The Lord Balfour Hotel was designed in 1940 by the architect Anton Skislewicz and is a fine example of a Miami Art Deco building.
Born in Dubrovnik in 1895, Skislewicz graduated in Architecture from Columbia University in 1929. In 1934, during the Great Depression, he moved to Miami to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new tourism industry emerging in Miami Beach, which was generating a great demand for new buildings and facilities.
He designed the Hotel Lord Balfour in a U-shape, with a quiet terrace within, overlooked by the interior rooms not facing the street; something novel at a time when other architects were only concerned with the composition of facades.
All Skislewicz-designed hotels share a concern for functionality and an effort to ensure all rooms not facing the street were bright and offered pleasant views. Here, the courtyard becomes the heart of the hotel, and is given continuity with interior spaces through the magnificent terrazzo floor.
Skislewicz was passionate about the world of aeronautics and the motor industry, and this is evident in his designs. He worked with planes and lines and contrasts of full and empty spaces and lines in order to create his accelerated, machine-like designs, rejecting the decorative elements typical of other architects at the time. In the Lord Balfour we can appreciate this in all its glory.
The building is located at an important intersection, of Ocean Drive Avenue and 4th street. In order to emphasize the corner, Skislewicz marks the verticality by means of a façade composition that alternates full and empty spaces. Thus, long narrow windows are contrasted with solid walls. This trait is similar to other Skislewicz designs in Miami which stress the corner as a main element.
In other cases, the entrance was placed at the corner, but here he masterfully moved it to one of the sides, facing the interior courtyard, generating a beautiful play of visual transparency. He also elevated the entrance just thirty centimeters above street level (which is less than the standard for the local hotels), also adding more depth to it. Those thirty centimeters are enough to generate a more intimate space, without losing continuity with the street and a more human scale.
On the ground floor, an impressive, high ledge breaks the verticality of the corner, generating a powerful contrast. On the upper floors, less pronounced ledges are broken to give priority to vertical elements at the corners, with just a small ledge remaining, which in turn highlights the corner windows.
An extension is currently under construction, designed by the interior architect Nacho Garcia de Vinuesa. In line with the idea of an interior terrace, the extension is also U-shaped, facing the existing building and thus continuing the interior terrace in the extension, providing an excellent union between both buildings.
Who was Lord Balfour?
All hotels designed and built between 1930 and 1950 in Miami were named after holiday destinations, exotic places, the sea or the beach. Even the Lord Balfour was run for many years under the name “Wave Hotel”. So why is a hotel located in such a popular tourist destination named after someone like Lord Balfour?
Lord Balfour (Arthur James Balfour) was an important British politician who held a number of positions of responsibility throughout his life, serving as Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905, and greatly influencing 20th century history.
Throughout his life he maintained an interest in the study of certain topics that interested him, specifically science and philosophy. In Victorian society there was an impassioned debate about the relationship between science and religion, which Lord Balfour was no stranger to, contributing several essays.
“Enthusiasm moves the world.” Arthur Balfour
Lord Balfour died in 1930, and the hotel was built in 1940. The reasons why this hotel was originally named after him are still unknown. Malcolm Berg, the architect responsible for the building’s renovation in 2011 and who explored its history in-depth said, “We know exactly who Lord Balfour was, however why the hotel was named after him remains a mystery to us”.
I invite you to discover the thinking of this figure, who so greatly influenced the last century, through a number of quotes inscribed on the ceiling of the lobby of Hotel Room Mate Lord Balfour.
Article written by Ramon Fernandez