MORRIS LAPIDUS Biography - Architects, designers & engineers


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Name: Morris Lapidus                                                                 
Born: 25 November 1902                                                               
Died: 18 January 2001                                                               
Morris Lapidus (November 25, 1902 - January 18, 2001) was the architect of curvy,   
flamboyant Neo-baroque moderne hotels that defined the 1950s 'Miami Beach'           
resort hotel style.                                                                 
Born in Odessa, Russian Empire, his family Orthodox Jews, fled Russian pogroms       
to New York when he was an infant. As a young man, Lapidus toyed with theatrical     
set design and studied architecture at Columbia University. Lapidus worked for       
the prominent Beaux Arts firm of Warren and Wetmore. He worked for 20 years as a     
retail designer before moving to Miami Beach in the 1940s and designing his         
first buildings.                                                                     
After a career in innovative retail interior design, his first large commission     
was the Miami Beach Sans Souci Hotel, followed closely by the Nautilus, the Di       
Lido, the Biltmore Terrace, and the Algiers, all along Collins Avenue, and           
amounting to the single-handed redesign of an entire district. The hotels were       
an immediate popular success. Then in 1952 he landed the job of the largest         
luxury hotel in Miami Beach, the property he is most associated with, the           
Fontainebleau Hotel, which was followed the next year by the equally successful     
Eden Roc and the Americana (now the Sheraton Bal Harbour) in 1956. The Sheraton     
was imploded shortly after dawn on Sunday, November 18, 2007.                       
The Lapidus style is idiosyncratic and immediately recognizable in photographs,     
derived as it was from the attention-getting techniques of commercial store         
design: sweeping curves, theatrically backlit floating ceilings, 'beanpoles',       
and the ameboid shapes that he called 'woggles', 'cheeseholes', and painter's       
palette shapes. His many smaller projects give Miami Beach's Collins Avenue its     
style, anticipating post-modernism. Beyond visual style, there is some degree of     
functionalism at work. His curving walls caught the prevailing ocean breezes in     
the era before central air-conditioning, and the sequence of his interior spaces     
were the result of careful attention to user experience.                             
The Fountainbleau was built, significantly for the future, on the site of the       
Harvey Firestone estate and defining the new Gold Coast of Miami Beach. The         
hotel provided locations for the 1960 Jerry Lewis film The Bellboy, a success       
for both Lewis and Lapidus, and the James Bond thriller Goldfinger (1964). Its       
most famous feature is the 'Staircase to Nowhere' that merely led to a coat         
check, but offered the opportunity to make a glittering descent into the lobby.     
This was followed in 1954 by the equally successful Eden Roc and the Americana (now 
the Sheraton Bal Harbour) in 1956.                                                   
"My whole success is I've always been designing for people, first because I         
wanted to sell them merchandise. Then when I got into hotels, I had to rethink,     
what am I selling now? You're selling a good time."                                 
His son, architect Alan Lapidus, who worked with his father for 18 years, said,     
"His theory was if you create the stage setting and it's grand, everyone who         
enters will play their part."                                                       
Lapidus' wife of 63 years, Beatrice, died in 1992. He died nine years later, at     
the age of 98 in Miami Beach, Florida.