By Matt Stewart | March 28, 2016 | People
Miami architect Allan T. Shulman investigates the Bacardi family’s lesser-known legacy in an upcoming tome.
Upon his arrival in Miami in the 1990s, architect Allan T. Shulman became enthralled with the Bacardi Tower complex (now the headquarters of the National YoungArts Foundation). “I can’t think of any other buildings in the city that speak so eloquently about Miami,” he says. Shulman’s fascination led him to research Bacardi’s beginnings in pre-revolutionary Cuba and then the brand’s buildings in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Bermuda. In his book Building Bacardi: Architecture, Art & Identity, he leads an image- and fact-filled tour of these structures that boasts legendary architects, noted artists, and company leaders. “True to the company’s cocktail spirit, they blended ideas, from the rationalism of Mies van der Rohe to the expressionism of Felix Candela,” Shulman says. “Bacardi uses design to further the identity of the company and its products. The result is that each project speaks eloquently about the spirit of time and place.” Available April 5 at Books & Books Miami Beach, 927 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, 305-532-3222
When were you first aware of the architectural legacy of Bacardi?
The Bacardi buildings here [in Miami] instantly intrigued me. The Bacardi complex, just north of downtown, was an unusual mix of futuristic modernism and decorative flourish. The buildings defied gravity, hanging in the air over a grand plaza. Strangely, they were monumental and yet very miniature at the same time. Fully adorned in colorful abstract murals, they were, and are, very appealing buildings. These buildings are all about identity. I can’t think of any other buildings in the city that speak so eloquently about Miami.
In your research, what did you find binds the generations of the Bacardi family in the areas of architecture and design?
At Bacardi, identity management appears to have always functioned at the top level of the company, rather than through consultants or lower-level brand managers, putting aesthetics in the hands of its entrepreneurial leaders. Successive generations of Bacardi leadership have believed that investments in design—the quality and dignity and symbolism of its architecture—were a part of the company’s business plan. One can infer that these entrepreneurs have understood well how architecture could communicate essential ideas about Bacardi products, and about the nature of the enterprise itself. Bacardi facilities are best understood as allegories, manifesting values like civic pride, cultural engagement, political conviction, technical ingenuity, hygiene, scientific know-how, and cultural authenticity.
Who are some of the Bacardi family members who forged this legacy?
Much of the book covers the long and eventful [company] presidency of José “Pepin” Bosch, whose leadership spans the eventful postwar period: aggressive expansion overseas, the loss of the company’s properties in its home of Santiago after the Cuban Revolution, and the company’s reorganization in an overseas diaspora. Two important early leaders were Emilio Bacardi Moreau, son of Bacardi founder Facundo Bacardi Massó, and Henri Schueg. Emilio was the company’s first president, as well as a significant national figure in Cuba. As mayor of Santiago, he embodied an approach that combined corporate growth with civic engagement. Henri Schueg initiated the company’s overseas expansion and its engagement with modern architecture and design. He oversaw the competition that produced the Bacardi Tower in Havana and developed exhibition bars in New York City following Prohibition. Each of these early leaders was very different in character, and of course they lived and worked in different times. Each produced a layer of the company legacy.
How has Miami influenced Bacardi when it comes to design and architecture?
Of all the Bacardi projects spread across the globe, the original Miami buildings are unique in their ability to communicate. Perhaps these original buildings were the purest distillation of the company’s identity. Miami has long been a laboratory of design approaches and identity creation, a place that encourages invention and reinvention. This ethos is expressed in different ways in the Biscayne Boulevard campus and in Bacardi’s current Miami facility.
What would you say is the overriding Bacardi aesthetic?
Broadly speaking, at least from the late 1920s forward, most of the work is modern in tone. Yet there is no single aesthetic. Bacardi indulged in, and was a patron of, many flavors of modern architecture, from the most rational to the most expressionistic. They were a synthetic force in corporate design. The result is that each project speaks eloquently about the spirit of time and place, and of course the building program itself.
How has that aesthetic informed the Bacardi brand?
I believe there is an iterative nature to the architectural work, a back-and-forth between brand and design that has been quite remarkable. One of the best examples is the Bacardi Tower and Bacardi Bar in Havana. These are full-throated expressions of Art Deco metropolitanism. Bacardi used them to introduce Americans to the brand, but also to define it to them during Prohibition and in its immediate wake. The elegant and refined building, which still stands today, helped define the brand in the cocktail era.
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