Heterotopia South Beach


Rendering of glass palace at 321 Ocean Enrique Norten




Is this reality? Does the artist’s rendering of a penthouse at 321 Ocean Enrique Norten in South Beach look like life on Earth for the most of us?

Who is the woman standing desolate at the world’s edge before a dazzling vista unhindered by human habitation? Where did she get this great fortune? Did she exchange her soul for the wealth so conspicuously displayed? Is she happy, or is she really lonely notwithstanding living large in exclusion of the madding crowd? Is she tempted to leap from the edge of her cliff into nothingness?

After all this climbing, this is the living end, a sort of utopia set off from the world, and it is indeed a lonely place, designed for ultra-high income individuals, the top 3% of the world’s population in monetary terms, located on the most affluent portion of the upscale South Pointe neighborhood.

Could that woman standing fully clothed on the extended floor slab be Sharon Stone, to this very day the sexiest woman in the world although she has lately had difficulty finding a single man to love her as she really is? Will I encounter her downstairs, at Starbucks?

The expected sale of the 321 Enrique Norten penthouse alone, for $25 million or more, was expected to more than pay for the stated $18 million cost of the entire development. Ms. Stone is well qualified with a hard-earned fortune estimated at $60 million, yet I fear she will be reluctant to plunk down half of that to own a glass box so divorced from reality even though any more than a million dollars is meaningless without love. Notwithstanding romance, her financial advisor would advise her not to board a ship of fools captained by fast-buck pie-in-the-sky artists.

HETEROTOPIA sky artists

321 Ocean Enrique Norten replaced a historic Art Deco building, the Simone Hotel, that perhaps Ms. Stone would have loved to shack up in when she was an aspiring model. It was destroyed by neglect so developers could eventually make a killing with a couple of big glass and steel boxes completely out of character with history.

Not only tourists vacationed in the old hotels on the beach; some people lived in them indefinitely as the area became a poor man’s paradise. I arrived when old folks mostly populated South Beach. Was I ever pleased when a forlorn porn star from Manhattan showed up at the hotel where I was the night manager after her sugar daddy dumped her in Miami.

The massive boxes named after star architect Enrique Norten is what Michel Foucault might call a “heterotopia.”

We would like to preserve history of one kind or another, to freeze time and find some comfort in the illusion that it does not pass as our mortal clocks run down. Historical preservation in the area known as South of Fifth Street in Miami Beach is not even an illusion. It is a farce unless it is the history of the progress of the wealthy who have historically led the preservation movement that preserves their tastes and wealth.

In ‘Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias’ (1967), Foucault observed that Time cannot be severed from space, yet we are more anxious over space today than time given the population explosion and consequent competition for resources including space. People vie with one another to exclude each other by hogging space, or to “live large,” as realtor Saul Gross advertises in Miami Beach, in minimally furnished or uncluttered, luxurious condominiums that constitute for ultra high income individuals little heavens on earth contradicting the brute reality of the crowded and cluttered urban pavements.

These high end condos are, to cite a notion coined by Foucault, “heterotopias.” Whereas “utopias” are imaginary “no places” conceived as constructive criticisms of real places, “heterotopias” are countercultural attempts to enact or realize utopias. “All the other real sites that can be found within the culture are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.”

Foucault discusses “crisis heterotopias, i.e. privileged, sacred, forbidden places reserved for individuals who are, in relation to society and to the human environment in which they live, in a state of crisis.”   He mentions boarding schools and military service where young men live away from home and are initiated into their virility; honeymoon hotels where young women are deflowered; American motels where illicit sex may be hidden; brothels; rest homes for relief of the elderly; psychiatric hospitals where the anxious are supposed to find peace; prisons for the rehabilitation of criminals; gardens that recapture Eden before original sin; cemeteries with a box or crypt for everyone that can afford one. We may recall the withdrawal of the early Christians from the Jewish communities, the Puritan societies and Jesuit colonies, the monasteries designed by Joachim of Flora, and the various communes that set themselves apart from society and eventually failed.

We also have heterocronies such as modern museums and libraries where all times meet in one place. Whereas museums and libraries used to preserve times according to individual taste, “the will to enclose in one place all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes, the idea of constituting a place of all times that is itself outside of time and inaccessible to its ravages, the project of organizing in this way a sort of perpetual and indefinite accumulation of time in an immobile place, this whole idea belongs to our modernity.” Similarly, we have theatres, where time may be reversed, and all times including future times may be enacted in one place in a short period of time. Add to that list ephemeral or absolutely temporal chroniques such as festivals on fairs on certain grounds.

“Brothels and colonies are two extreme types of heterotopia, and if we think, after all, that the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens, you will understand why the boat has not only been for our civilization, from the sixteenth century until the present, the great instrument of economic development (I have not been speaking of that today),but has been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination.

“The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.”

Methinks the cruise liner is the heterotopia par excellence serving the purpose of the passenger to nowhere in particular, the sailor who sails effortlessly for the sake of sailing, perchance dreaming of utopia. Is not civilization itself a ship of slumbering fools with no one at the helm? Of course there is always the “Invisible Hand” upon which fate can be blamed.

We neoterics have vacation fantasylands like Disneyland or dude ranches and the like. And over the bridge from Magic City we have Miami Beach with its luxury condominiums in stark juxtaposition to what was once a poor man’s paradise and a soldier’s barracks now being rapidly renovated into a rich man’s ghetto, with all due apologies to the historical poor in the form of historical preservation of the physical features where they once dwelled and have since been evicted to preserve the historical progress of the rich who dominate historical preservation for the sake of their privileged class.

And where those physical features may not yield a great enough profit, they may be referred to abstractly. The abstract referencing of historic architecture is a modernist innovation in which the compatibility of the new and old is suggested by the reduction of composite form to abstract shape. The abstraction may be taken to such lengths that other than a roof line, if even that, is all that is left of history.

Foucault is right: although space may not be divorced from time, space is what is wanted nowadays. Everyone wants breathing room. We want more than breathing room. Everyone would like to persist forever without resistance, but that would not be existence. Utopia does not exist because nothing and only nothing is perfect. We want to live large, high off the hog, in Heterotopia. That would be the end of the world, in a glass box with a spectacular uninhibited view at ocean’s edge.

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Miami Beach 2015

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