Miami: Mediterranean Splendor and Deco Dreams 2007

Miami: Mediterranean Splendor and Deco Dreams
Beth Dunlop
November 17, 2007
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The Beginnings Start with the land, as one always does. In Miami it has always been about the land, the way it meets the sea and the sky. Even now, in a city that is very much man-made, the land and the landscape, the sea and the sky hold their power. For many years, the sky was Miami’s skyline, more so than the few tall buildings that rose into it. But that is no more. The Miami of the new millennium is a much different place, a city with a flashy skyline of Manhattan-tall buildings, most of them eked out in steel and glass, or less often, the more traditional local building materials of stucco and stone. It is a fast-paced city, one that sometimes appears to have been designed to be seen at sixty-five miles per hour, or perhaps even from an airplane as it descends for landing. For the finer details, one has to slow down and come to earth, of course. The story of this place unfolds in its architecture, in its landscape. And the story continues, changing decade by decade, from the original pioneer cabins on. And though one can find a rare Tudor-style or Colonial Revival building and more than a handful of bungalows, so much of the architecture of Miami is actually notable in its homogeneity–drawing from just four traditions and limited in materials. Wood came first but did not last, and then stone, but the dramatically beautiful local oolitic limestone was not abundant enough to build more than the occasional house in a fast-growing city. By the early twentieth century, wood had begun to yield to concrete, to stucco over block, and until at least the mid-1950s when the first curtain wall buildings were constructed, that is how it remained. It still largely is a stucco city, more in the tradition of the Mediterranean countries that so inspired the architecture that took hold in Florida in the early twentieth century. This was not ordinary land but rather something strange and exotic, unlike most other places known to those who settled it. In the beginning, there was little more than scrub and jungle–the muck and the mangroves–and the huge blue sky with its almost palpable clouds forming an empty tableau. Now we can see it as land simply waiting for picturesque buildings, and eventually the pioneers and the builders came to turn the swampland into paradise and sell it.

Beth Dunlop is the author of numerous books, including Arquitectonica. She is architecture critic for the Miami Herald. Robert A. M. Stern is one of America’s most prominent and respected architects and Dean of the Yale School of Architecture. His work is featured in numerous monographs. Steven Brooke is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome and winner of the AIA National Institute Honor Award for photography. He is the author and photographer of Rizzoli’s Sonoma Valley Style and Historic Houses of Virginia.

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