Aqua Nova

Will a starry-eyed proposal for renovating Monument Island burn out before its time?

Their Star is also aligned, they believe, with the history in Florida of creating islands in the process of digging channels in the state's shallow bays and coastal waters.

Historian Scully agrees. "All of Florida, in a way, is like the star," he says. "All the islands out there are manmade. They're all dredged up. So in a sense, it's a very traditional kind of thing to do here to make an island. After all, Florida has made a lot of them."

"Sounds wonderful," offers Kevin Smith, director of the Miami Beach parks department, after New Times briefed him on Behar and Marquardt's hallucination. "But there are massive, massive issues with historic preservation and with all the regulatory agencies."

Some folks see how Monument Island went from 1922 
(top middle) to 1969 (bottom middle) and ask, why? 
Behar and Marquardt imagine it as it could be and ask, 
why not?
Photos Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection
Some folks see how Monument Island went from 1922 (top middle) to 1969 (bottom middle) and ask, why? Behar and Marquardt imagine it as it could be and ask, why not?

"As long as it tells a story, and keeps in mind the history and the intent of what the monument was designed for and put there for, I think it's an interesting idea," ventures Max Sklar, the city's assistant director of cultural development and tourism. But Sklar concurs with Smith. Behar and Marquardt's Star idea will never fly without the approval of Miami Beach's powerful historic preservationists.

Before returning to reality, let's stay up here in the clouds with Behar and Marquardt for a while. Because they insist that all of us in the Miami area need to look at our hometown from a different perspective. Their lofty objective is to restore some Meaning to Biscayne Bay, where little is contemplated that isn't a high-rise hotel, condo tower, cruise ship terminal, or professional sports arena. It was a search for Meaning, in part, that attracted the Argentineans, who both received architecture degrees from the Universidad Nacional de Rosario in the Seventies, to New York. There Behar attended the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York City, while Marquardt found "survival work" in the profession. Behar studied with the demigods of a brave new architectural universe, such as Rem Koolhaas, Robert Venturi, and Aldo Rossi, who helped restore Meaning to architecture in the United States.

"It was really quite a contribution to architectural discourse," Scully says of the institute. "It added the sense that architecture was susceptible to a very complex criticism. And that was really important back there in the Sixties and Seventies, especially because the American architecture profession at that time was enormously anti-intellectual. They wanted to be part of this modernist, Bauhaus influence, wanting to believe that everything derived empirically from function and structure, and really hating any more complicated suggestions of meaning." The institute, he notes, fomented a return to the use of "sign and symbol" in architecture. For instance, domes evoke the sky and spirituality, columns connote strength and democracy, neon signage could conjure up Las Vegas. And a star shape calls to mind, well, a star.

With such philosophical notions swirling in their heads, Behar and Marquardt moved from New York to Miami in 1983. Coincidentally, that was the year Christo and Jeanne-Claude had finally concluded a two-year process of securing public support and governmental permits for Surrounded Islands. With the help of construction crews, they placed enormous pieces of pink plastic in the waters around eleven islands in Biscayne Bay. As planned, it lasted two weeks. "No doubt that is the precedent," acknowledges Behar, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Miami who has also lectured at Harvard and Cornell. "I think that project is important insofar as it presented the possibility of how the city is to be seen from the air. Christo rediscovered that aerial point of view, in a way. Christo's project is best seen from the air."

But Behar notes The Star of Miami is different from Surrounded Islands in two important ways. "That was amorphous, this is a star," he says. "That was a temporary structure, this is a permanent one." The meaning of this latter difference can be understood as follows: Getting approval for an ephemeral work was almost impossible.

Joe Fleming, a Miami lawyer who helped Christo and Jeanne-Claude through the complicated and lengthy permit process, recalls the morass. "They were basically working in waters of the state, so they needed federal, state, county, and local permitting," he says. "They had all the land-use issues. They had to get the right to use the land from the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund, which is the Florida governor and the cabinet. That was one set of hearings. Then they had to go and obtain the permission of Dade County, and then all the municipalities. And then they had to make sure they had a clear title. They had to get the necessary insurance, had to go through hearings. Then they had to worry about the fact that it was going to be affected by all the environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, which has permitting requirements for putting anything in the water, even pouring water into water. They had to put the fabric in the water, they had to put lines in the water, they had to put anchors. And then they had to worry about endangered species. They had manatee issues because manatees are endangered and they had other species out there. They had bird issues because questions came up whether endangered or threatened species would be affected."

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