Last week, visitors of Design Miami were greeted by a flock of pink, foam, architectural models, rendered in miniature and held aloft by a network of beams. It was a most unusual installation. None of the 200 designs had been built, and most of them probably never will be. And that was the whole point.

Titled Unbuilt, the canopy was Design Miami’s official entryway pavilion for this year’s fair—and it was unusual for several reasons. For starters, it’s uncommon for a high-end art fair to celebrate something as rough or routine as preliminary architectural designs. Pavilions are almost always experimental—they’re about showcasing and testing cutting edge ideas and methods of fabrication. There’s nothing new about foam architectural models; they’re a familiar step in most designers’ process.

Visitors can explore interactive versions of Unbuilt models just by entering a project number.Visitors can explore interactive versions of Unbuilt models just by entering a project number. Harvard GSD

Plus, consider the following: The opportunity to design a pavilion is almost always awarded to professional architects or design studios. Unbuilt, on the other hand, was conceived by team of five students in the Master of Architecture program at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design (GSD). Joanne Cheung, Jenny Shen, Steven Meyer, Doug Harsevoort, and Yiliu Shen-Burke beat out 31 other student groups in a school-wide competition that launched this past spring. It was the first time Design Miami’s pavilion had been designed by students, rather than an established practice.

The five graduate students behind this year’s pavilion created the structure by crowdsourcing design files from 200 of their peers at at GSD. “It wasn’t this team’s vision of a monolithic gesture,” says Dan Borelli, director of exhibitions at GSD. “The idea is that our built environment is often built upon many unbuilt aspirational ideas that never came into existence.” It’s rare that the public sees this part of the design process—a part that we note is all-too familiar for designers—but the pavilion put those ideas front and center. To make sure visitors could dive into the prototyping process, the Unbuilt team also recreated the pavilion in digital form; on an accompanying website, you can search for specific projects to learn more about its designer and origins. It’s even interactive: the team worked with Modelo, a digital platform for social designing created by a GSD alum, to make each online model respond to touch, so visitors can explore the interiors and landscapes of each idea.

After Design Miami decided to turn this year’s entryway over to students, the GSD faculty decided to take the opportunity to stage a competition that would mimic the ones students will face down the road, in real life. The GSD faculty jury chose the winning team, Borelli says, because “we felt it really reflected the identity of who we are: a graduate center for Masters, Doctoral, and PhD candidates, and architects, landscape designers, practitioners, theorists, historians, all coming together in one environment.” Unbuilt, with its 200 ideas, represented them all.


This Year’s Design Miami Pavilion Has Odd Looks—And Unexpected Creators