Home to the New World Symphony, the New World Center - architect Frank Gehry’s first building in Florida - is changing the face and future of music in Miami Beach.
Photograph by Moris Moreno
At last, Miami’s New World Symphony gets a home that mirrors its innovative spirit.
Like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces have finally fit together, Miami Beach is now complete. Three years ago, two large, empty lots owned by the city provided service parking on Washington Avenue, just south of the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater, in the heart of the city. And then, the city gave those lots - the last developable land on the island - to the New World Symphony, a commendably forward-thinking act at the height of the real estate boom. Although the real estate market has since sunk, the city of Miami Beach is now home to one of the most technologically advanced musical institutions in the world.
The new facility, called the New World Center, is an appropriate home for its tenant; like its new digs, the New World Symphony is noticeably different from others of its kind. Started in 1987 by Carnival Cruise Lines founder Ted Arison and artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas - music director of the San Francisco Symphony and principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra - the New World Symphony offers fellowships to recent graduates of music colleges and prepares them to begin their lives as musicians in orchestras and ensembles around the world. Until recently, the symphony was based out of an old movie theater on Lincoln Road, the pedestrian walkway that cuts across downtown Miami Beach and makes for some of the best people-watching in the country.
"When we bought the theater in 1988, you could shoot cannonballs down Lincoln Road and not hit anybody," recalls Howard Herring, the New World Symphony’s president and CEO. "The place was completely run down. We began, others followed, and it has been a bit of a revival."
But Herring admits that he always had his eye on the two empty lots just around the corner on Washington Avenue. "Even back then we said, 'Those two lots - someday, something might happen [there].' "
Something has happened, all right. The New World Center, which opens this month, is an architectural and technological marvel, and Herring is excited for the millions of people who walk through this neighborhood every year to see it. "A lot of them are going to come around this corner, and they're going to see us and say, 'Wow! What is that?' " he says.
Herring talks fast and possesses a booming, infectious laugh and a boyish enthusiasm for the project that is positively contagious. But when he promises that the milling crowds of Lincoln Road will stop and stare at the New World Symphony's new home as they spot it from the Drexel Avenue cross street, it's no exaggeration. The New World Center was designed by Frank Gehry, and, like all the renowned architect's deconstructivist work, its sense of movement and asymmetrical lines scream for attention. The building is Gehry's first in the state of Florida and stands alongside such works as Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Gehry's warped oeuvre. But the design is only part of the center's innovative appeal.