World-renowned Architect Rafael Viñoly, who designed One River Point on the Miami River, spoke to the Wall Street Journal about growing up in Argentina and the path that led him to become a celebrated architect. The 386-unit One River Point, being developed by Shahab Karmely’s KAR Properties, represents Viñoly’s entrance to the Miami real estate market.
In the WSJ article, Viñoly talks about his native Montevideo, Uruguay, and his family moving to Buenos Aires when he was a young child.
When I was 5, my family moved to Buenos Aires. My father, Román, had been invited to direct Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at the Teatro Colón, one of the world’s finest opera houses. He then became active in theater, before being lured into the country’s emerging film industry as a writer and director.
Our house in Buenos Aires was a new and a fairly conventional single-family home in the city’s northern suburbs. It was an up-and-coming and largely sparse area about 40 minutes by train from the city center.
The two-story redbrick house had a pitched roof in a Spanish style and you entered through the porch that faced the street. Inside, there was a small office at the top of the stairs where my father worked and had meetings.
My younger sister, Ana Maria, had her own bedroom in the back facing a pretty little garden. Between her room and my parents’ bedroom was the room I shared with my older brother, Daniel. It was spare: two beds and a large armoire.
My mother, Nene, had studied architecture for a time, but she quit to make a living as a math teacher. She decorated our house with forward-looking modernist furniture from Brazil, although she mixed in traditional pieces.
My family wasn’t well off. The film industry was unpredictable. As a result, my parents always had financial difficulties.
At home, my father was the outgoing and overly expressive one while my mother was the opposite. It wasn’t the steadiest environment to grow up in, but they loved their children and always put us first.
My mother’s parents both died when she was about 8. The inheritance was mismanaged, and my mother and her siblings were sent to a convent. From an early age, my mother and her sister worked as private tutors in math and science. They were known as smart and gifted teachers.
My father also came from a poor background. He left home as a teenager to follow a travelling circus and returned a theater person. As a result, he was always emotional and, essentially, a dreamer.
When my brother and sister and I were kids, my father’s way of “talking” to us was in writing. Every Friday night we’d go to bed and find a hand-written letter under our pillows. On Saturday, we’d discuss them together in his office. Those sessions were a theatrical event and often made me feel as if we were on trial. I still have some of those letters, a trace of my father’s soul and his love.
Perhaps the most significant turning point for me as a child came when I was 5. My father, a music buff, found a fantastic piano teacher who was an émigré from a sophisticated family in Florence. As in many cases with a music teacher like this, I learned many more things than just how to play. She introduced me to philosophy and the contemporary arts of the 1950s and ’60s.
Drawing came naturally to me. Someone saw my drawings and recommended me to an architecture firm. I started working as an architect at 17, even before entering the university. Today, my wife, Diana, and I live in Manhattan’s Tribeca area.