Landscape architect Chris Cawley has contributed to countless historical projects in Miami since the early 2000s, but he knew he had reaped a rare opportunity when he was asked to participate in the renovation of the newly named Mayfair House Hotel & Garden, an iconic property revered for its verdancy and structural design. “A lot of people say the hotel’s architecture is like a subtropical version of Gaudi,” says Cawley, “with a dash of Frank Lloyd Wright.”
Like many locals, Cawley, who sits on the City of Miami Historic & Environmental Preservation Board, was familiar with the 1980s building. After all, Kenneth Treister, who is best known for the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach, was its original architect. By the time the project came his way (after Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management purchased the hotel in 2019), he had cultivated plenty of ideas as to how to help the place bloom again.
Once they got to work, Cawley and his crew discovered that Treister had not only designed the open structure to allow for natural air conditioning, but that he also incorporated a number of important details like copper sculptures, light fixtures, and intricate mosaics, all of which the team was determined to preserve.
The project’s key priority was to determine what generally defined the Mayfair’s previous green environments and then provide a modern solution. “We opted for tropical plants like monstera, philodendron, and vines because you don’t have to shear them into shape,” says Cawley. “And they do really well when they cascade over the edges of the architecture with a billowy feeling.” The landscapers were able to save a few of the property’s existing palms but, unfortunately, most of the original plant life had to go. Cawley opted not to include large, mature specimens into the new plans, but instead used heliconias and Simpson’s Stopper trees to surround the ground-level fountains. Upstairs on the rooftop pool deck, Cawley wanted a “retro oasis vibe” and that’s just what he got with the use of small palms along the roof’s perimeter.
Although he and his team put in countless hours to give the Mayfair its new green look, Cawley insists he’s fine if his changes go unnoticed. “The whole idea was to create the Mayfair people remember,” he says. “That was intentional.”
Landscape Design by Chris Cawley
Text by Riki Altman-Yee
Photography by Pati Laylle