While Miami is increasingly becoming known as an art center, it has long been known for its architecture: from Mediterranean Traditional, to Art Moderne to contemporary skyscrapers, and of course, for Art Deco. South Beach has one of the largest, best restored Art Deco districts in the world. And it is displayed to particularly stunning effect in the neon-lit hotels and clubs of Ocean Drive.
Although we did not have time to participate in one of the daily South Beach architectural walking tours on this trip, we did walk the neighborhood, explore the lobbies and eat and had drinks in some of the most stunning of these buildings.
And, in our brief time downtown, and from the balcony of our apartment, we did have some opportunity to admire, if not actually explore some of the city’s modern towers.
We did, however, make time for a few architecture tours: One guided and one self-guided of two of South Beach’s newest architectural treasures—each at opposite ends of the Lincoln Road Mall.
Architectural Anchors for Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road Mall
Lincoln Avenue has always been one of Miami Beach’s hot spots. The pedestrian mall, which is lined with restaurants and some of the Beach’s hottest clubs, has long attracted fashionable Miamians, not to speak of all types of tourists. Until now, however, the primary draws have been social and, in the loosest sense of the word, culinary. (While few of the restaurants have been particularly noteworthy, they have been popular.)
Two relatively new buildings, on either end of the mall (actually, one is one block off the mall, but who’s counting) have added big doses of architectural, not to speak of cultural, culinary and social cache, to Lincoln Road.
New World Center. The first, just off the eastern end of the mall, is New World Center, a "post-graduate" music school (for select music school graduates who study under generous fellowships) and concert venue designed by architect legend Frank Geary, who also designed Los Angeles’ flamboyant, Walt Disney Concert Center (not to speak of Bilbao Spain’s Guggenheim Museum). But while the wild exterior of the Disney Center captures the attention of everybody that walks (or, more likely in LA, drives) by, the exterior of the New World Center is so plain, even austere, that one may not even give it second glance. This austerity is particularly evident in the bare, 7,000 square foot concrete wall that fronts onto the park (see below) that is adjacent to the center. In fact, the only real exterior flourish, other than the park, is the building’s concrete awning.
Picture of outside, of awning and of Disney
The bare 7,000 square-foot wall is used as a screen real-time video-casts of select concert hall performances. Up to 2,500 patrons can sit of the lovely lawn to watch concerts, operas and other performances at no charge.
Picture of park
But while the exterior is relatively austere, Geary’s magic comes through on the interior (much as was the case in his DZ Bank offices in Berlin). The lobby is dominated by acrobat blue bar and awning and graced by a handful of light blue bench seats, simple tables and the graceful, extremely comfortable Geary-designed wood chairs–a theme and color scheme that is carried though much of the building. It is accented by the sweeping curves and angles of a staircase and views of upper floors and an aluminum Frank Stella wall sculpture. Then, also on the first floor, is one of the larger, less formal practice and performance rooms–this one, a glass walled, multi-story room with 150 seats.
The concert hall, of which we were, unfortunately, not able to take pictures, was similarly stunning. Although it is relatively small (accommodating only 750 people) it is dramatic, with its sweeping angles, baby blue seats and especially the five "sails" that surround the space, and onto which pictures and videos can be displayed. When we visited, they were displaying images that would provide visual context for a forthcoming opera–images that surrounded the flexibly configurable stage.
And for those who need a breath of fresh air during intermission, you can step out onto the roof deck, with its trees, its views and its surprisingly comfortable concrete bench.
1111 Lincoln Road Parking Garage. The second architectural anchor, at the western end of the mall, is, believe it or not, a parking garage. 1111 Lincoln Road, however, is not your father’s parking garage. The structure, designed by the Swiss architectural firm, Herzog & Miller (the firm that designed the "bird’s nest" stadium that became the icon of the 2008 Beijing Olympics), is both much less, and much more than a parking garage.
It is less in that it has no exterior walls–just columns that jut out at angles, and with such harmony, as to be sculptural. It also contains actual sculptures, such as its wood-paneled staircase and an artistic creation made of the same type of rebar that supports the concrete. More also in that it contains more than cars. The fifth floor houses a trendy fashion boutique. It is capped by a large penthouse, built by and for the garage’s developer and, on the roof, Juvia, which, as discussed in our Miami Restaurants blog, is one of the best restaurants in the city. An accompanying public space, created to comply with zoning laws, is a tiled plaza with pools and its own sculpture.
1111 Lincoln, moreover, has become much more than a space for parking cars, shopping and eating. It has also become one of the city’s most popular social spaces. Joggers run up and down the various levels. Parkers, locals and tourists venture up to the top floors for great views of the city. The garage, in fact, become such an icon that it is now used to host high-profile society parties (including for Art Basel) and even weddings!
We made one other attempt at an architectural tour. Although we have taken many South Beach architectural tours, we have looked at, walked and stayed at–but not taken formal tours of—some of North Miami Beach’s Art Moderne hotels, such as the Fontainebleau. And such we are such fans of the Miami Design Preservation League’s South Beach Art Deco tour, we decided to take their Miami Modern (MiMo) walking tour. That, at least, was the plan.
Unfortunately, we were the only ones to show up at what we thought was the appointed time and place. Unfortunately, we discovered that these tours were not the second Saturday of the month (which we were there), but the first Saturday. Although we were disappointed (and a bit perturbed with me who made the mistake), it did give us more time to explore more of the off-site satellite art fairs than we would have otherwise have had time.