It all began with a road trip from Atlanta to Miami. I followed I-95 to I-195, passing downtown Miami to take the causeway onto the island of Miami Beach. Driving into a city like this allows you to progressively begin to understand the composition and character of the place. Here, stiff brand-new construction contrasts with Art Deco and architecture inspired by the city’s Spanish heritage. All over the city, there is construction work being done, new buildings being built and others being renovated or restored.
In its current incarnation, Miami is still new, still learning itself. It was only in 1910, in the midst of the Art Deco movement, that John Collins and Carl Fisher began to morph the mangrove swamp that was Miami Beach into a destination, a place to see and be seen. The influence of this early style has remained central to the the city’s character.
Because of its juvenile state, Miami is not afraid of embracing the new or working with the old to create something novel or potentially fantastic. This is obvious in the investment in renovating old buildings. Some transitions are jarring, such as when an old theater becomes a gym with brightly lit marquee advertising. Numerous historic Art Deco buildings have been remodeled and restored to their original glory. The Mantell Plaza, for one, originally designed by Albert Anis as a hotel, underwent a complete renovation in 1994 and is now a 5-story condominium. Some buildings are reformulated for new uses. An Art Moderne structure in the middle of Miami’s Art Deco district, the building was originally the headquarters for the Washington Storage Company. Now occupied by The Wolfsonian, the space is a museum showcasing a modern design collection.
Drilling and hammering makes a constant thrum throughout the city. Just a block away from the preserved treasure known as The Mantell, a construction crew is repairing a damaged beachside hotel, replacing the rebar that’s been rusting within the concrete walls and slab. Further south on Collins Avenue (Miami Beach’s main drag that runs parallel to the shoreline), hotels sit side by side—contemporary spaces alternate with lodgings from a bygone era. The continual reconfiguring of the city is not always a smooth process; there are still stretches of vacant properties—abandoned structures that have become solid masses with windows and doors boarded over.
Across the causeway, the Wynwood District in Miami reflects the same state of flux. The walls are painted over again and again with new graffiti. The shifting compositions create a dynamic outdoor gallery space where change is a state of mind.