The History of Architecture in Miami
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Have you ever wondered why there are multiple different styles of architecture throughout the buildings located in Miami? Can you guess what inspired any of the different themes and changing aesthetics? Miami has become its own little beautiful melting-pot of culture, art, and architecture. Therefore, in order to dig deep into the history of architecture in Miami, we must first discover and acknowledge the dynamics behind this great city! Through the vision of the creators, styles of architecture and construction have evolved over different eras. By the same token, the ideas of these historic architects, shaped the paradise that we all enjoy today. To explore this, let’s dive a little deeper, and form a clear vision of how the foundation of this city was formed. Are you ready?! Step into my time machine…Our first stop; the 1800s!
History Shaped Over TimeMiami was founded all the way back in 1896! This led into the Florida land-boom in the 1920’s, which was followed by the post-depression development of 1929. Simultaneously, Miami was also being hit with hurricanes, enduring economic declines, AND surviving two World-Wars! Despite it all, each period of growth was associated with important moments of social change. The first notable change consisted of the transformations of the land. As a result, this action laid the foundation for Miami’s urbanism. Urbanism; refers to the characteristic way of life of city dwellers. In addition to this, the coastal chain became an ideal and desired landscape. Can you blame them? Another notable attribute that came to be; Miami Beach was conceived as an extension of the city’s leisurely suburb, and a playground for wealthy northern industrialists. As a result, Miami was growing in popularity as a desired winter resort residential complex and destination. That’s right; the beginning of the snowbirds!!!
1920’s – 1940’sSubsequently, the history of architecture in Miami started to be influenced by Caribbean traditions during the 1920s. These customs came to replace the urban complex of towers and low-rise apartment blocks. The Modern Movement however, with its emphasis on innovation and efficiency, had a great influence in the 1930’s. As a result, new standards of light, air, and open spaces would arrive to transform the plane of the city. However, the urban aspect of the Mediterranean Style, from the early years, was preserved in courtyards and promenades. Miami had distinctly been gaining a metropolitan identity. The development was evident, and the architecture and the economy of the city prospered. Therefore, new and old investors saw the need to move towards new undeveloped areas, particularly those located East, by the ocean. As a result, by 1935, Miami Beach was the FASTEST growing city in the country!
Economic Boom!After WWII had thankfully ended, a second economic boom provided another urban frenzy during the 1940’s. This began the construction of many communities and subdivisions. In addition, hotels and apartments, as well as large hotels by the sea also began to be arise. Fittingly, more homes and living options also sparked public destinations to open, such as shops, museums, theaters, clubs, and civil offices. From 1953 to 1970, the influx of Cuban refugees to Miami marked the beginning of the transition from a tourist community to a city of international stature!
1980’s – Beyond the HairsprayDuring the 1980’s, Miami experienced the largest construction progress in its history. I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I think of Miami in the 80’s my brain immediately goes to Miami-Vice style decor, bright magenta and turquoise colors, and long fancy cars with convertible tops. During this time, new skyscrapers sprang up Downtown, and along the boulevards built around Biscayne Bay. All of which, exude extraordinary beauty! Thus, the renovated Bay, became the largest cruise port in the world, overnight! Hundreds of architecture and design companies, along with powerful investors, came up with brimming new ideas and ambitious projects. The fight to reach the greatest heights was only beginning! And still continues, to this day!
Welcome to the 21st Century!The real estate industry was eager and ready to venture into the 21st century. Suddenly, Miami wasn’t just experiencing a construction boom, it was all the rave and becoming iconic. However, the history of architecture in Miami is home to distinctive, interesting and diverse buildings. As a result, throughout all these years, there were several architectural influences that inspired architects and builders. Multiple districts and designated historic sites in the City, make up the history of architecture in Miami. According to the Historic and Environmental Preservation Board of the City of Miami, the styles that have shaped the fabric of this city are:
- Frame Vernacular (1840s-present)
- Bahamian or Conch (1890-1920s)
- Neoclassical (1893-c. 1940)
- Bungalow (1910-1930)
- Mission (1910-1930)
- Mediterranean Renaissance (1917-1930)
- Art Deco (1929-1940)
- Streamline and Depression Moderne (1930-1942)
- Modern Miami (1945-1965)
Image by Historic Preservation
Frame VernacularFrame Vernacular refers to a simple wood frame construction. These buildings are typically rectangular, balloon-like in structure, and rest on pillars. Furthermore, they are one to two stories high, with one-story front porches and gabled or hipped roofs with flaps on the pendants. The most common materials used in frame vernacular are horizontal weatherboards and folding cladding. Some of the early buildings feature vertical panels and cladding with wooden slats or shingles. Wooden or double-hung sash windows are distinctive. In addition, the ornamentation includes tiles, corner posts, porch columns, supports, beams, vents (ends), and limestone accents. “Magic City Park” in Miami features a vernacular frame style of architecture. This collection of Frame Vernacular cabins comprises one of the few intact tourist courts left in Miami. It even represents one of the first stages in the development of the motel industry.
Bahamian / ConchThe Over-town area of Miami primarily features Bahamian/Conch style architecture. This vernacular architecture was typically the work of boat builders turned carpenters from the Bahamas and Key West. These “conch” houses have a rectangular shape, along with 1.5 to 2 floors. The roofs are wide gabled or low hipped. An interesting detail about this style, structures are raised off the ground, on wooden posts or masonry pillars, allowing air to circulate under the house. This architectural style’s most prominent feature is the balustraded front porch, sometimes wrapping around the sides of both floors. Additionally, on the exterior surfaces are horizontal weatherboards to complete the desired Bahamian/Conch look. Would you want to incorporate this style into your next home?
NeoclassicalThe Columbia World Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893, inspired the interest in classical models. This style is mainly based on the Greek architectural order. Lintels typically cross windows and doors. The arrangement of the windows is usually symmetrical with respect to a central door. Another hallmark of its own, is the full-height entrance portico on the main façade, supported by classical columns in the Ionic or Corinthian orders. Other neoclassical style features can include monumental proportions, large (sometimes three-paned) sash windows, pilasters, attic floors or parapets, and simple ceilings.
Neoclassical Architecture at Citizens Bank“Citizen’s Bank” in Uptown Miami features a neoclassical design. With their paired Corinthian columns and arched doorways, this can be distinguished clearly as a neoclassical styled building. The prominent “Citizens Bank” represents a fashionable architectural trend in South Florida from the 1920s. In fact, the building is a reminder of a time when local architects sought to create a visual identity for the young city. Thank you, local architects!
BungalowsBungalows were one of the most popular residential styles in the nation during the first three decades of the 20th century. The most common type in Miami has a gabled roof, a ridge perpendicular to the street, and an off-center gabled front porch. Horizontal weatherboards and wood shingles are the most common exterior siding materials. Further, porch supports are often thin masonry pillars, topped by wooden posts. Though the history or architecture in Miami has evolved over time, these bungalows are still desired destinations, especially for travelers looking to stay in an “ocean side bungalow”. I can hear the Ocean waves calling my name from it already! Can you? Image by hisour.com
Mission“Mission” styled architecture can be described as simple buildings that were inspired by the early Spanish missionary churches in California. The exterior walls are usually covered with stucco, although limestone was also used. The most distinctive features of the style are the tile roofs and arches; typically, low-pitched or flat, with curvilinear parapets or sloped roof sections. Windows can be a sash or casement. Arches are typical in the Mission facade, and common in other openings. The front porch sometimes extends over the carport or driveway to the side of the main building. The decor is at a minimum.
Mission Architecture EmbodiedA fitting example of this Mission style architecture is the “Plymouth Congregational Church”; founded in 1897 by Coconut Grove residents. Suitably, the roughly carved walls and towers of the Church are the work of a single master stonemason, Felix Rebom, who was born in Spain. Two steeples and a central curvilinear pediment distinguish this Mission-style building. A little fun fact: Plymouth Congregational Church has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974! Talk about making a memorable statement.
Mediterranean RenaissanceMediterranean Renaissance style defined Miami during the boom of the 1920s. The style reflects the architectural influences of the Mediterranean coast. It recreates and embodies Italian, Byzantine, Moorish Southern Spanish and French themes. In addition, parapets, twisted columns, pediments and great are all applied in classic details and building arches. Patios, balconies, and loggias replace the common front porch. Mediterranean Renaissance architecture tends to work best in large buildings to fully encompass the look. The most common materials used are: stucco walls, red tile roofs, wrought iron railings, wooden supports and balconies, as well as oolitic limestone, ceramic tile and terra-cotta for trim.
Mediterranean Renaissance at Coconut Grove“Coconut Grove Playhouse” in Miami embodies this Mediterranean Renaissance style. Entrepreneurs Irving J. Thomas and Fin L. Pierce planned “The Grove” as a luxurious movie theater for Paramount Enterprises. Reduced to a second-rate theater after World War II, the building was closed in 1954 due to increasing competition from television. The facility reopened as a live theater in 1956, and was dubbed the “Coconut Grove Playhouse.” Subsequently, the theater is now currently highly recognized as a regional theater at the national level. Next time you’re in the area, check it out and count how many different attributes of the Mediterranean Renaissance style you can find throughout the building!
Art decoNext on our journey throughout the history of architecture in Miami, is Art Deco. Art Deco as a design style is a 20th century phenomenon. Arriving for the first time in the United States after the Paris Exposition of 1925, it was promoted there as a fusion of the decorative arts, industry and technology. As a result, this is a distinctive style in the history of architecture in Miami. (Cue my earlier mission of Miami-Vice-life.) Art Deco was the laid-back forerunner of the international style. Furthermore, this style features applied decoration. It is based on organic shapes and geometric patterns, executed with the latest materials and construction methods. Their shapes are angular, and the facades often recede, especially in taller buildings. Furthermore, decorative elements range from industrial themes to Egyptian, Mayan, and American Indian. Generally, the shapes and the decoration have a vertical orientation.
Art Deco ContinuedIn South Florida, the motifs are nautical and tropical, such as: palm trees, flamingos, pelicans, the moon, and the ocean; reflected in bas-relief stucco panels, etched glass, and murals. The “Modern” style evolved from Art Deco. An example of the Art Deco style being featured in Miami is the restaurant “S & S”: It is quite a small building; only 12 feet wide. For instance, its classic Art Deco design illustrates the prevailing architectural trends and materials. This type of small neighborhood restaurant was very popular in the United States in the 1930s, but over time most of them disappeared. Do you have a favorite architectural style you prefer for restaurants? It’s the rooftop dining for me!
Streamline and Depression ModerneStreamline Moderne, described the laws of aerodynamics in architecture. In other words, it reflected the growth of speed and travel. The forms of construction evoke automobiles, trains, ocean liners, and airplanes. The mass reflects abstract and simplified shapes with rounded corners devoid of much applied decoration. Furthermore, structures feature horizontal compositions, window bands, racing stripes, and flat roofs. This style introduces new materials such as: vitrolite, glass blocks, chrome, stainless steel, terrazzo and neon. Additionally, characteristics of these typical Miami buildings are “brow” ledges over the windows, front porches, with nautical motifs, and bas-relief panels depicting tropical scenes. The buildings, “Streamline Moderne”, commissioned by Public Works reflect an increased use of conservative and classical elements.
Five-Story Walgreens!For instance, Miami’s “Walgreen Pharmacy” features this Streamline Moderne architectural style. In the Depression era, the construction of this five-story, $ 1.5 million building was seen as a vote of confidence for the future of the city’s architecture. Miami’s climate demanded to be a factor of consideration throughout the innovative design. In fact, the property was publicized as the LARGEST store in the Walgreens chain. Fittingly so, the structure has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1989. Can you imagine the make-up section?! It must be INCREDIBLE!
Modern MiamiThe Miami Modern style evolved from Art Deco and Streamline Moderne designs, reflecting greater modern functional simplicity. Moreover, their typologies included the use of geometric patterns, oval and curved shapes, stylized sculptures, decorative cast concrete panels, and nautical-themed masonry at entrances. Additionally, they also include typical characteristics, such as, cantilevered roof plates, cantilevered floor slabs with supporting pipe columns, outdoor decks and symmetrical staircases. The “Motel Vagabond” structure embodies the characteristics of modern style in Miami. Therefore, Motel Vagabond includes an outdoor floor plan, louvered windows, geometric designs, and overhanging roof lines. B. Robert Swartburg, one of Miami-Dade County’s most outstanding and innovative architects, was the architect on the job. Similarly, other notable structures he created were: the Miami Civic Center Complex, the Bass Museum, and the Delano Hotel. Have you been to any of these places to witness them yourself?
Ever-Evolving HistoryIt’s interesting to learn the intentions and historical meanings that builders wanted to convey throughout Miami. So, next time you’re driving around Miami, see how many different styles you can find and point out! What style do you believe inspired the look of your home? Which style is your favorite? Which do you find the most inspiring? Do you incorporate the style of architecture to inspire the decor inside? Furthermore, what do you think the next architectural style to sweep the industry will be based on? We are excited that Eastern Engineering Group will be a part of it! History as we know it is always evolving. Therefore, we will continue investigating the history of architecture in Miami, and we look forward to taking you on the next journey! You may now safely exit the time machine. We hope you’ve enjoyed the ride! © 2021 Publishing by Eastern Engineering Group. All rights reserved.
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