Interview with the “Renaissance Man”
Robert Swedroe can only be described as a Renaissance man, able to use his right and left brains to their fullest capacity. He has designed over 3,250 buildings, run an international architecture business for over four decades, and in the meantime, created over 1,200 sublime works of art in his chosen medium of collage. A student of Paul Rudolph and Philip Johnson, Swedroe began his career working for Morris Lapidus and has contributed to every phase of Miami’s evolution, with the design of the city’s most iconic buildings, such as, the Blue and Green Diamond, the Seacoast tower, Palazzo del Mare on Fisher Island, the Aqualina buildings, the Turnberry buildings, including his latest, Turnberry Ocean Club, to name only a small few. He revolutionized condominium design by developing the private elevator concept. Swedroe lives in Surfside with his wife, Rita.
Interview with Robert
OIR: About Miami, does the place inspire you to do your art and your architecture? You’ve have lived here your whole life. Were you born here?
RS: My wife’s family was from here, that’s why I ended up here. I’m from New York, originally. When I graduated (Yale School of Architecture) I came down here and I was very fortunate because it was a high growth period in Miami Beach. In 1963, I got a job working for Morris Lapidus and during that time and I got my architectural license and NCARB, which allows me to practice nationally. I didn’t know at the time that I would be practicing across the country and in Europe.
OIR: What was it like working for Morris Lapidus?
RS: He taught me the business of architecture. What I learned from [Lapidus], was that one premise, you can’t practice architecture or have buildings designed unless you have a business that makes money. How do you run like a business? Well, one of the things I learned from him is when you have a meeting you write a report, like a legal document. Clients have convenient memories, so write everything down.
JP: You were doing collages while you were working for Lapidus?
RS: Yes, I was still doing collage and I did have shows. The first show was a sellout. It was a month show and it sold out in the first week because the Miami Herald gave me a big write up on the front page of the Sunday paper. We had a mob. My wife said it was a phenomenal experiment and don’t try to repeat it, but I couldn’t resist. The next year, it happened again, a full page in color in the Miami Herald. It brought out crowds and it sold out again. That happened year after year. I had 8 sold out shows in 7 years. One year, a gallery from New York came to my home and asked if I wanted to do a show in New York, so I had two sellout shows that year in a gallery next to Whitney Museum in New York.
OIR: If you were working full time, when would you find time to work on your art?
RS: At night. I would work at night. I lived on Purdy Avenue and I had a garage. The way I would work, I would get totally naked. Clothes are gone, nobody was there, and I’d put on great music. The music was the inspiration.
JP: What kind of music?
RS: Mostly classical music. And that’s the way I worked and I did around 500 pieces at that time. In 1974, I opened my own office with my own staff and from that point I didn’t do any art for 33 years. I started up again in 2006.
JP: Do you find that the two disciplines, collage and architecture, somehow complemented each other?
RS: I don’t think about, “Is it architecture or art?”. I just do it. I don’t do it because I think it’ll sell, I just do it because I want to do it..
JP: Miami is like one big collage and you’ve watched it evolve, and you’ve contributed massively to it. What has surprised you over all those years?
RS: I really grew up with it when I got out of school. I was here before condos even started. I designed the first condo building on Miami Gardens Drive. What surprised me? Well, the rapid growth. I was fortunate enough to be in a place and be involved in this tremendous growth movement. I was able to grow and have a big staff, which allowed me to do more exciting work in more cities. If you ask me what excites me about architecture, it’s the thrill of the chase and making deals actually happen.