A Miami based contemporary art newsletter / blog

Show Skin, or No Skin? PAMM and HdM


Original photo by Robin Hill. Manipulation by the author


“For all of their modes of assertiveness, blatant use of images, indulgence in materiality and the bluntness of form, the genius of…Herzog and de Mueron is that their building(s), in themselves and as such, are never there. Their promise of stark presence withdraws to leave pure allure, a tour de force…that indicates just how aware HdM is of the eruptive force of their cosmetic techniques (their skins).”                                                               

Jeffrey Kipnis, “The Cunning of Cosmetics”


“You can’t come to Miami and not show any skin. You gotta show something. If you’re all covered up in this heat, you’re gonna make me pass out just looking at you. It’s sweaty in Miami…”

- Lil’ Kim 


Photo courtesy of Damian Wohrer

HdM’s 1111 Lincoln Road, photo courtesy of Damian Wohrer


Herzog and de Meuron’s PAMM and 1111 Lincoln Road have no skin; at least not in the way HdM have been doing it for well over 20 years. These buildings are different from their ouerve precisely because they are not façade driven, hence why its absence is intriguing. HdM seem to be using Miami as an excuse to move into uncharted territory for their architecture, and nobody’s talking about it. The PAMM’s gallery volumes are tucked within the building’s edges and canopy, purposefully focusing on its interiority–in a way that suggests the timeless adage, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” How sweet.

1111 Lincoln Road occupies the most negative typology in American urbanism—the parking garage—and exalts the movement of cars, the ins-and-outs of people. The variation of floor height implies that the building wrapper is fluid, not materialistic. But given their approach to their public projects and museums in the past, we understand that this is just a superficial reading of HdM’s apparent obsession over Miami being the precise place to abandon skin. The cosmetic is abandoned for something much more guttural, which is the interaction of people and machines to create a character, which then occupies the absent façade.

The real question everyone should be asking is, “Why Miami?” Using the popular metaphor of ‘plastic’—as a referent to the fake skin and bodies of those beauty-obsessed people in the MIA—one could argue that the abandoning of the façade is a way to subvert the traditional criticism of Miami being ‘superficial.’ But again, one would fall into the conundrum of using a superficial or at least flimsy critique of superficiality itself. So I’ll suggest we run with this idea of plasticity instead; it’s a better metaphor to work with than the idea of “being plastic,” because it describes the quality of something being malleable versus the strict implications of aesthetics.

HdM’s PAMM removes the mediation between skin and everything else for a much more plastic exchange between the volumes of the interior, the column grid, the patrons chilling on that patio on those Adirondack chairs, and the inside/outside space created by the covered terraces. The usual materialism associated with the façade gymnastics of HdM’s projects such as the Prada Store in Tokyo (2003) and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (2005) seem to be abandoned for a much more regional allowance of inhabiting outside space all year round, making it more profound by making it the very façade of the building. Their use of human interaction, vegetative growth, setback gallery volumes suspended within undulating roof canopies, and massive columns, help to exalt plasticity as the ability to “give form or shape to a substance.”

In this case, substance is not as important as subject: meaning you, me, and us. Several safe readings of the PAMM suggest it frames Miami at large. No shit.

The more profound suggestion here is that we are the subject of the architecture, not the frames or the volumes or clichéd adages of activity, event, etc. When viewing the PAMM not from within, but from outside, one sees the position of people acting as piloti or columns, seemingly holding up the suspended gallery volumes—a reminder that we support art.


Le Corbusier's Dom-Ino diagram

Le Corbusier’s Dom-Ino diagram


This seems closer to the notion behind Le Corbusier’s Dom-Ino diagram, specifically how modernism was able to create light, strong, and free buildings because of reinforced steel columns. Except HdM use Miamians as the ultimate free-façade—thus, the PAMM has more a free-for-all facade.

HdM are pushing it one step further with PAMM by suggesting that we are the structure and the mediation, and this should tickle Miami. The ever-changing human structure is paramount, and by abandoning the material and image of their past work, HdM are doing something new: their architecture is enabling the literal use of humans as a building’s skin and structure.

To say this is circumstantial in their arc of work is to misunderstand the arc. Chalk it up to climate discourse or other emerging attitudes or what have you, but this fundamental shift should not be trivialized, as read through Jacques Herzog’s statement:

“It doesn’t really have a form… it’s more about its permeability. There is so much form in Miami. We wanted to do something that shows the potential in this city to let in sun and vegetation.”

To read this statement architecturally, is to mistaken a sales pitch concerning commercial viability with architectural hubris regarding history and theory.

There is a discipline to abandoning the façade; there is an austerity involved with letting go of what you know; and doing this publicly with an important work can fundamentally change the reception, audience, and trajectory of your architecture.

Herzog’s statement does carry a bit to unpack though, as is evidenced by suggesting the building doesn’t really have a form, because, of course it does. It seems that this may expose the moment, or at least the reasoning, behind the abandonment of the façade. The form inherent in their prior architecture was always about minimal structural expression that enhanced the skin and put it on display. In this way, the skin equaled the form. Saying this building has no form is admittance that without the skin, their architecture ceases to be what it has been for 20 years.

But you can’t prove a negative, so the absence of a façade in the PAMM and 1111 is just a paranoid hunch. But for the first time, their architecture definitively has no skin, and instead becomes another urban object that so fittingly works within every metaphor, euphemism and complexity that is Miami. Set against urbanity on three ends, and water on the other, this object is dynamic as a mediator of public space, in a way Miami has not seen consistently. As an icon, the PAMM is breaking trends and creating new rules of how to show skin in Miami, and in a raunchy, naked way[.]

This post was contributed by Andrew Santa Lucia.

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Show Skin, or No Skin? PAMM and HdM