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Thread: Miami Beach: South Beach commercial buildings and streets (photos and commentary)

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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Miami Beach: South Beach commercial buildings and streets (photos and commentary)

    MIAMI BEACH: South Beach Commercial Buildings and Streets

    Miami Beach is a great little city.



    It’s one of the very few small cities to have survived in North America. This puts it in the distinguished company of Charleston, Annapolis, Quebec, and maybe Santa Fe and Savannah. Other North American cities of this size have been damaged to the point where they don’t function as pedestrian environments.



    According to the 2000 census, 87,933 people live in the 7.03 square miles inside the Miami Beach city limits, for a city-limit density of 12,508—a bit more than Boston.



    Its diverse and interesting population, its beach and nightlife, its shopping and dining opportunities and its cosmopolitan aura leave visitors thinking it’s unique and full of character, but most of all these days, it’s noted for its Deco architecture:



    The City of Miami Beach is divided into North Beach, which is dense and suburban, and South Beach, which is even denser and thoroughly urban.

    SOUTH BEACH



    The South Beach zip code is 33139. Within its 2.60 square miles live 40,177 permanent residents (2003), yielding a density of 15,472 persons per square mile, about the same as San Francisco. This surprising figure is achieved despite swaths of hotels and a large business district with few permanent residents. And it’s achieved principally with two and three story buildings, both commercial and residential, that are mostly free-standing. It resembles Cambridge, MA in this regard.

    South Beach looked like this in 1989:


    Where are the back yards?

    It was built mostly in the Great Depression. Just getting started in 1930, it looked like this:



    Even today, few highrises interrupt the consistent three-story scale of South Beach, except at the very southern edge, from which this photo was taken:


    Photo from SSP

    South Beach contains the nation’s largest historic district; at one square mile, it surpasses Boston’s South End in size:


    Michelin.

    South Beach adheres to a grid, like most of Manhattan, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago or Charleston. The east-west streets are numbered for the visitor’s easy orientation, while the less-numerous north-south avenues bear names. Each of the first three avenues in from the beach can fairly claim Main Street status, though for different reasons.



    Running along the broad beach, the easternmost avenue is Ocean Drive (sometimes known as Deco Drive), the main drag for tourists and beachgoers, lined with hotels and restaurants. This is Miami Beach’s raison d’etre, the symbolic and economic core.



    The scene here reaches a crescendo Saturday nights, when it becomes a parade of musclemen, belly buttons, anacondas and supercars:














    Sunday morning on Ocean Drive.

    Next comes Collins Avenue, lined with hotels and restaurants, which are joined by chic boutiques. It’s the main drag where locals and tourists rub shoulders, and it’s also a state highway, sometimes heavy with traffic:






    Convertible by Bentley.


    Can you spot the parking?









    Washington Avenue is the residents’ main drag: an everyday shopping street bracketed in the north by a small porno district and in the south by clubs (ah, those clubs…). At the northern end it resembles a busy street in Queens, with groceries, bistros and a hardware store; the southern end, with its cafes, may remind you of Italy:


    The main drag where the locals shop.

    A glitzy bus stop and a dull office tower at Washington Avenue and Lincoln Mall. This building makes me grateful new structures in the South Beach historic district are built in Deco style, rather than International Style Modernism, which reduces all places to the same place: anyplace. “International,” after all, is the opposite of “local:”



    “Local” is Deco:



    South and west of the historic district, big new non-Deco bayside condos introduce another scale that looks good from a distance but meets the ground plane in anti-urban fashion:


    Photo from SSP.

    At the other end of town, standard North Beach highrises loom above the strand:



    Big buildings materialized on the Beach itself in 1947 with the primo Hotel Delano, shown here on a deserted early Sunday morning beach, waiting for a thunderstorm. The Delano was recently reconceived by that guru of glitz, French hotel architect Philippe Starck. This may be the city’s most desirable digs.



    THE LOOK

    South Beach is for people who like to look. Whether you like to look at people or buildings, you’ll be equally rewarded:





    Here you may also enjoy looking at cars:


    Refugee from Cuba? A ’60 “Dodge Imperial.”


    Boys on a cruise in the Azure by Bentley. Just a bit more than 400k will get you one too.

    My personal predilection is looking at cityscape, ensembles of buildings that delight the eye:









    Deco!


















    The Cardozo, named for the Roosevelt-era Supreme Court justice, and owned by Gloria Estefan. Emerson made a radio that was its spitting image.



    Deco Revival, just five-or-so years old (left), added to the real thing (right):


    Wait a minute…they’re both the real thing! What difference does it make when they were built?

    Some more Deco Revival. The five-story height also gives it away:


    Elevator tower hurts the symmetry.

    And yet two more:





    Late Deco morphs into International Style around the time Gropius comes to America in the Forties; this one also exceeds the usual three stories:



    Around this time, things start to look a little cheap (Gropius would say “economical”), and ground floors start to get a bit chaotic as the car muscles in, relegating pedestrian access to a kind of pit:



    Converted office building makes a somewhat downmarket hotel


    ’56 Dodge.

    Neo-deco Jewish deli, built to look like it was always there. The establishment may have been, but the building’s new:



    An original:


    Showtime. Note the ristorante.

    And another:


    Lincoln Theatre, a converted movie house and now home of the New World Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson-Thomas, conductor. He also conducts the San Francisco Symphony.

    As in Manhattan, Miami Beach gives you that genuine big city rush of the unexpected when you venture out for a ramble. I happened on the Lincoln Theatre at noon, and the orchestra was rehearsing Dvorak’s eponymous New World Symphony with a Czech conductor. The orchestra’s musicians are all in their twenties; big-city orchestras like the Chicago Symphony get their fresh blood here. They’re too young to be thinking about work rules and contracts, so they are here to play their hearts out. What I heard that afternoon was quite simply the best orchestral playing I have ever heard: better than the New York Philharmonic, better than the Boston Symphony, and as good as the Vienna Philharmonic. Pretty good for free:



    Modernism tiptoed in behind Deco in Miami Beach:


    A Modernist relationship to the sidewalk, like a sixties apartment building in Manhattan.

    Hybrid:


    Modern detailing; but symmetrical massing, like most Deco buildings.

    Crude Revivalism:


    A little of this, a little of that.

    Fifties Revivalism verges on parody (clunky as that SUV):



    http://p196.ezboard.com/fcafeurbanit...icID=239.topic

    Grotesque Revivalism:


    Pretty obvious what that is.

    The newest building, however, is the one that strives to look the oldest:


    Florida Spanish Revival. Shades of Robert Stern?

    It also actually touches its neighbor at ground level, something earlier buildings scrupulously avoid. They must have changed the zoning. Still, this makes pretty good townscape. More Fifties Revival next door, foreground:



    Actually, Spanish, Mediterranean, whatever you want to call it, is this city’s second most prevalent style. It was most common in the Twenties, just before Deco:







    Also Spanish and from the Twenties is downtown’s sole skyscraper (City Hall):



    A Plateresque chapel:



    And a hotel:



    There’s a whole little Spanish-style district, centered on a street called Espanola Way:



    Weekends, parking’s restricted and this turns into a street market. Early morning, vendors set up tents and tables where weekdays people park:



    The scene here takes on the sunbaked hues of Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic:



    Caribbean life:





    Diminutive scale skates at the edge of the Disneyesque:











    Italian-style colonization of sidewalk:









    A few really high class Spanish style mansions survive from the Twenties, including one on Ocean Drive. The influence is Mizner, and the material is native coral:





    Even older, and also of coral, some vernacular architecture (once a house) rendered a little grotesque by the recent handrail code:



    Espanola Way is cozy and cute, but the big money’s made at Lincoln Mall:



    This used to be a street, but they replaced the roadway with vegetation and café tables:



    Reminds me of Italy:



    Must remind the café proprietors too, since they’re mostly Italian:



    You can trust an Italian to pick a café chair; he’s got that touch:



    Many of the shopkeepers are Italian too; can you tell from the black clothes?



    Is it a Power Center?



    Is it New Urbanism?



    Early morning Saturday and already packed. Wait till everyone sits down for lunch:



    The street’s Deco, and it’s been closed to cars for a long time, as you can tell from the size of the trees:



    There used to be car dealers:



    Cadillac/LaSalle dealership makes a nifty café if you add a skylight:



    Cross streets are not interrupted by the mall, so you regularly encounter cars slinking by at 3 mph:



    And the theater still operates:



    And so does a hotel:



    Not like the mall back home. Is it a mall at all?

    Well…one thing it shares with all malls—it has a service area:



    * * *
    A PRETTY NICE STRETCH OF MODERNISM

    Collins Avenue, the beachfront main drag, ends in a Chinese wall of high rises:



    These are clustered a little incongruously around a flight of steps leading to a plaza. Here the beach ceases to be public and becomes the private domain of those big North Beach blockbusters. Thus, those glitzy new high rises mark the symbolic beginning of the North Beach sphere of influence. In addition, they make a pretty good case for the decorative potential of Modernist architecture:









    These buildings borrow elements from Deco’s vocabulary --portholes and eyebrows—and combine them with Modernist massing and machine order. Here South Beach blends with North, both geographically and architecturally:



    Eye candy on Ocean Drive’s northernmost blocks: these buildings really look good, but what they give to the city and the street is chiefly detail to keep your eyes entertained; their urban gestures leave a little to be desired. Why, for example, the flight of steps removing the outdoor seating area from sidewalk level?















    STREETS

    As in any real city, people walk in Miami Beach. This is partly because it’s desirable and partly because it’s unavoidable. It’s desirable because there are almost no parking lots (and so the streetwall’s continuous and things aren’t separated); and its unavoidable because there are almost no parking lots (and so you can’t park at your destination unless there’s a vacant meter alongside).


    Collins Avenue.

    Though the streetwall seems continuous, there are actually small gaps between buildings:


    Collins Avenue.

    This allows fenestration of sidewalls and deep buildings that extend all the way to their rear property lines. Most unusual:


    Collins Avenue.

    Those spaces between buildings are often developed as linear courtyards, sometimes shared:



    And sometimes divvied up from front to back:



    As buildings are built all the way from front property lines to rear, you’ll find alleys to access the rears:


    San Juan?

    A brand new poured concrete neo-Deco looms over an old Spanish style mansion on Ocean Drive, as $350,000 worth of understated automotive opulence glides by in the form of a Maybach:



    Climate and passersby encourage sidewalk colonization:



    On Ocean Drive this is accomplished by serving across public circulation to curbside tables:













    This allows interaction with both pedestrians and the sharks in their Lamborghinis. Saturday night the resulting congestion is truly exhilarating; you wouldn’t believe the interaction. You have to be a drip not to come away with a trophy.



    Or—seated at your café table on your hotel’s pedestal—you can find yourself at eye level with the passersby:



    Even on Collins Street:



    * * *
    A TWENTIETH CENTURY CITY, full of urban architecture, not too sober:



    …even the newest stuff:













    Not just urban, but urbane:





    * * *

    TRAILER…

    Further threads will feature people…

    ...

    …demographics…



    …residential areas and architecture…







    …everyday life…



    …streets…



    …transport…



    … and garages (yes).





    PLUS!: Deco vs. Modern: which is the real Twentieth Century style?

    .
    Last edited by ablarc; 21 Apr 2005 at 12:31 AM.

  2. #2
    Thanks.

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    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Woah dude!!!!!

    I was there a couple months ago...took pictures of all those buildings and more (and it was the abckground to a couple fo threads I started). Makes me feel like I'm still there.

    10, 100, 1000 South beaches across the US!!!!!
    Maybe the best belnd of europe and the US I've found. Urbanistically, dowtown Miami proper sucks, really really pedestrian unfriendly.

    South Beach rocks.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

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    As always., fantastic pictures ablarc, makes me want to visit.

    Thanks

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    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    Great pictures!

  6. #6
    10, 100, 1000 South beaches across the US!!!!!
    I sometimes think San Diego wanted to be a Art Deco town. There are a couple of older buildings that have that look but not too many. Spanish architecture is prevailent in the older historic buidings. In some older neighborhoods there is a really nice mix of house styles but no part of the city even compares to what has been created in South Beach.

    Is it New Urbanism?
    I really like the pics where the road is taken over for pedestrian uses, it seems to have happened so naturally. Could this be planned? Maybe business was responding to a demand as a result of a nice place that attracted people before NU ever existed?
    Then again maybe it was a dump and Duany got some plans, money and people together and Vwah-Lah, he is god.

    The spaces between the courtyards are so special with all of the trees and vines potted plants so close together. That's the detail that brings a little mystery and beauty to a city or nieghborhood at the scale of the human body, it's cozy and pleases the eyes of this aesthete!

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    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    The absolutely worst hotel in which we have ever stayed. The valet left our car in the alley for hours. It was towed and the hotel would only reimburse me for half of the fees after I pressed them for close to an hour. The bathroom was so small that I could not sit straight on the toilet. Arrghh.

    But, we absolutely love South Beach and Miami, which I think will begin to look more and more like South Beach (i.e. urban) as time progresses.

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    Member Jeff_Rosenberg's avatar
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    Thanks, ablarc, for pictures of some of the nicest-designed McDonald's I've ever seen (I saw two in your photos)

    A lot of things in South Beach that are really beautiful . . . the bright colors, the incredible variety of shapes, the mishmash of styles (I think modernism looks pretty nice when it isn't given the chance to take over . . . it adds to the eclecticism of the place)

    A lot of things that are really functional . . . the gaps between buildings are fantastic, there's still plenty of places left to live one's daily life, and I love places that span several streets, rather than being a big strip.

    I thought the sidewalks were fascinating. They seem really narrow, and even narrower because they're filled with tables.

    But, as usual, few married people live there, and almost no children. I agree this is fantastic, and the home prices and the incredible vitality make me think people agree. But, apparently still not a place to raise a kid. I find that so frustrating, I can't tell you . . .

  9. #9
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jeff_Rosenberg
    But, as usual, few married people live there, and almost no children. I agree this is fantastic, and the home prices and the incredible vitality make me think people agree. But, apparently still not a place to raise a kid. I find that so frustrating, I can't tell you . . .
    Is that really inherent in a city, or is that just an American bugaboo? Paris was a pretty nice place for a kid to grow up (and probably still is), and some of the smartest, best adjusted people I know grew up in Manhattan.

    In this country I think we feel we have to bring up kids in boring places. I think it stunts the kids' potential.
    .

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    Member Jeff_Rosenberg's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    Is that really inherent in a city, or is that just an American bugaboo? Paris was a pretty nice place for a kid to grow up (and probably still is), and some of the smartest, best adjusted people I know grew up in Manhattan.

    In this country I think we feel we have to bring up kids in boring places. I think it stunts the kids' potential.
    .
    Yes, that's absolutely right.

    There no way, in my mind, that it's inherent in a city.

    So, needless to say, seeing a great-looking place like South Beach, that has no children living in it, drives me CRAZY!

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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    Is that really inherent in a city, or is that just an American bugaboo? Paris was a pretty nice place for a kid to grow up (and probably still is), and some of the smartest, best adjusted people I know grew up in Manhattan.

    In this country I think we feel we have to bring up kids in boring places. I think it stunts the kids' potential.
    .
    Especially as they have to be driven everywhere-no chance for independence.

    I observed some kids in a public fountain in downtown Fairfield. They were on their own, about ten years old or so, and they were having a ball sitting in the fountain. I can't imagine a gated community family allowing their kids to roam free like this. But, what do I know? I can only listen to how upper middle class parents raise their kids (driving from one organized, hypercompetitive event to another)

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    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca
    10, 100, 1000 South beaches across the US!!!!!
    Maybe the best belnd of europe and the US I've found. Urbanistically, dowtown Miami proper sucks, really really pedestrian unfriendly.

    South Beach rocks.
    Here's a challenge that shouldn't tax even the brain of a planner: write a description of South Miami Beach as a set of requirements in a zoning code. Allocate that zoning to a greenfield, a brownfield, or a decaying urban neighborhood, sit back and see what happens.

    But don't write too much; ten or fifteen pages ought to be enough. After that, further elaboration becomes the usual counterproductive drivel.

    Are the people who write zoning really as stupid as their products suggest?



    I know, I know...it's the politicians...and the developers.

    .
    Last edited by ablarc; 24 Apr 2005 at 4:38 PM.

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    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Oh, but there ARE kids in SoBe

    Just not mostly on Ocean-Collins-Washinton. There are nice residential streets jsut west of thsoe, with apartments and houses. There are schools (in use), so there must be kids. Also, if you wlak down Lincoln you see more kids and teenagers, since it's a mix of local popultion and tourists. My impression, though, is that the "non-trendy" population is still emerging from udnerclass status/image.

    At one point, having walked a few miles I wa sgetting tired so I hopped on a local bus. While asking directions, one local resident was AMAZED (and a little miffed) at how poor my SPANISH was!!!

    To me, So Be shows how you could build American cities; it's inspiring.
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    [QUOTE=ablarc
    Are the people who write zoning really as stupid as their products suggest?



    I know, I know...it's the politicians...and the developers.

    .[/QUOTE]


    No. It's the architects

  15. #15
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Architects do a lot of stupid things, but they usually don't write the zoning.

    When they do it's usually for a PUD, a place like Seaside or the zoning for a place like Manhattan. These days, those are among the few instances of zoning that makes sense.

    Any zoning that perpetuates the suburb is inherently junk, and I don't know of a single suburban zoning code written by an architect.

    Architects, like the rest of us, should be damned for what they do, not for what's falsely imputed to them. There are enough real reasons to be down on architects; you don't have to make up phony ones.

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    Moderator note:
    The images in this thread are now hosted in the Cyburbia Gallery. See http://www.cyburbia.org/gallery/show...y.php/cat/6520 .

    It's going to suck up a lot of bandwidth in the future, but given that Ablarc was hosting the images in the past to our benefit, it's our turn to host them now.
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