The Essex House, circa 1939EXPAND
The Essex House, circa 1939
Courtesy of HistoryMiami

The Five Architects Who Shaped Miami

The Magic City is relatively young compared to other world-class metropolises around the globe, but it definitely wasn't built in a day. The earliest pioneers — such as Mary Brickell, Henry Flagler, and Carl Fisher — began by carving areas out of mangroves and murky swamp. Their efforts ushered in railroads and roadways that make Miami a desirable place for sunshine-loving tourists. And because vacationers need a place to crash, the nation's most innovative architects lent their talents to get the job done.

Boasting landmarks such as the iconic art deco buildings of Miami Beach and the Miami-modern façades of the MiMo District (which is having a renaissance), the Big Orange draws plenty of architecture-loving history buffs. Plus, the city's warm shores lure even high-profile designers, or "starchitects," who get excited to cash in on building projects or simply make their mark.

But a discussion about Miami's most emblematic structures is incomplete without paying tribute to the draftsmen who started it all. Creating everything from waterfront palaces to Mediterranean towers that have become symbols of freedom, these five architects helped shape the Magic City. 

East side of Villa Vizcaya, circa 1919.
East side of Villa Vizcaya, circa 1919.
Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

5. Francis Burrall Hoffman and Paul Chalfin: A Mediterranean Palace in a New Frontier
Millionaire tycoon James Deering suffered from anemia and longed for relief. The humid climate of a newly established city seemed like the antidote. Along with Paul Chalfin — Deering's primary collaborator, who was well-versed as a painter, curator, and art historian — he began the construction of Villa Vizcaya on 180 acres of mangroves in 1914. Chalfin enlisted the aid of Francis Burrall Hoffman, who was better trained in engineering and architecture, to carry out Deering's vision. A stunning, Italian-inspired palace with ornate baroque flourishes overlooking splendidly lush grounds was soon a reality. Today, Vizcaya remains one of Miami's most recognizable historic landmarks – and one of its grandest.

The Essex House, circa 1939EXPAND
The Essex House, circa 1939
Courtesy of HistoryMiami

4. Henry Hohauser and L. Murray Dixon: A Race to Build Miami Beach Art Deco
In the 1930s, Miami Beach was booming with bootleggers capitalizing on the city's proximity to the Caribbean for their rumrunning operations. Construction of hotels in which to party and hide cash was in full swing. Two architects dominated the scene, introducing a modern style that was all the rage at art fairs and design shows in Europe. While both earned their stripes studying and working in New York, L. Murray Dixon and Henry Hohauser made their lasting impact in Miami. The pair is credited with the majority of South Beach's now-iconic hotels, including the Tides, the Temple House, the Marlin, the Raleigh, and the Essex House.

Fontainebleau Miami Beach, circa 1954-56. Color postcard, 9 x 14 cm.
Fontainebleau Miami Beach, circa 1954-56. Color postcard, 9 x 14 cm.
Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

3. Morris Lapidus: Miami Modern
Gaudy, glitzy, and eccentrically glam. You might say Russian-born Morris Lapidus' over-the-top style ushered in Miami's current cultural mystique. His neo-baroque, modern hotels effectively created Miami Beach's Gold Coast in the 1950s and '60s, with his Fontainebleau being the area's crown jewel. Along with the Eden Roc Hotel and the Deauville Beach Resort, Lapidus' structures are synonymous with a golden era of nightlife and entertainment. The Rat Pack and famous Cuban entertainers frequently traveled to the city just to play at these glamorous salons.

The News Tower, circa 1930s. Black-and-white photograph, 8 x 10 in.
The News Tower, circa 1930s. Black-and-white photograph, 8 x 10 in.
Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

2. Schultze & Weaver: A Symbol of Freedom
New York architecture firm Schultz & Weaver was founded in 1921 by Leonard Schultze and S. Fullerton Weaver. The duo made their mark across South Florida with lavish hotels like the Breakers in Palm Beach and the hauntingly infamous Biltmore in Coral Gables. But one structure in particular has come to represent Miami and its dominance as the nation's immigrant capital: Completed in 1925, the Freedom Tower was built to house a local newspaper's growing operation. But once the Miami News vacated the premises for largers pastures, this Mediterranean-revival tower went largely unused. That is, until growing political turmoil in Cuba sent millions of exiles to our shores. The U.S. government began using the Freedom Tower as a processing center. Soon after, the building became a symbol of hope for millions of immigrants.

The Five Architects Who Shaped Miami (5)
Courtesy of Perez Art Museum Miami

1. Herzog & de Meuron: Miami Today
Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron gained international notoriety with the construction of the Tate Modern museum in London in 2000. Since then, their firm, Herzog & de Meuron, has built scores of museums around the world. That long list includes the Magic City's flagship art museum, Pérez Art Museum Miami, a unique structure that responds to the city's natural elements and tropical climate. The firm also handled the design of 1111 Lincoln Road, a parking garage/dining and shopping destination that revitalized the area and is now one of the most pricey retail locations in town.

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