By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
These buildings were once meant to dazzle people,” notes preservation advocate Randall Robinson about the modern motels that used to shine and that still line Biscayne Boulevard. Be they the exotic places or the footloose natives evoked by the names Shalimar, South Pacific, and 7 Seas, or the sophisticated urbanity suggested by the New Yorker (now known as the Davis), the purely commercial structures catered exclusively to the car-owning crowds of the 1950s, possessing rooms oriented toward the street, awaiting guests who could conveniently pull into a parking spot and spend their vacations frolicking merrily in the motels' environs.
These days the onetime tourist magnets have fallen on hard times. The elegant curves of the former New Yorker still swoop around the street, and the colorful stars on the Vagabond continue to twinkle in the twilight, but for the most part, the dilapidated, decaying motels (many surrounded by menacing metal fences) attract the kind of mobile patrons whose aim is cavorting of a different sort: indulging in drugs or prostitutes.
Clearly unable to compete with the huge hotels that have sprouted up all around town, the motels of Biscayne Boulevard must fill other roles if they are to survive intact. Ditto the small apartment buildings of North Beach (75th to 81st streets), where tiny dwellings discourage families from living in the heart of the city. That's also the case with the formerly bustling and fashionable Biscayne Plaza shopping mall on Biscayne Boulevard and 79th Street.
Hence the ideas behind the architectural bus tour Rethinking MIMo, which will take place Saturday, October 21, led by Robinson, a planner with the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation; interior designer Teri D'Amico; and architect Allan T. Shulman. Since August 31 students from Florida International University, the University of Miami, Design and Architecture High School, and Indiana's Ball State University have been working on a variety of proposals to retrofit the motels as offices, production space, and offices with residential space above. Similar exercises aim to restructure studio and one-bedroom apartments in North Beach into larger two-bedroom units with private outdoor space, and refurbish the Biscayne Plaza shopping center. “It's all part of using architecture as part of revitalizing the area,” Robinson explains. “In this case preservation is a catalyst for development, not to make things a museum piece.”
Coined by Robinson and D'Amico a couple of years ago, MIMo is an acronym for Miami Modern, the clean-lined postwar building style (1945-1969) that runs rampant throughout Miami-Dade County. MIMo is the direct descendant of Art Deco, says Robinson, who as a long-time member of the Miami Design Preservation League was instrumental in safeguarding a slew of Deco structures on Miami Beach. Now it's MIMo's turn. Unlike their stylistic antecedents, MIMo structures are not protected by historic designation and are in constant peril of being demolished by developers hoping to take advantage of the rapidly escalating value of the land beneath them.
Heading off the rush into the next new thing are the student proposals for the Boulevard (they'll be unveiled at a panel discussion, exhibition, and awards ceremony after the bus tour), just one of the many elements making up Design + Architecture Day 2000. Marked officially on October 1, the holiday includes six weeks of events centered around the idea that design in every aspect -- industrial, architectural, graphic, environmental, landscape, and urban -- is a central part of life. Long celebrated in Europe and Latin American, Design + Architecture day is being observed for the second time in Miami, the only city in the United States currently commemorating the event.
A tour of the American Airlines Arena by its creators, inventive firm Arquitectonica, kicked off festivities early on Wednesday, September 13. Continuing the fun: On Thursday advertising honcho Bruce Turkel (of Coconut Grove's Turkel Schwartz & Partners) lectures about his book New Design Miami -- The Cutting Edge of Graphic Design,at Books & Books in Coral Gables; and on Saturday the exhibition “DESIGN matters” opens at North Miami's Museum of Contemporary Art, displaying more than 200 products representing designers' inventive responses to America's continuing obsession with convenience.
The work of designers under age 40, or those who have practiced in the profession for less than five years, will be honored Sunday, October 1, when the Arango Foundation hands out its first annual design awards at a special presentation at the Miami Art Museum. The event also will feature Samina Quraeshi, Henry L. Luce professor in Family and Community at the University of Miami, who will deliver a talk titled “The Virtue of Good Design.” Design's international appeal will be highlighted with the exhibition “Print, Power, and Persuasion: Graphic Design in Germany, 1890-1945,” opening Wednesday, September 27, at the Wolfsonian-FIU; a 50th-anniversary retrospective of work by acclaimed Italian plastics-maker Kartell at the Arango store in Dadeland Mall; and a lecture and reception marking the grand opening of a showroom by innovative Italian lighting designers Artemide.
Still more tours continue throughout October. Some by land will showcase local venues such as Miami Beach's new cultural campus and the South Beach Regal Cinema. Others by sea will touch on local concerns, namely the plotting and planning in the works for the past two years by the Miami River Commission to develop a greenway (a linear park) along the Miami River. The finale will come Thursday, October 26, via the international jet set during a tour of the British Airways Terraces Lounge at Miami International Airport. The look at the VIP lounge, led by designer Diana Ursula Farmer, D+A Day chair and member of the Beame Architectural Partnership, presents the airline's first U.S. prototype of a space specifically geared toward providing passengers with an experience on the ground as enjoyable as the one they supposedly have in the air.
As for formerly fun and hip Biscayne Boulevard, what will be the end result of student proposals galore? According to Randall Robinson, to some the projects may seem like fruitless theorizing, but he emphasizes it's free theorizing for everyday people in the real world. Exploring the possibilities is step one. An enlightened and intrepid developer willing to take a chance is next. Perhaps then the city may make another baby step toward revitalization and the once-stylish address will become chic again.