The Closing: Alan Faena

On the virtues of collaborating and why economic collapse isn't all bad

Jul.July 29, 2013 10:00 AM

Alan Faena

Alan Faena is an Argentine developer who dislikes the term. He prefers curator to describe his role in bringing about Buenos Aires’ Puerto Madero and the Faena District in Miami Beach, which is currently under construction. Centered around the Phillipe Starck-designed Faena Hotel, Puerto Madero, a run-down industrial yard on the Rio de la Plata, has transformed into some of Buenos Aires’ most expensive real estate. The red brick hotel is complemented by a brick grain warehouse that was converted into an arts center, as well as a complex of apartment towers, one of which is designed by Foster + Partners, the firm’s first venture in South America. By contrast, Faena shows black and white photographs of the old mills at the time he started buying parcels in the area in 2000, when Argentina was on the precipice of economic collapse.

In his first U.S. venture, Faena is trying his luck in Miami, where he is developing a five-block corner at Collins Ave. and 32nd Street that includes a Roman & Williams’ renovation of the Saxony hotel; Faena House, condo residences by Sir Norman Foster; and an arts center with a component for artists-in-residence by the Pritzker prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas, whose firm, the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, recently won a $1 billion bid to redevelop Miami Beach’s convention center. In his wide-brimmed white hat and tailored white clothes, Faena evokes another century as he approaches the building site. 

Why Miami Beach?

My partner [billionaire investor Len Blavatnik] had this property. We’ve been partners since 2003 and developed the Faena District in Buenos Aires together. He had been slowly buying the land, piece by piece. To me, Miami is like the throat of America, it is a place where a new voice for the Americas is emerging, connecting the body of South America and the mind of North America.

I think it is one of the most interesting places to really make a statement of ‘we’re doing things in a different way.’

What statement are you making with Faena District?

I’m giving my vision about how to create culture, improve a city, especially this rather neglected part of the city, and from there, bringing beautiful, talented, intelligent minds together to think about how to overcome this empty place, to make it so that any taxi driver or school bus full of children can benefit from this big monument to architecture, not only because of its beauty but also what we have to offer inside, and this is where the architecture, and the culture and music and art all come together. What we do is we bring life to abandoned places.

Right now, we’re sitting in a place you call the collaboratory. What is that exactly?

I always like to work in collaboration, so this is a laboratory of collaboration, where the best minds in the world work together to create something unique for the public.

You ran the fashion label Via Vai  from 1985-1996. Did you develop your philosophy about collaborations at that time?

It was a very special moment in Buenos Aires because it was the start of our democracy so fashion was a statement of living, because when you start being free, you start acting differently and comporting differently and dressing differently. Fashion was not important for me but fashion was generational. It was like a flag. Everyone says crises are really bad, but you know, they’re important. Buenos Aires is full of creative, talented people because you have to reinvent yourself all the time.

Tell me about your first major development project, Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires.

When I went to Puerto Madero 10 years ago, there was nothing. It wasn’t even called Puerto Madero. I gave it that name. A few weeks ago our hotel won a Royal Academy of Architects prize for being one of the best architecture projects in the world.

At the same time as we bring to the city, to the rich people, the opportunity to live in one of the best places designed by a Royal Academy award-winning architect, also, we give to the people who have no money the same possibility to interact with Foster, and the best artists in the world. We’ve done hotel, residences, art and now music, so we go all the way.

How do you see your role as the developer of Faena District?

I select the people, I’m the head of the collaboratory, I work with my partner, with Foster, with Rem Koolhaas, and I bring them together. I think my value is to arrange collaboration among the most talented artists. I bring the philosophy and with the talent, we build. Here we are only selling 25 percent [of the complex’s physical assets and operations]. The rest we will operate ourselves. That is much more than a developer; that is, in many ways, a magician.

You remind me of the industrialists who built the city of Buenos Aires at the turn of the twentieth century.

Yeah, Buenos Aires was a big collaboratory because it was built as a utopian city by all the rich guys of the world — Europeans who were coming to America and selected Buenos Aires to try their experiment. They brought the best of Spanish architecture, Italian architecture — amazing avenues and buildings. That’s why all of a sudden it was so powerful.

For me, the last century was an inspiration for really creating a city that was the best for all people. I believe that when the people will be passing here on Collins Ave., they will see beauty, a district, a neighborhood that they can go in and enjoy. I think that is, in a way, creating the history of a place.

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