The Renaissance Man


Kobi Karp is founder and principal of Kobi Karp Architecture & Interior Design, Inc. (KKAID). KKAID is a full-service architectural and interior design firm providing a vast array of services, ranging from the design of large-scale, high-rise condominium and hospitality projects to intimate, small-scale low-rise residential and commercial structures.

Educated at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Technology, Kobi Karp earned degrees in both Architecture and Environmental Design. Subsequently, Kobi began his career working on major hospitality and all-inclusive resort projects throughout the United States and the Caribbean. Such work served as a catalyst in Kobi becoming part of the revival of Miami

Beach’s classic and enchanting Art Deco district, where hotels and residential buildings were restored to their former glamour. His firm has been awarded several prestigious and architectural awards and has been featured in renowned national and local publications based on their major contributions in the preservation of historical areas.

To date, KKAID has graced the landscapes of major cities across the United States, as well as many of the most sought after tourist destinations of the Caribbean. KKAID continues to develop large-scale projects across the country and internationally.

One of the most-recognizable figures in architecture and design in South Florida – no small feat, in and of itself – Kobi’s vaunted work is equally identifiable for its progressive and environmentally-appropriate aesthetic and functionality. A clear visionary leader in his field, Kobi Karp agreed to discuss with SunPost his work, his philosophy and what this famed designer of spaces is working on in today’s new development environment.

Michael W. Sasser: How has the recent economic environment impacted on your work?

Kobi Karp: The recent economic environment has impacted our work by encouraging us to design in the Middle East, specifically in the United Arab Emirates. From 2006 to 2010, many of our projects were in the Middle East. Once the economy started showing improvement in the U.S., we received various projects in South Florida such as large residences, luxury apartments, new hotels, and restoration and renovation hotels. The historical restoration and renovation hotels include South Beach properties such as the Cadillac Marriott, the Roosevelt Crown, the Collins Park Hotel, the Versailles, and many more. Overall, the history proves the economic environment is cyclical and through the cycles we are able to maintain our work both domestically and internationally.

Has this same environment affected demand in the marketplace and if so, how?

Yes, this same demand has affected the marketplace. Where projects were condo based, the economy and banking crisis forced a shift of projects to hospitality. The demand for work in South Florida has transferred from condos and multifamily to predominately restoration and development of hotels, apartments, affordable housing and other residential developments.

Is the number of single-family homes you are working on a new development or an accelerated pace in an area you have long worked in? What are the pluses to this kind of work?

The number of single family homes has increased since I first started working in the late 1980s. We worked in the British West Indies, the Caribbean, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and the Bahamas doing all-inclusive resort and hotels. Since the downturn in the Caribbean and the improved economy in the U.S., we have focused our work in South Miami. Recently, we design many restoration and preservation historic hotels on Ocean Drive, mixed-use low-rises in the freshly created design district, and single family, high-end homes throughout South Florida. Currently we have private residences in Miami Beach, Coco Plum, Coral Gables, Bal Harbour and Fort Lauderdale. The common denominator for these homes is that the end user owns the land and is building the house substantially with cash or a development group designs spec homes which have been selling very quickly. This new rush of homes is good for us and contradicts all our other work. For example, during the recession we designed many affordable housing projects. Homes we design are filled with a variety of detail and personal elements.

What major projects are you currently engaged in, in Miami and Miami Beach?

We have many major projects we are currently engaged in in Miami and Miami Beach. We have a high-end luxury condominium in Sunny Isles Beach called Chateau. We are designing the Surf Club in Surfside. The Surf Club, originally by Russell Pancoast, is a historic preservation project. We are restoring it to its original grandeur as well as adding three crystalline volumes adjacent to the original structure. We are also working on the Roosevelt Crown hotel, Roy France’s original Cadillac Hotel and addition, and Roy France’s original Versailles and addition. These are just a few of the interesting projects we are working on as well as luxury homes for celebrities, public, and private figures.

What are your thoughts about the perspective that development has returned to its pre-real estate crisis heights in Miami and Miami Beach?

My personal perspective is that the development returned as purely cash based equity due again to the banking crisis with very little leverage of financing vehicles. Ultimately a different market group has moved in with developing in the City of Miami and the City of Miami Beach. The real estate crisis originally was due to the financial institutions and the lending means and methods that were available both domestically and internationally. Those issues since the banking crash no longer exist.

Have you been engaged for work on the proposed 42 Star Island home and if so, what is the status now?

We have a great relationship with our clients and always look to make all of our clients happy with where they want to live and with what they want to build. Their dreams are our reality.

How has the “new reality” of today’s economic environment, of downsizing and of greater interest in sustainability affected architecture and design generally and what do you think of these changes?

Changes in downsizing and sustainability are great. My first degree is Environmental Design from the Institute of Technology at the University of Minnesota. The step forward in sustainability is beneficial in the thought process of the general public. The economic environment today is more cost conservative, focuses on downsizing, and has a greater interest in sustainability. I do see it as a “new reality.” A new reality in today’s economic environment is a positive step to our projects. We have been involved in sustainable and LEED architecture and design both domestically and internationally.

How would you characterize the overall environment today in terms of architecture and design, creatively?

The overall environment today in terms of design and architecture is very positive. Architecture and design are seen as important elements of a project. People have become very aware of architecture and design. They not only appreciate historical preservation and restoration, but they are also looking at new buildings with a fresh modern eye. It is very refreshing and inspiring for me. People feel that architecture and design is not only a way of life, but that it is their responsibility to see it carried out properly. Overall, architecture and design are thriving and becoming like fashion and art which are moving in a very positive direction.

In architectural terms, what do you believe are some of the signature traits of KKAID?

KKAID is a firm that focuses on the vernacular. The vernacular is the built environment of the community, neighborhood, urban infill and city. The vernacular can also be the physical surroundings. We look to the local vernacular as our inspiration and guidance for our projects. Being vernacular is parallel to being contextual. In a modern interpretation, we use the context, local building materials and environment for the architectural language of each project. For example, in Vietnam we would use the elements of shade and shadow to respond to the sub- tropical weather. Designing in Cambodia we use the vernacular bamboo plant and if we design in the sand dunes of the Middle East we use the various colors of the sand to create the feeling and the finishes that we are looking for in the building. This makes us unique because it allows us to create different designs, ideas and solutions for each project. We do not implement a style from one project to the next. Each project is unique and stands on its own design in relation to the vernacular of the location. Being vernacular and respectful to the history, community and society helps create projects which are not stylized.

If you had to select only one designation, would you consider yourself an architect first or designer first or another option?

First and foremost, “architect” is a general term. By definition we are all designers. Architects design both interior and exterior spaces in relation to each other. The indoor and outdoor spaces as well as private and public spaces are designed to flow between each other. The lines are blurred between spatial elements. Interior Designers and Architects depend on each other. In our office we design specific furniture to mold into an architectural space. For example, each project includes a collaboration of designers. We team up with landscape architects, engineers, urban planners, and ultimately end up designing cities, and I also consider myself a businessman as I always guide my clients to success with design intertwined with business terms. Overall, we are designers of spaces, volumes and locations of destinations.

Since the beginning of your career, what have been in your mind, the biggest changes in the architecture and design?

The biggest change is that the more things change the more they stay the same. Modern architecture is the new fad now, but when I started 20-25 years ago it was all about post modernism (posty toasties is what we called it). What we design today is closely related to what we designed 100 years ago. Whether we are looking at Bauhaus, Corbusier or Frank Lloyd Wright, we use the same kind of a thought process — i.e. natural materials, concrete, floor to ceiling glass, thin mullionization, flowing of the indoor to the outdoor spaces, bringing the outdoor in, etc. Overall, the biggest change in the architecture and design field is that we are lucky enough to revert back to the most glorious of true architecture.

Which projects or accomplishments are you most particularly pleased with or proud of?

Of all our projects and accomplishments, I am most pleased with a recent comment I heard while talking to a group of people. They did not know who I was and they mentioned buildings we designed many years ago such as Maclee, Star Lofts, Absolut Lofts, and the Caribbean. They spoke of how our projects look and feel good the more time that they stand. We feel very proud to be associated with these accomplishments particularly projects that receive a good report from the community, which I believe is the most significant opinion of all. In addition the City of Miami Beach uses our presentation as a model for other architects. I feel a great sense of pride when I meet someone living in a house or condo I designed and they love living there.

How important to your career and the development of your style has it been to have Miami/Miami Beach as your home canvas?

It is very significant to have my career and the development of my style in Miami/Miami Beach. I have lived in Miami Beach for 20 years in a historic Pancoast home. I am privileged to have worked with Morris Lapidus on projects such as the Seacoast Towers. We have also restored historical MiMo buildings and received the AIA Young Architect of the Year award for many Miami Beach projects I’ve designed. In addition to Miami’s history, the contemporary vernacular of the city has propelled our experience internationally. These accomplishments help me play a role in the cutting edge canvas of Miami/Miami Beach.

After so much success, so many accomplishments, what continues to inspire you?

I continue to be inspired every day, not by success and accomplishments, but by design, the environment and people. The natural and built environments always influence the beginning of a project, but the ultimate inspiration is the people that vary between cultures. We design many homes, yet they are all unique and designed specifically for someone to occupy. They are all residences yet they each have their own distinctive DNA. We believe that the buildings we design are like people. Similar to people, a building is comprised of DNA, a heart, a rib cage that protects their body, a liver and lungs. The individualized elements of a building are what inspire me and continue to create accomplishments for us in the future.

Your work and name are familiar in many households, but what are some things about you that people might not know from your work and media presence?

What people do not know about me is that for the past 16 to 17 years my main focus is on my two most precious projects. I am working on these two projects continuously. They are a work in progress and are my two most important projects. They are continuously evolving from their background, their DNA, and their context, but they are developing differently than their Architect Father. These two projects are my sons. They are the two most important and inspiring people in my life. They give me inspiration and motivation to work and get up in the morning. They allow me to continue my accomplishments and propel the success of this company.

Do you think changes are on the horizon in the world of architecture and if so, what do you think will be most notable?

Changes are definitely on the horizon for architecture and are currently being implemented such as, Green architecture, sustainability, and the materials that we use to assemble buildings are advancing every day. Environmental concerns, cost concerns and technology are all playing a role in the advancement in architecture. The most notable change will be the way we assemble buildings in a contemporary fashion and the way we use modern and environmentally efficient materials. Of course software advancement allows the building to be shown in 3D which allows the clients to see the completed details even stating construction.

What projects do you have in the pipeline that you are particularly anticipating?

We have many projects in the pipeline right now. We are designing the Chateau in Sunny Isles. It is a crystalline building that includes high-end luxury condominiums and a wave façade. We are also designing the Surf Club in Surfside. The Surf Club, originally designed by Russell Pancoast, is a historic preservation and restoration project. Once completed, the club will be a five star hotel as well as open up to the public. We are also adding glass volumes that extrude out of the original 1929 structure. The Surf Club will be co-designed with New York based architect Richard Meier. In addition to the Surf Club, we are designing a Miami Beach urban infill project called Palau. Palau includes luxury condominiums, a secret garden designed by Raymond Jungles, retail, views to the bay and leisure walkways along the canal. Those are some of the major projects that we are anticipating in the pipeline right now.

Fast-forward a century and on tours of Miami/Miami Beach architecture, how would you like to see you work characterized for posterity?

In 100 years I would like to see our buildings blending in to its context and holding out through time. I would like to see them becoming destinations for both private and public use.

We as architects are creating a new vision. Design is dynamic. Design is not static, but it is continuously evolving. We specialize in contextualizing and in the vernacular as well as in delivering it on time and on budget. We design our buildings to relate to their context and natural environment. Our focus is to create unique open spaces that relate to the occupant. We provide a service and a design that is not achievable with most other designers because our concepts are custom-made to people we deal with. There is a greater emphasis on design and to have a good habitable space.

About Michael W Sasser

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