A young city, Miami, Florida is still creating itself. Though a late-bloomer and nicknamed the “Magic City” for its rapid population growth, the metropolis followed the familiar route of other American cities: vibrant early 1900s town to economic depression, to post-war suburbs, to single-use zoning, to highway-dissected neighborhoods, to the massive traffic-congested city today. And like other cities, Miami is revitalizing its urban areas. However, it recently started catering to “starchitects” to attract city fame by hiring the likes of Frank Gehry, Herzog & de Meuron, Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, Bjarke Ingels, and Rem Koolhaus – just to name a few.
But will these contemporary structures save the city – or is it something else that makes a city great?
Public Realm. A city’s identity is mirrored in its public domain – streets, plazas, parks, playgrounds, et cetera. Human behavior demonstrates that successful spaces resemble outdoor rooms. There is a variety of accompanying street furniture, lighting, and shading needed, but the fundamental ingredient to meet a human’s need for shelter, orientation, and dominion is enclosure. Places with well-defined edges and finite openings attract people, activity, business, and more.
Engaging Architecture. The relationship between buildings is the most important quality of an urban space. Instead of emphasizing individual buildings, a successful public realm focuses on the space with relatively continuous walls – primarily flat and simple. It is not the name of the architect, but how the building interacts with the public realm using human-proportioned windows, doors, and openings.
These two components go hand-in-hand in a great city and cannot be replaced with expensive object buildings. Starchitects can actually drown a city instead of saving it, as in Valencia, where the city broke the bank with €100 million on local Santiago Calatrava for his City of the Arts & Science. Instead of focusing on starchitecture, cities should focus their efforts on enhancing the public realm and relating development towards those spaces – that is what makes great cities.
Credits: Photographs by Jennifer Garcia. Data linked to sources.