March 07 2013

Starchitects Can’t Save Miami, Florida

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?

Front Elevation of New World Symphony

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.

Corner of 1717 Lincoln

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.

Side of New World Symphony

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.

There are always “exceptions to the rule,” such as Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion - a popular bandshell that contributes positively to Chicago’s Millennium Park. Can you think of more examples?

Credits: Photographs by Jennifer Garcia. Data linked to sources.

Jennifer Garcia

Born and raised in the Midwest, Jennifer García now enjoys the energy and quality of life that Miami has to offer. Professionally, she uses traditional architecture and principles of the New Urbanism as a Town Planner at Dover, Kohl & Partners. Based on careful research, she designs each project within the context of the local architectural language, distinct culture, and regional settlement patterns. She proudly holds a Master of Architecture from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Traveling has taught her to immerse herself into each place’s history, culture, traditions, and how they contribute to the range of urbanism and local vernacular. She also enjoys blogging as a local transit advocate for Transit Miami. Her daily bicycle commutes reinforce her belief in nurturing a living urbanism with livable streets.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 7th, 2013 at 9:33 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Government/Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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