Architecture in Miami
Executive summary byDarmansjah
Imagination and innovation are big in Miami. Known as the Magic City. This is evident in its architecture – from the art deco landmarks of South Beach to the opulent mansions of Coral Gables and the high rises of Downtown.
Freedom Tower was one of the first skyscrapers in Downtown Miami. Designed by New York firm Schultze & Weaver in 1925, the tower was modeled on Seville’s Giralda bell tower. Home to the Miami Daily News for 32 years, it became the ‘Ellis Island of the South’ in the ‘60s when it served as an immigration processing centre for half a million Cuban refugees (600 Biscayne Blvd).
Adrienne Arsht Center
This performing arts centre is a major component of Downtown’s urban facelift. Designed by Cesar Pelli (of Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers fame), the centre has two auditoriums on opposite sides of Biscayne Bldv: the Knight Concert Hall and Ziff Ballet Opera House. The venues are connected by an elegant bridge, while inside the theatres there’s a sense of the sea and land sculptured by wind (arshcenter.org; 1300 Biscayne Blvd).
The Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts is vintage-classic beautiful. First opened in 1926 as a silent movie palace, the theatre later hosted acts such as Elvis and BB King. It has a simulated night sky – 246 twinkling stars and clouds cast over an indigo blue ceiling – classical Greek sculptures and Vienna Opera House-style embellishments (gusmancenter.org; 174 E Flagler St; theatre tours 2pm Tue & Thu by appointment).
Lincoln Road Mall
Yes, you can shop here butthis outdoor pedestrian street is really about seeing and being seen. Morris Lapidus, a founder of the Neo-Baroque Miami Beach style, designed much of the mall, such as the canopies and waterfall features, traffic barriers that look like giant marbles, plus the Art Deco Lincoln Theatre and Colony Theatre (Lincoln Rd between alton Rd & Washington Ave).
Art Deco Historic District
South Beach’s heart is its Art Deco Historic District, from 18th St and South along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. Its beautiful hotels, with their tropical Americana facades, scream ‘Miami’. Head straight to the Art Deco buildings out there, and take a 90-minute tour (mdpl.org; 1001 Ocean Dr; tours at 10.30am daily and 6.30pm on Thu; US$21).
New World Center
Designed by Frank Gehry, the New World Center rises majestically out of a manicured lawn, looking somewhat like a tissue box with a glass facade. The venue is home to the New World Symphony and the grounds form a large public park; performances inside the centre are projected to those outside via a 650-sq-m projection wall. Inside, the folded layers of white walls feel halfway between organic and origami (newworldcenter.com; 500 17th St; tours Tue & Thu 4pm, Fri & Sat noon; US$5.70).
Founded in the ‘20s by developer George Merrick, Coral Gables is called The City Beautiful with good reason – it’s filled with opulent mansions that run the gamut from Mediterranean wedding cakes to neo-Arabic palaces. Walk through the various villages, such as The Chinese Village and the Dutch South African Village. You can also tour Merrick’s home, which looks as it did in 1925 (coralgables.com).
Mooted as the grandest jewel in the city’s crown, The Biltmore, built in 1925, feels like an Arabian castle crossed with a Medici villa. It is one of the greatest hotels of the American jazz Age – Al Capone had a speakeasy here, and the Capone Suite is supposedly haunted by the ghost of Fats Walsh, who was murdered here (biltmorehotel.com; 1200 Anastasia Ave; talks on the history of the hotel, 7pm Thu).
In 1923, the Venetian Pool was created from a coral rock quarry. The spring-fed pool is a watery wonderland of caves, cascading waterfalls, a palm-fringed island and Venetian-style moorings, and is one of the few pools listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Take a dip just as swimming stars such as Esther Williams and Johnny ‘Tarzan’ Weissmuller once did (coralgablesvenetianpool.com); 2701 de Soto Blvd; US$12.20).
Flights on Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines are available to Heathrow, while American Airlines, BA and virgin Atlantic fly direct to Miami from Heathrow (from US$1,062; ba.com). Most will need an ESTA before travelling to the states (esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta). The airport is six miles west of Downtown Miami. A taxi to the Downtown hotels will cost around US$22.80, while a Super Shuttle van will cost around US$16.20 (supershuttle.com). The driverless Metromover is helpful for getting around the Downtown area and is free (miamidade.gov/transit), while fares for the Metrorail are calculated on a zone basis (from Us$2.10). The urban sprawl of Miami means most visitors drive (car hire from US$32.50 per day; avis.com).
Where to Stay
The Downtown Miami River Inn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has 40 charming New England-style rooms, friendly service and one of the best libraries of Miami literature in the city (miamiriverinn.com; 118 SW South River Drive; from US$122).
Cardozo Hotel, owned by singer Gloria Estefan, was one of the first Art Deco Hotels saved by the Miami Design Preservation League it has hardwood floors, handmade furniture and a general sense that, you are dool if you stay here (cardozohotel.com; 1300 Ocean Drive; from US$187).
Sense Beach House is reminiscent of sand dunes and the sea. Choose between serene ‘Sand’ rooms and calming ‘Blue’ rooms. There’s a rooftop pool and terrace (sensebeachhouse.com; 400 Ocean Drive; from US$318).
Art Deco Classics
Essex House hotel
Porthole windows lend the feel of a cruise ship, while its name spire is like a rocket, recalling Art Deco’s roots as an aesthetic complement to modernism and industrialism (1001 Collins Ave). Deco lifeguard stations on south Beach These are Cubist-inspired exemplars of the Deco movement, with sharp, geometric lines and dazzling colours (found from 1st to 17th St). The Carlyle hotel Comes with futuristic styling, triple parapets. The Jetsons sort of vibe and cinematic cachet: The Birdcage was filmed here (1250 Ocean Drive). Jerry’s Famous Deli Housed in the former Hoffman’s Cafeteria building, this spacious 1939 gem has a front that resembles the prow of a Buck Rogers ship (1450 Collins Ave).
To immerse yourself in everything Art Deco, head to the Magic City in mid-January for Art Deco Weekend, featuring guided tours, concerts, classic car shows, sidewalk cafes, and art and antique stalls (artdecoweekend.com).
Lonely Plannet’s Miami & the Keys (US$24.50) is a comprehensive guide to the city and chapters of the book can be downloaded at lonelyplannet.com (US$4.90). beached Miami covers culture and arts events in the city (beachedmiami.com). The 1983 film Scarface, starring Al Pacino, captures the highs and lows of Miami’s hyperextravagant ‘80s – citizens have taken the film’s iconic catchphrase ‘The world is yours’ to heart.