American architect Morris Lapidus is best known as the designer of glamorous postwar resort hotels in Florida, such as the Fontainebleau (1954) and the Eden Roc (1955) in Miami Beach, and the Americana in Bal Harbour (1956). Yet in a remarkable sixty-year career that began in 1926, he designed more than 500 retail stores, hotels, apartment complexes, and stage sets that captured the popular spirit and changing face of Main Street America in the twentieth century. Lapidus created fantasy environments in which America’s middle class, flush with expanding postwar incomes and optimism, could fulfill its desire for glamor, relaxed luxury, and leisure. His signature forms – chevrons, “beanpoles”, “woggles”, or amoeba shapes, and curving walls and ceilings punctuated by “cheese holes”, or cutouts – have become treasured icons of American postwar vernacular architecture. Born in Russia in 1902, Lapidus was brought to New York by his parents a year later, and the family first settled on the Lower East Side. He completed his architecture degree at Columbia University and first earned a reputation by designing stage sets and retail stores in which he developed new theories in store design and essentially created the modern storefront as we now know it. For his famed resort hotels of the 1950s Lapidus designed not only the vast structures but a melange of quasi-French provincial and Italian Renaissance decorative elements that critics would dub “Miami Beach French”, including everything from the tableware to his famous “stairways to nowhere”. He was one of the first architects to acknowledge the cinema as an overriding influence on American taste.
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