Hermes Mallea spent nearly an hour showcasing the Caribbean playgrounds of the rich and famous with the pace of a speed-dating encounter that took you from Bermuda and Barbados to Jamaica and Antiqua and Cuba’s hedonistic heights.
He showed how architects spun a web of elegance and simplicity in their work through nonstop slides and photos of properties as varied as Palm Beach’s haughty Mar-a-Lago to Laurance Rockefeller’s fabled RockResorts in the U.S. Virgin Islands. There were the Victorian gingerbreads and those with European influence, and the breezy haciendas sans air conditioning or door locks.
Mallea, an alumnus of the University of Miami’s School of Architecture, came back to town Tuesday evening for a presentation at the Otto G. Richter Library co-sponsored by UM Libraries and Books & Books.
He was here to tout his new book, Escape: The Heyday of Caribbean Glamour, and open a well-designed doorway to the “American Rivera” stretching from South Florida throughout the Caribbean.
Mallea, B.Arch. ’78, who also studied at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, is a partner in the New York City-based design firm, M(Group).
The magical allure to each of the Caribbean locales, all of which ooze with romantic pining, find their footing in the writings of magazine and gossip columnists who reported on the jet-set lifestyles of celebrities and the wealthy. Mallea also gave a special nod to the pioneers who created the resorts, and their welcoming personas that attracted the right clientele.
"An escape to the Caribbean," Mallea pointed out, “was always associated with the romance missing in our daily lives.”
The islands, each a cultured pearl with a personality formed by its past and its want for the future, mostly evolved from isolation into major tourist haunts through the ingenuity and drive of entrepreneurs, creative visionaries, and local tourism groups. Florida pushed its legend as home to the Fountain of Youth, while Havana of the 1950s was a mecca for drinking and gambling.
Mallea, who often lectures on historic preservation, is also author of Great Houses of Havana: A Centurey of Cuban Style. He is currently designing a Caribbean home for a client in the Dominican Republic, and is drawing on what he has learned through his research for Escape.
During a brief question and answer session following his lecture, Mallea commented on how Las Vegas appeared to have filled the void for gambling created after the Cuban revolution, and how Barbados is perhaps his favorite island with its pleasing architecture and non-gated communities.
Peter Howard can be reached at 305-284-8085.