Morris Lapidus

UKRAINE (1902–2001)

There are few ideas in the world that exist without opposition or rebound, and 20th-century modernism was not one of them. Contrary to the International Style’s glass and steel walls were the vivid, fantasy landscapes of Morris Lapidus, an unlikely contemporary of Mies van der Rohe. Considered a visionary of American dream architecture, Lapidus originated 20th-century luxury architecture with a number of Miami Beach hotels built during the 1950s. His work was everything the International Style was not: curvy, dramatic, showy, ornamented, accessible and whimsical, bringing him both critical backlash and commercial success over the next 30 years.

The son of Russian emigrants, Lapidus began his journey to the fully realized American dream on New York City’s Lower East Side. His interest in architecture began with a trip to Coney Island where, awestruck by the festive carnival atmosphere, he decided to pursue architecture as a means of creating buildings and interiors of dizzying detail and device. He received training at Columbia University and started off designing innovative retail environments that changed the way people shopped. It was with these retail spaces that he honed his lifelong goal: to attract people and invite them inside with brilliant lights, compelling forms and opulent materials. Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau hotel, Lapidus’s first architectural commission, in 1954, served as a grandly scaled people-magnet by making Hollywood glamour more widely accessible. While the critics bashed his style of contemporary baroque, it quickly caught on in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and New York City, spurring the building of Miami Beach’s Eden Roc hotel and Lincoln Road Mall.

It wasn’t until the 1980s, when the borrowed excess of postmodernism came on the scene, that Lapidus’ architecture was ushered in as a viable example of 20th-century modernism. He was coaxed out of retirement to work with the likes of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, which led to a resurrection and acceptance of his vision. During this second phase of his career, Lapidus received such well-deserved honors as his own monograph and Cooper Hewitt’s American Original award. His work can be found dotting Southern Florida and throughout resort towns across the United States.

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