Rene Gonzalez. / Photo: Nick Garcia.
The curriculum of architect Rene Gonzalez is splashed with interesting architectural gems that speak to us in a soft voice but with something profound to say. Rene was born in Cuba, and at the age of 2 moved to the US, settling in sunny Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. He remembers his desire to be an architect from an early age. In high school, he showed interest for drafting and design. After graduation, he attended the University of Florida in Gainesville where he earned his BA. He went on to graduate school, receiving a Master in Architecture from UCLA. It is in California that he hones his skills under prominent architects like Richard Meier and Frank Israel. This was a period of great experimentation with materials and forms. “Miami is similar to LA in many ways, and I think we are catching up”, says Rene. He refers to the natural elements that make both cities interesting, vast and a little chaotic: the weather, the water, beautiful setting and amazing natural light.
His architecture is sensorial and poetic. Known for blurring the line between indoor and outdoor spaces, Rene seems to have mastered the intellectual side of his craft, staying true to the demands and aesthetics of his time. He repurposes materials and concepts to suit the contemporary ideas of beauty and functionality, and takes elements of the natural and manmade worlds and recasts them in ways that are both subtle and bold to create a new definition of place.
Rene Gonzalez. Alchemist. / Photos: Michael Stavaridis.
Neither a rationalist nor a fan of the garden city, his favorite city would be a mix between Rio, Istanbul and NYC. Among his best-known designs we find private residences, art galleries and upscale retail spaces.
According to Rene, the architect is not an artist, but he takes his craft a step further, when he affirms, “the architect is not an artist and architecture is not an art, but it has poetic resonance”. He flirts with the art world by curating exhibitions and lectures at major universities and by way of museum and gallery installations for various institutions, including the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, the Miami Art Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami.
“Architecture is a very long process”, he says, “while installations are very rewarding because you get instant gratification”. During 10 years after he returned to Miami, he collaborated with Mark Hampton at the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach. He has moved on to design museum and gallery spaces that bear his modernist rigor. Rene believes that “architecture has the potential to be memorable,” as he experienced when he visited Louis Khan’s Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA.
Gonzalez worked under Richard Meier in the beginning phases of the Getty Museum of Art, and the lesson wasn’t lost when he was asked to design the headquarters for the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation in Downtown Miami. This time his challenge was to repurpose an existing building in a derelict part of town. He knew that in order to succeed, a building has to engage in “a conversation” with its natural and social environment. “Buildings can change with the cultural environment of their location, adapting and becoming relevant within that environment. Churches become nightclubs, theaters become bookstores…” With characteristic modesty he adds, “the façade of CIFO is not a work of art. It is meant to be an oasis in a very hard part of town. It can be viewed from different angles and always discover something new, depending on your perspective … the design of museums and galleries shouldn’t intervene with the job of the curator”. Truth is that the final results can stand up to the assertive artwork in the collection “without stealing the thunder”. His work achieves richness through restrain rather than excess.
Rene Gonzalez. CIFO. / Photos: Oriol Tarridas.
RGA, the firm Rene established in Miami 15 years ago, is also responsible for some of the most forward looking projects in town. The firm has received a number of prestigious awards including two National American Institute of Architecture Design Awards. He recently finished a 30,000-square-foot glass-fronted home on exclusive Indian Creek Island. He listens to the voices of his clients but also to the elements around a particular site, allowing the place and its surrounding environment to influence each other, and has the ability to identify the essence of a place to make it a desirable space to inhabit. The house, which is oriented horizontally to the sun to make the best use of South Florida’s amazing natural light, is a series of limestone pavilions separated by courtyards, waterways and koi ponds. For this residential project, Rene took a holistic approach that integrates architecture, interiors and landscape, creating a deliberate ambiguity about inside and outside living spaces. More than a house, this property can be considered a personal private resort, and it will have to be managed like a small hotel. It is a test of the allure of the luxury real estate market in this part of the world.
Another of the architect’s recent successes was the design of both Alchemist stores in South Beach. One reflects the energy of South Beach’s chic street vibe with floor-to-ceiling windows and mirrored surfaces that reflect the sky above and street below. The second Alchemist store is the opposite, an insulated box, a cocoon-like space, which allows patrons to disconnect from the constant motion, sound, and heat of the city and to be enveloped in a calming language of motion, color, texture, and light. He continues to use materials in unexpected ways. This time melamine foam wraps the ceilings and walls, simultaneously acting as a buffer for the surrounding structure, while providing a soft, tactile quality that is rarely experienced in architecture. The results are harmonious, visceral and dramatic.
Rene Gonzalez is no longer the prodigal son who comes back home to fulfill a dream. He’s become a seasoned architect who is building not only beautiful spaces, but also a legacy shaped in an architectural corpus that continues to redefine the way we live and feel architecture.
Rene Gonzalez. Indian Creek. / Photos: Luis Travieso.
Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, Conversations with Robert Irwin by Lawrence Weschler.
Beyeler Foundation by Renzo Piano.
Until the End of the World – Wim Wenders.
Favorite vacation destination
Tulum as a place to relax. Tibet for other worldly place.
Favorite architectural movement
Favorite architectural landmark
Salk Institute in La Jolla California.
Mimoza in Gumusluk Bodrum.
Favorite historical moment
Splitting of the Red Sea – Greatest Show on Earth! ■