Premier architect Kobi Karp remakes Art Deco for the new millennium.
It is a testament to the dynamic and international quality of Miami that perhaps its best-known preservationist architect was born in Israel, raised and educated in Minneapolis, and juggles projects from South Beach to Dubai. Kobi Karp’s road to the Art Deco District was serendipitous. Just as he was weighing whether to go to graduate school, his parents, who had relocated from Minnesota to Broward, spotted a local want ad: A British firm was looking for an American architect to work on Caribbean projects out of an office on the Morris Lapidus-designed Lincoln Road Mall.
Flash-forward to the early ’90s, and it was all coming full circle for Karp. For five years, he had worked on resort projects from Grenada to St. Lucia, but as the Caribbean market was slowing down, Miami was heating up. In 1996, he launched his eponymous firm. “One of my first projects was to convert the Seacoast Towers with Morris Lapidus,” he recalls. At the time, Lapidus was not exactly in vogue, and it was Karp who “brought him back into the fold,” ushering him into the architectural community to belated acclaim. For his efforts, Karp’s firm was honored with a service award from the AIA.
Then came the high-profile restorations of the art deco hotels the Breakwater, the Clevelander and the Astor. The recent H&M project on Lincoln Road, repurposed from the ’30s-era Lincoln Theater Building, is also the handiwork of Karp’s firm. “Not only did we convert it into retail, but we made it into a flagship retail,” says Karp. “And not only did we turn it into a flagship retail—we made it into a ‘wow’ flagship retail. It’s a historic building, with a proscenium and a horseshoe-shaped gloating walkway—it cannot be replicated.”
Next up for Karp is the restoration of the Tropical Gardens historic apartments, which will become a Hyatt hotel; the transformation of the Gansevoort-turned-Perry Hotel into the eco-sensitive 1 Hotel & Homes; and the much-anticipated Surf Club, through a collaboration with Richard Meier and Richard Heisenbottle, which will be restored and rebranded into a Four Seasons property. Of the staying power of ’30s architecture, Karp is certain: “It’s all very viable, even after all these years.”
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