Think Miami, Think Architecture: Part 1

Florida is a puree of a number of cultures. In many ways, it is a microcosm of the United States. People from all over the world have contributed to the state’s history: native peoples, originally; eventually the Spanish, French, and English; later on the Caribbean and African slaves that were brought to work on the land; and now a large population of immigrants from all across Latin America. No city epitomizes this fusion of cultures better than Miami, which magically sprang out of nothing at the dawn of the 20th century to become the booming metropolis it is today. In Miami one can find colorful tropical buildings, concrete government bastions, glimmering skyscrapers, structures with their roots very much in Spanish heritage, and of course the head-turning Art Deco that Miami has grown to be known for.

Over the years I’ve grown to be fond of a number of buildings throughout Miami that really stick out to me as being representative of the city. Here is a list of some of my favorites.

The Colony Hotel

Located in the South Beach’s Art Deco District, is the undeniably iconic Colony Hotel. Built by Henry Hohauser, the Colony Hotel exudes mystique and allure. What really stands out about the building is its simple and symmetrical art deco facade and the neon-lit, all capital letters sign that appears in an upside down “T”. It’s curvy, it’s angular, it’s altogether geometric. Like other buildings on this list, what’s remarkable to me about the Colony Hotel is how long the it has managed to stay on its original foundation. It was constructed all the way back in 1936. While much of Miami’s South Beach has changed, history has seen to keeping the Miami Hotel up and running.

The Fontainebleau Hotel

Another South Beach treasure is the Fontainebleau Hotel. Unlike some of the other buildings on this list, the Fontainebleau Hotel was erected a little later in 1953 by Morris Lapidus. Over the years the hotel has received extensive renovations. It has closed and re-opened its doors many times, but today the Fontainebleau doesn’t look like it will be closing its doors anytime soon. In 2012, the American Institute of Architecture’s Florida Chapter voted the Fontainebleau Hotel as the best building (and best hotel) in Florida. Currently the hotel is on the U.S. National Register of Historic places. The Fontainebleau is constructed in a unique shallow “c” shape that shows off it’s extensive girth. While the building itself is impressive, it’s the extensive grounds surrounding it that really make it standout in my mind. There are numerous hot tubs and swimming pools, and the largest pool that is right on the ocean, features a very eye-catching bow-tie-like design. Even if you haven’t been to Miami, chances are that you’ll recognize the place from James Bond’s Goldfinger or Scarface.

The Freedom Tower

Not to be confused with New York City’s Freedom Tower, this Miami icon is structured in the Mediterranean Revival style, with more than one element borrowed from Spain’s Giralda. Originally constructed to be a newspaper office, the Freedom Tower came into prominence later on when the United States government started using it as an immigration customs facility. To connect back to New York, this Freedom Tower could be called Miami’s Ellis Island. Today, the Freedom Tower serves as a contemporary art museum and as the home to numerous arts organizations throughout the Miami-Dade area.

Coral Gables Biltmore Hotel

Like the Freedom Tower, The Biltmore Hotel is another spiring structure that in my mind remains inextricable from the city of Miami, itself. When completed by Schultze and Weaver in 1928, it was the tallest building in Florida at what is now a laughable 315 ft. Although it is no longer the tallest building in Florida (let alone Miami!), the Biltmore Hotel has gone on to earn the distinction of National Historic Landmark. Like most homes in the tucked away suburb of Coral Gables, the Biltmore hotel owes its style to Mediterranean Revivalism. Again, like the Freedom Tower, the Biltmore Hotel was inspired in part by the Giralda in Spain.

This has just been a taste of the great architecture in Miami. In future blogs, I intend to look at more.

Are you starting to feel the urge to check out some of Miami’s variegated architecture yourself? Curbed has put together an excellent map to help you make your way from each iconic building to the next.

Raanan Katz

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