Q & A with architect Luigi Vitalini

While hotel occupancies are up, it’s been a rough go of it for Florida’s lodging industry of late. But a few new hotels are due to open on Miami Beach, and they all have one thing in common: Luigi Vitalini.

The Italian-born architect moved to Miami as a teenager and studied at the University of Miami. He operates VC Architects in Coral Gables with partner Pablo Corazzini, and has designed the already-open Sense Hotel and Prime Hotel along with the soon-to-open Villa Italia, which will open in the fall. The hotels are low-scale, between 14 and 18 rooms each. Vitalini spoke with The Real Deal about his projects and the state of design in Miami.  

Talk about your three hotel designs in South Beach.  

The interesting thing is that they’re all very different hotels. The first one that opened was the Sense Hotel, which is a hotel that sits in the context of Ocean Drive, very low-scale, among other art deco hotels. One of the singular things about the hotel is that the exterior has panels that resemble wood; while it looks somewhat the same scale as the adjacent buildings, it stands out.  

The second hotel is the Prime Hotel. The adjacent building is the oldest hotel on Miami Beach, the Brown Hotel. It is wide, and the materials are very light, so that it doesn’t try to compete with or overcome the Brown hotel. It’s a relatively simple building, except the corner, that is almost a three-story corner-piece that defines the corner.  

The last hotel we’re doing is the Villa Italia, which is really a renovation of an old hotel, which was made up of different structures, the oldest of which is from 1915-1916, really old for Miami Beach. So that one is almost a straight restoration. Of course the interiors are completely new, but for the exterior we maintained all the features. That one should open sometime in September or October.  

What are the challenges of designing in Miami Beach?

The context you’re working with is very challenging. The most challenging thing is to combine everything in such a small site, to try to have balconies and a view. In front of the Sense Hotel, for example, are two pretty nondescript tall buildings from the 1960s — so you can only catch a little glimpse of the water between the buildings. So we angled all the rooms so that you could, from pretty much any room, get this sliver of blue. That’s the most challenging thing, to arrange the rooms in such an urban area and get some views.  

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How does Miami hotel design compare with New York?

I do think a lot of the hotels that we’ve been getting here in Miami are starting to become comparable, in terms of creativity, with some of the New York hotels. They’re starting to do a lot of design, more quirky than in New York. I think in Miami with the sun and the beaches you can get a little more playful in general.  

What new projects are you working on?

We’re doing another small building, a very interesting one right behind the Versace Mansion off of Ocean Drive. It is for an Italian client that is going to be called Italian Studios, with retail on the ground floor.  

How do you see Miami Beach changing over the next decade?

I think the great thing about Miami Beach is that because of its fame, it has attracted a lot of foreign architects and designers. I think what happens is that it has brought a kind of higher design standard, or at least the design has become more important.