From the architects. Formlessfinder’s Tent Pile brings an intensely architectural intervention to Design Miami/, inventing a new building typology to provide shade, seating, cool air, and a space to play for the city’s public. The design practice, co-founded by Julian Rose and Garrett Ricciardi in 2010, approaches new projects with an interest in the specifics of geography — closely examining the spatial, social, and physical conditions of the location with which their structure will interact. They prioritize the use of available materials, committing to deploy them in ways that allow for reuse, an approach that produces what they refer to as “an architecture that can go from nothing to something and back again.”
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In researching ideas for this project, Rose and Ricciardi ultimately focused on two phenomena very particular to Miami. The first was the ubiquity of sand in the region; the same material that has made the city’s beaches famous also lies beneath the foundations of its buildings.
Any kind of construction in Miami must take into account the loose and shifting layer on which the final structure will ultimately float. This condition remains hidden below the surface of most Miami architecture, but Formlessfinder saw in it exciting possibilities: sand’s weight might offer a counterintuitive stability and its very looseness could provide new flexibility in tectonics and construction, while the aesthetic of the material itself could take on an iconic resonance in a region where neighbourhoods and cities are named after local beaches.
The second attribute of the city to catch Rose and Ricciardi's attention was its architectural vernacular. They were fascinated by a typology of public space that emerged from the collision of an exuberant post-war modernism with Miami’s tropical climate: hybrid indoor/ outdoor spaces that are sheltered by dramatically cantilevered roofs yet not enclosed by walls, inviting passerby to take refuge from sun or rain while also allowing free and fluid access to all.
The challenge of mediating between the mass and looseness of sand and the lightness and precision of the cantilever was met through an innovative approach to structure and materials. The sand that is so destabilizing for architectural projects elsewhere in Miami became the stabilizing element of Tent Pile, with a massive pile of the material — left loose and unaltered so that it would be completely reusable after its time on the site — acting as a ballast to stabilize a lightweight aluminum roof, in lieu of a traditional excavated foundation.
To increase the expanse of open space under the roof, Formlessfinder designed a retaining wall to slice the cone of sand in half, creating a more ordered space immediately in front of the entrance to the fair. Bench seating offers visitors a place to lounge, and the space is conditioned by a simple system that takes advantage of the thermal mass cooling effect of the huge pile — the steel superstructure bracing the retaining wall is embedded deep within the sand, and, in combination with a series of aluminum fins protruding through the wall’s plywood surface, draws the cool temperatures of the pile’s interior into the seating area.
Tent Pile acts as a refuge for the more than 50,000 visitors who come to Miami for the fairs each year, as well as inhabitants of the city’s South Beach neighborhood. It is intended as a new kind of public building that marries the practical requirements of shelter and seating to a radical re-envisioning of architecture’s fundamental organization and operation.
Yet even as Formlessfinder’s project probes the limits of architecture itself, it remains literally grounded in materials and aesthetics specific to Miami, as well as celebrating the location of the fair within the city — the pyramid of sand is there to be sat on and played in, the cooling fans to be approached, examined and enjoyed. “We’re hoping to create something that people will want to participate in,” says Ricciardi, and the result is a structure designed to be occupied and explored, as much as admired.