, and more concrete – are crossed with the decadence of the clearly non-utilitarian triple-height floors. The mixed message of the building’s aesthetic is presumably part of its architectural concept, but it also fits into a larger narrative about gentrification and the appropriation of both industrial spaces and the industrial aesthetic.

The ideology of gentrification is slippery, and it floats everywhere around 11 11. The parking structure is a project about aspiration, and it makes sense that it comes with an urban planning manifesto in miniature. The developers behind 11 11 have a clearly stated remit, which does not bear the title of gentrification as such, but is centered around the ‘revitalisation’ of the pedestrian strip on Lincoln Road, once described as ‘the Fifth Avenue of the South’, but lately fallen prey to midmarket chain retail.

Part of the project of 11 11 was the extension of this pedestrian strip and the installation of public art by artists like Dan Graham, but equally integral was the elevated brand-centric shopping. A distinction should be made between the profit-driven agenda of commercial gentrification, and the promotion of public space via non-motorised, pedestrian city centres. But in the ambitions of 11 11, that distinction is largely collapsed. To some extent 11 11 is about public life, but mostly it is about the atomised experiences of shopping and driving.

Indeed, 11 11 is essentially in hock to car culture, and treats the automobile as a fetish object. The open-sided platforms and the dramatic nighttime lighting present the humble automobile in a jewel-like manner; not surprisingly, 11 11 offers valet services. I’m not sure what it means when the notion of a city centre, or of city life, is reduced to a park-and-shop experience, or the notion that consumerism is a kind of civic life. Ideologically speaking, it is only symptomatic of a larger trend in the organisation of urban life in America, rather than being a daring or radical departure.

The building and its remit are thus essentially conservative, for all the distinct beauty of its design. Presumably the homeless and the skateboard-riding teenagers – eventual denizens of shopping malls and parking lots – are for the moment being kept at bay by the 11 11 security. But their arrival is, I hope, inevitable. The parking lot cries out for tagging and other desecrations. That the logic of urban life will eventually claim 11 11, seems like the best possibly outcome to be hoped for the masterful, beautiful structure – that it will, finally, be claimed by people without cars.


All photographs: Iwan Baan, 2010.