How Miami generates new architectural identities
This article appears in the April 2017 issue of The Architect’s Newspaper, which offers an in-depth look at Florida on the occasion of the upcoming AIA Architecture Conference in Orlando (April 27-29). We’ll post the issue online as the conference approaches. Click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.
There are facts about Miami that challenge the American narrative of what it means to be American, such as the fact that most Miamians – documented and undocumented – have been American all their lives, just more southern; One of the city’s major arteries is Calle Ocho (US-41), which begins on the Atlantic Ocean in downtown Miami and extends to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, turning into a cul-de-sac, wrapping itself around itself and dividing the United States in two; and English was never an official language of the United States, as best seen in Miami’s creation of Spanglish. Perhaps no other interpretation can locate the Miami problem as the most American object.
Miami is blown out and surging beyond the line of the acceptable into the realm of the unbelievable and back again in a case so fleeting that only short-lived anecdotes can describe it. But there is persistence in this feeling, textures embedded in the Cuban coffee windows of the sidewalk, the Haitian grill in parking lots, the unspecified graffiti facades of new buildings, the bridge cities that connect synthetic soil with eroding beaches, color and light that are used as generators for the architecture and ultimately in the eclectic language of the formalities spoken by the beautiful people of this sprawling, horizontal Tower of Babel.
As the capital of the end and the beginning of the world, Miami’s architecture fits. From its colonial past to its cracker style to its New Deal Modern and The internationalist Art Deco explosion in Miami was in equal parts a parking lot and an unremarkable laboratory for designers. Like Los Angeles, Miami had its own twist on postmodernism thanks to unforgettable work by Arquitectonica like Pink House and Atlantis. Roney Mateus ‘radical steel and glass light building from 1984 that challenged Coral Gables’ tiny terracotta urban fabric; and Philip Johnson’s Miami Cultural Center, which may have been “stuck in the MAM” (before it became PAMM). At that time it was Miami most productively cocaine-funded The density has only recently been exceeded by unrestricted locker towers on the skyline. For the past 20 years, Miami has been criticized for its lack of resilience when it comes to sustainability and hailed as an innovative southeastern center. One lesson from this contradiction is that Miami has always been both, inhabiting challenging stereotypes and yet projecting new identities.
But Miami’s architecture translates some of these conditions visually through examples of drive-by-sidewalk cultures and mediated facades; Coloring as a strategy for architecture; and resilient bridge cityscapes. Since trying to get a poor definition of everything in Miami is unproductive, perhaps projecting new genealogy through its architecture could make it more worthwhile.
The Barcardi building was designed in 1963 by the Cuban architect Enrique Gutierrez. (Courtesy Daniel Christensen / Wikimedia Commons)
A new kind of architectural element has exploded in Miami: the mediated facade. That is, the facade – technocratic, decorative, relaxed, absent and in any other way – had a very sympathetic, if aesthetically allergic, ear in the history of Miami thanks to the capital, the climate and the climate Culture. For example expressive and gigantic graphics found their origins in modernism in the tile facades that covered the sides of Enrique Gutierrez ‘Bacardi Building and on Roberto Burle Marx’s pavement cobblestones, both located on Biscayne Boulevard. The conveyed facade differs in that it is separated from its traditional place within the elements of architecture and the design process, especially in a planned loss of control for the architect. The Miami facade began to function differently in the Design District in the early to mid-2000s and had its origins in Rene Gonzalez’s CIFO Art Museum. Gonzalez used a million Bisazza glass mosaic tiles to depict jungle scenography and used postmodern communication to rasterize the historic tectonic gymnastics of facades in Miami without resorting to a metaphorical translation of the vegetation. However, this jungle image at CIFO has not only changed the reception of facades in the Design District by driving fast, parking dense and driving slowly Go, but also the transparencies and porosities of Miami’s more acceptable architectural faces.
In Wynwood, a low-resolution version of the mediated facade with high participation in the form of almost mere frontal surface treatments was filmed by architects the sidewalk to an outside area Lowbrow Museum Walk. By leaving the facades strong, architects are giving up aesthetic control and expression for a more local collaboration, usually with painters, artists, and graffiti writers to bridge the gap between neighborhood and interior space. The result is a multivalent series of street landscapes, corridors, alleys and entrance sequences that expand the art into both the facade-driven traditions of architecture and the urban interior and are accessible when it is not raining.