Miami Advice: Nina Johnson on the Spear House of North Bayshore Drive

December 7th, 2023
Laurinda Spear’s original plan, created with Rem Koolhaas, was rejected by the client: her parents. Photo: Elizabeth Whiting

By Tim Schneider

The galleries says that the pretty-in-pink property excudes the quintessential 1980s South Florida vibe that still resonates today.

Located at 9325 North Bayshore Drive, in the Miami Shores neighbourhood, the Spear House (aka the Pink House) looms large in the cultural imagination of South Florida. Its most memorable trait is, as the colloquial name suggests, the colour scheme. Each of the house’s walls is painted in one of five shades of pink, ranging from an almost-red hue covering the west wall, to a bubblegum pink on the east, along Biscayne Bay.

The house’s original design was a collaboration between Laurinda Spear, an aspiring architecture student at Columbia University who would later go on to found the award-winning firm Arquitectonica, and her then-professor Rem Koolhaas. In 1975, it won first prize in the annual design competition held by the magazine Progressive Architecture. But the clients, Spear’s parents, dismissed the original plans, and she redesigned the house with her collaborator and husband, Bernardo Fort-Brescia, after graduating.

In the final version of the home, grids of glass-block windows limn the pink edifice, which is raised on a concrete plinth to comply with flood regulations. The house’s interior opens onto a courtyard terrace with a 60ft lap pool. From the exterior, one of the only views inside comes through a porthole window looking directly into the pool’s cool blue depths.

Overall, the Pink House is a divisive yet quintessential structure, perfect for a divisive yet quintessential city. Nina Johnson, a Miami native and founder of the namesake gallery, explains why it warrants a sojourn during Miami Art Week.

The Art Newspaper: Why does the Pink House stand out in your mind?

Nina Johnson: It’s kind of an incredible Miami thing. It’s this 1980s beacon of an aesthetic that became so associated with South Florida at the time: an aesthetic of excess and pleasure, a hybridisation of the tropical atmosphere people thought of when they came down here but also of the region’s economic development at the time.

Which aspects help set it apart from other houses built in that same wave of design?

I think the way it’s sited on the landscape is pretty unique. Now, with waterfront residential homes, not only do they tend to fill the entire parcel but they tend to be really private. They’ll have a big wall on the streetside, and a lot of hedges around them so you can’t see the architecture. This house is very visible—not that you can see into it, because the design of the house itself makes all the residential spaces internal. It feels almost like a pyramid, especially since it’s sitting on a very flat, grassy landscape without a lot of trees around it.

Do you remember how you first learned about the house?

I think I probably encountered it in pictures before I encountered it in person. It was something you’d see in photo shoots in Miami all the way through the 1990s, really. It was a widely photographed place but, because it’s in a residential neighbourhood, you likely wouldn’t have known where it was. Recently I’ve Googled it, and I’ve seen the house in fashion spreads from the 1980s that seem like they make sense in your memory. It incorporates a shade of pink that people are always trying to get right: Miami pink, 80s pink.

When was the first time you actually visited it?

Part of what’s so special about this home is that anyone can see it, even from the bay if you go by on a boat or a jet ski or whatever. I first saw it in person because of [the artist] Emmett Moore. He’d taken me and [the artist] Peter Shire on a boat ride to point it out.

Have you paid the experience forward for anyone else in the time since?

I now take people by there all the time. In a way, it’s an aspirational moment for South Florida. I believe someone does live there now—it’s privately owned—and it can be rented or used for photoshoots, though I don’t think they do that often. Anyone who sees it has a similar experience. Even if you don’t remember seeing it in a photograph, it’s so emblematic of this post-Deco, South Florida, 1980s vibe. Something in your core kind of recognises it even if you can’t articulate what it is, exactly.

The Spear House, 9325 North Bayshore Drive, Miami Shores, Miami

Read on The Art Newspaper.

  • Laurinda Spear’s original plan, created with Rem Koolhaas, was rejected by the client: her parents. Photo: Elizabeth Whiting
  • Nina Johnson's eponymous gallery is in Little Haiti. Photo: Gesi Schilling