Miami - Its Origins and Its Potential
Florida Licensed Architect
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MIAMI- ITS ORIGINS AND ITS POTENTIAL
Miami is many things to many people but boring, it is not! It offers great opportunities for talented developers, builders, and residents, especially those interested in experimenting with and living among different cultures and languages
The geographic area which is now Miami-Dade County had fewer than 100 residents in the 1800’s. Julia Tuttle, a local resident, persuaded Standard Oil founder, Henry Flagler, to extend his railroad to Miami. The City of Miami was incorporated in 1896.
In the early 20th century Miami Beach started to draw tourists. What is now known as South Beach began its growth and reached its peak of development in the 1930’s and 40’s. Today, this area is collection of what has become known as Art Deco or Streamline Moderne. From that time to the 1960’s it became a tourist mecca, the destination of millions of Americans. Streamline Moderne is characterized by slick smooth lines and curves, stucco finish on concrete block, and a concrete structure. Often the roofs are flat and eyebrows shield windows and doors. Glass block is popular in this type of architecture.
As Americans began to travel more to Europe on vacation in the 1970’s, however, Miami Beach came into disrepair and became the retirement community for millions of poor Americans - but not for long. In the 1980’s several visionary developers saw the potential for restoring the beauty of this wonderful pedestrian community to its former glory and quickly went to work restoring this area.
Today, Miami Beach is again the haven of the rich and famous where people walk on its streets and party all hours of the day and night.
Coral Gables Mediterranean Residence
Another community was established nearby in the 1920’s. George Merrick, the son of the minister of the Coral Gables Congregational Church, established probably what is one of the premier communities in this area, Coral Gables. Coral Gables went through several boom and bust cycles to be what it is today, a very desirable, small urban community, very well kept by the city commission and the city staff which make sure that all the rules on the books regarding the aesthetics of the community are kept. Because of this, the values of both residential and commercial property are maintained high. Although the Gables has a mix of several architectural styles, seen in such places as the Chinese Village, the French village, and the modern homes of Gables estates, the predominant architecture is “Mediterranean”, as it is called by the locals. Coral Gables has done much to promote this style by giving credits for development in its commercial development code and Cottage Ordinance for existing residences. “Mediterranean” is a stylized version, scaled-down version of classical Renaissance architecture. It uses a mix of elements some of which are stucco finish, barrel or flat cement tile, stucco trims and decorations, arches, and decorative columns.
Coconut Grove is another wonderful area which started as a backwaters pedestrian village for beatniks, artists, and non-conformists. The low scale and lack of strict regulatory enforcement led to a wonderful laid-back community. Over the years people found the area so attractive that more and more people move in. The area grew. Eventually, it was no longer the low-rise community it once was, but a mix of low-rise and high-rise condominium buildings and single-family residences in the surrounding areas. The inhabitants of this area migrated from the Bahamas, New England, the Eastern United States, and the Florida Keys. Because of this the area’s earliest architectural style is Key West or beach cottages similar to the New England Victorian cottage architecture. This architecture consists of a wood structure with high ceilings and large windows for cross-ventilation. Sometimes it has small wood decorative elements. Often it has wood porches and railings. They used local materials, often Florida pine which was very durable and not susceptible to termites.
Miami was a very remote and insignificant town until the early 1960’s. When the Cuban Revolution forced a large group of educated Cuban families to leave their country and relocate to other areas, Miami became the preferred destination of these Cuban families.
These people brought knowledge, expertise, and a great deal of energy and enthusiasm.
They set out to reclaim their former lives and establish themselves as a formidable political and economic force. Most had come without money, but by the 1980’s, using local money; they had transmuted their talent and persistence, into multi-million dollar businesses. The businesses ran the gamut from construction and development to automobile dealerships, restaurants, insurance, communication, and bottling companies. Professionals from Cuba were re-certified and practiced medicine, accounting, architecture, engineering, etc.
With the constant influx of Cubans, and then later Haitian and other Latin American immigrants, Miami-Dade County has grown to over 2.4 million people. The U.S. Census Bureau statistics say a great deal about the Miami population. In 2005 over 60% of the population was of Hispanic or Latino origin. There is almost the same percentage for Black as for White non-Hispanics, 20% for each. In 2000 (the latest data available) almost 51% was foreign born. In 2005 there were 26,120 building permits issued. The homeownership rate was almost 60%. What conclusions can we draw from these statistics? Miami is an ethnically mixed community with much money circulating.
Besides the talents that the Cubans brought to this city, they brought their own architectural traditions. Although modern architecture had found a great home in Cuba, here, maybe because of what the Cuban revolution had imposed on them, the new Cuban-Americans reached for their roots in Classical Cuban architecture and developed an affinity for its new Mediterranean cousin. Because of this Mediterranean architecture is part of the everyday landscape found almost everywhere in this county.
With all the growth of the last 100 years, Miami is still a young city. The zoning of Miami is in flux. Originally, Miami-Dade County was almost 1-story throughout. In driving through the city one would see miles and miles of single-family homes. Today, that is changing. Many condominiums have been built. But what may really impact the city is the new Miami 21 Zoning Code, developed by our great visionary local planners, Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company. Their code would introduce height restrictions throughout the city but at the same time promoting development on the two streets adjacent to main thoroughfares, increasing the density throughout the city. In addition, the code would bring to Miami for the first time a physical code as opposed to a mathematical code, with the possibility of greatly improving the pedestrian and physical beauty of the city.
Miami promises to continue to be a great metropolis with an increasing cultural heritage. If you have any comments or would like to talk more about Miami and its architecture, please contact me at my office. See number and email below.
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