Architect Kobi Karp doesn’t merely build structures—he builds bridges. Not water-traversing spans but metaphorical bridges that link people, cultures, neighborhoods and communities. And from where he stands, the views are spectacular.
Karp’s method: he surveys landscapes, explores pedigrees, and samples ethnic flavors for inspiration. He’s also a fixer, a uniter. You could call him an architectural ambassador—a one-man United Nations-style problem solver.
Hardly surprising for the Israel-born, resident of Miami, the spicy-hot cosmopolitan city where each neighborhood fuels creativity. As head of Kobi Karp Architecture & Interior Design, he feeds off Miami’s delicious architecture (Art Deco, modern, etc.)—both his own and others, past and present.
“You don’t get a feeling for the variety of Miami Beach architecture and the uniqueness of the Art Deco districts unless you can walk the streets to see it in its purest form,” he says.
Karp’s “non-stylistic” portfolio journeys from luxurious celebrity estates to affordable housing to historic landmarks to exotic international projects. Project type or style isn’t what drives him—the experiential connection to the real world does. His buildings tell emotional stories, like art, films and music do.
“Our design philosophy is to create thoughtful and soul-reaching experiences that are inspirational through architecture psychologically, sociologically, environmentally and emotionally. When I listen to the Beach Boys I can smell the salt from the ocean. The Beatles pull on your heartstrings. We pull on the heartstrings of what the experience is. We’re not trying to tell you we’re more luxurious. Anyone can do that.”
Karp is more than an architect—he’s part environmentalist, evangelist, historian, and tourist. That’s why the stories he tells, the projects he builds, are as complex and deep as Port Miami.
“Each project is unique, like humans,” he says. “The human body has the same composites (lungs, kidneys, a heart), but we’re all different. Buildings have similar DNA but they’re set up differently. Whether it’s a luxury resort, a condo or affordable housing, the experience needs to be inspirational.”
So let’s travel through beautiful Miami (and beyond) into the scholarly mind of a creative design master. Here, you’ll see what drives Karp’s design choices, how he problem solves, and why cultural knowledge matters.
Palazzo Del Sol (Fisher Island)
In designing this 10-story, 46-residence palazzo, Karp honored the original Mediterranean-style Vanderbilt Mansion and Fisher Island’s legacy as an elite winter retreat.
“For Fisher Island, we used the island’s history as DNA for the building, including the scalloped façade, open-air terraces and nature. We used the island’s lush green spaces as inspiration for garden, landscaping and outdoor designs.”
The Surf Club (Surfside)
Since its 1930 opening, this historic club was an entertainment hotspot (even Winston Churchill visited). Decades later, the club faded like The Rat Pack, losing its cache. Yet, a bigger challenge emerged: its new financially beneficial landmark status restricted new renovation options. How did Karp (and Four Seasons) bring Surf Club out of its luxury limbo?
“For nearly 100 years, nobody would ever stop in Surfside unless they were a member of this club. I gave them examples of how they can take a historic building, renovate it, and add a new structure adjacent to it. This allowed the developer to compete with a more salable complex. Cabanas were originally intended to be close to the ocean. So I suggested another building behind the cabanas which satisfied the original intent—an idea the preservation board supported. The club wasn’t open to the public, so we introduced a Four Seasons hotel and residences component overtop the crystal courtyard, with a lobby, kitchen and common areas. Now people have the opportunity to stay in an existing historic structure with a unique design.”
Plaza At The Lyric (Overtown)
“The Lyric” is an affordable housing mid-rise apartment building next to the famed Lyric Theater. Overtown wasn’t always the most desirable neighborhood. Past crime and violence there inspired Miami Vice, Scarface and the infamous slogan “Welcome to Miami, it’s a riot.” But times have changed.
“It’s near Overtown, where entertainers like jazz musicians would go after clubs closed elsewhere. It’s an African-American anchor for this community. And with improved infrastructure, churches, schools and Alonzo Mourning’s youth center, Overtown is becoming a cool destination where even whites and Latinos are visiting. We built The Lyric adjacent to a park and the theater. Now people drive by and say, ‘Wow this is nice.’ Using outdoor parks where people congregate helps.”
The 1 Hotel (South Beach)
Karp’s renovation of this eco-conscious hotel is an homage to nature—highlighted by his imaginative biophilic design (lobby entrance foliage, floral “1” sign), an attached urban park, air and water filtration, recycled materials, small energy footprint, and an enviro-nod from Ocean Global and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.
“Building green saves money over an extended period of time. Things like shadow boxes, deep terraces, solar protection, glazing systems for glass façades more than pay for themselves. The 1 Hotel was renovated as a big behemoth. We built a long façade along Collins Avenue and carved it out so it has a better relationship to the environment, street (a simple-use urban park), and beach (different hotel and residence entrances). We need to be inspirational whether it’s a hotel guest or a resident.”
Palau Sunset Harbor (Miami Beach)
Palau Sunset Harbor is a low rise five-story condominium with a tropical vibe. It dazzles visually and spatially thanks to the lush open-air courtyard; soaring, leaning tower palms; and hanging gardens with dangling vines over a central fountain. It’s a splash of paradise in a compact one-block space.
“Palau is an urban building with a secret garden, floating glass gym, and a floating rooftop pool. I wanted to bring you there and experience the treetops, the sunset islands and the Biscayne Bay. I didn’t people to walk to the rooftop just to see a pool.”
Effat Library & Cultural Museum (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Not Miami but it’s still hot. Karp modernized Effat University’s library (visually, intellectually, functionally), opening it up to the world via WiFi, expression and its meaningful design—inspired by Islam’s holy book, the Quran. Named for Queen Effat, the library even faces south toward Mecca, where Karp also just finished a 750-room hotel.
“Saudi Arabia’s most important book is the Quran, which offers inspiration and enlightenment. So we designed the library to resemble Islam’s holy book—lifting the building up in the air so people can congregate beneath it.”