Miami is a flourishing, young city, barely a century old and fluid in its rhythms, its culture, and its image. That image has evolved year by year with the rising and falling of skyscrapers all across the county, as we continue to find ourselves wandering about fascinating new pieces of architecture that pierce upward along our flat horizon. And while one of the most significant periods of that architectural evolution took place in the '80s, in the wake of Miami's cocaine renaissance, the ill-fated boom era of our economy that came to a grinding halt in 2007 saw a flurry of activity in the form of mega-cranes and legions of construction companies pushing our skyline higher.
Soon, that skyline will have itself a new occupant in the exciting form of Zaha Hadid's first skyscraper on this side of the planet. As Miami's architectural landscape prepares for yet another change, we're taking an affectionate look at the wonderful buildings we know and love around town. From downtown Miami to the northern throes of the Beach, here are the ten most exquisite heights in our expanding jungle of glass-and-steel behemoths.
10. Wells Fargo Center
200 SE Third St., Nichols, Brosch, Wurst, Wolf & Associates
This modernist-style cuboid of a building stands as the southernmost beauty among skyscrapers on the north side of the Miami River. While its glass shape might not stand out as brilliantly against the nighttime sky, on a sunny day, the hard lines of the structure are accentuated by its shimmering teal glass. The Wells Fargo Center, completed in 2010, is alternatively known as the Met 2 building, the second in a series of four commercial superstructures to be constructed in downtown by Nichols, Brosch, Wurst, Wolf & Associates, and is the only skyscraper in the project that can boast the significant involvement of Shaquille O'Neal, who even went as far as to form a building-development company, fittingly named the O'Neal Group.
9. Marquis Residences
1100 Biscayne Blvd., Arquitectonica
Few buildings have ever become as quickly associated with the Miami skyline as local design firm Arquitectonica's Marquis. As the third-tallest building in town, it is inherently distinctive, but when you add in its location, just slightly north of the main nerve cluster of the city's skyscrapers, and the wholly unique rectangles of pure white light that hover vertically along the top 18 stories of the building like a sight out of Blade Runner, it doesn't take long to see how this structure became so popular so fast.
It's also one of the most expensive condos in downtown, with units reaching prices of $7 million -- one more time, for those in the back, that's 'apartments for SEVEN MILLION DOLLARS' -- and an array of tenants over the past few years that range from Heat players to foreign potentates.
8. Jade Ocean
17121 Collins Ave., Carlos Ott
When you think of Sunny Isles, what comes to mind? Russian shopping centers and pickled fish? Aging octogenarians in the tropical sun? Miles of white stuccoed high-rises as far as the eye can see? Then perhaps you haven't noticed famed Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott's 2009 Jade Ocean, a 51-story, deep blue glass-clad skyscraper with a peak of four sharply arching crests.
The ultra-modern design is a radical departure from the many starkly sterile structures of Sunny Isles Beach, with its flared cap that's reminiscent of dark crashing waves, and could be easily imagined atop any of the avante garde giants of Abu Dhabi or Dubai. The Jade Ocean also affords a singular view of the Atlantic as it stands with its twin tower, the Jade Beach, as one of the tallest oceanfront residences in the country.
900 Brickell Key Blvd., J. Scott Architecture
Finally, some Brickell in the mix. Resting elegantly on the south bank of the Miami River, Asia stretches skyward like a kryptonite-tipped arrow. The gentle curve of its Oriental-styled roof glows a vivid green, highlighting the subtle uses of jade and teal throughout the height of the structure. J. Scott's design team produced an original residential tower that all at once seems more subtle and nuanced than nearly any skyscraper in Brickell or Downtown and, at the same time, as bold in its bilaterally symmetrical far-eastern aesthetics as any building in Miami.
6. 50 Biscayne
50 Biscayne Blvd., Sieger Suarez Architectural Partnership, Inc. and Rockwell Group, Inc.
You know that building with the squiggly red neon light, the one that's always in the cutaway shots on TV during Miami Heat home games when the Coach Spo calls for a time out? This is it. Occupying a whole city block across the street from Bayfront Park, 50 Biscayne puts Miami Modern architectural style on full display with a curvaceous red exclamation point that pays homage to the waters of Bay at its feet and a color scheme along the facade that seems simultaneously loud and tasteful -- a perfect pairing for Miami. The building stands on the same ground where The Hotel McAllister once stood as one of the most famous buildings of our town's infant years as a metropolitan city; at 10 stories, the McAllister was the tallest building in Miami from 1917 until the construction of the Freedom Tower in 1926.
5. Blue and Green Diamond
4779 Collins Ave., Robert M. Swedroe Architects
Ahhh, Millionaire's Row -- where rich kids in supercars drag race along Indian Creek and taxis linger by the dozen waiting hungrily for the big fare trying to make their way home from LIV. But far above all the commotion, perched quietly on top of two perfectly identical white towers, these pyramids are glowing through the night. The Blue and Green Diamond, which finished construction in 2000, can be seen from as far north as Bal Harbor and as far south as Fisher Island. The 5,600 square foot pyramids that cap the buildings -- engineered by Starnet International Corporation and constructed of a series of white metal pipes that give them the image of pristinely faceted diamonds -- make up the tallest and brightest points before Sunny Isles.
4. Miami-Dade County Courthouse
73 Flagler St., A. Ten Eyck Brown and August Geiger
Old Miami: It's not something you find a great deal of anymore, with most of our city's history having been leveled and rebuilt upon a dozen times over. But in some places, our days past still loom regally. The Miami-Dade Courthouse, built between 1924 and 1928, in all its Neoclassical, Great Depression Era glory, is a constant reminder that this city is in fact longer in the tooth than Miami Vice or Pitbull.
Based on A. Ten Eyck Brown's rejected proposal for a new Atlanta City Hall, the Courthouse was almost cut short at 10 stories during construction when the engineers realized that the building was sinking. Fortunately, they decided to pour additional cement supports in the basement that are still taking up space downstairs and keeping the building from drifting towards the Earth's core today.
3. Espirito Santo Plaza
1395 Brickell Ave., Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC
Welcome to Spaceship Espirito Santo. This green glass monolith, finished in 2004, is arguably the most simplistically beautiful and visually arresting skyscraper in all of Brickell, securing it a definite spot at the dais among the top three. The design by Kohn Pedersen and Fox Associates likely takes some of its inspiration for the concave teardrop facade from the St. Louis Arch, and just as the arch symbolizes the gateway to the west, the teardrop is said to represent Miami's place as the gateway to Latin America. Espirito Santo Plaza serves as the North American headquarters for Portugal's Espírito Santo Bank and all that glass is apparently designed to be completely flood proof.
Take a stroll down Brickell Avenue and stand across the street when the late afternoon sun starts to pour down in a cascade of reflected emerald light. Look up at that gargantuan alien surface, smooth and sloping and shining almost as big and bright as the Bay behind it. You won't be disappointed.
2. Southeast Financial Center
200 South Biscayne Blvd., Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
In all of downtown, the Southeast Financial Center (formerly known as Wachovia Financial Center, which was formerly known as the First Union Financial Center) soars above all others as one of the last great titans of the '80s. Twenty-nine years since it opened its doors for business in 1984, this building still stands in a league of its own: second-tallest building in the city, four-time winner of the BOMA TOBY (The Outstanding Building of the Year) Award, and one of the Wall Street Journal's picks for top 50 buildings in the United States.
The beveled sawtooth design varies from one façade to the next, resulting in thoroughly different geometric patterns depending on which side of the building you face. This also means there are dozens more corner offices for firms that rent office space, as well as for the gangs of turkey vultures that stalk along their windows with carrion dangling from their beaks.
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1. Miami Tower
100 SE Second St., Pei, Cobb, Free & Partners
The Miami Tower really is the only building that could wear the city's name and be utterly deserving of such an awesome moniker, and by that rationale it's the only skyscraper that deserves the number one spot on this list. Built for Centrust Savings and Loan in 1987, the Tower has become one of the most iconic structures in Miami. Before it was renamed the Miami Tower in 2010, the building was often referred to as the Miami Vice Tower because of its close association with the '80s TV show. The building has been in James Bond movies, Gloria Estefan music videos, and in the backdrop image of The Tonight Show. And in 2012, the tower's external lighting system got a snazzy upgrade in the form of $1.5 million worth of LEDs that put on a light show, along the three ascending tiers of black glass and white concrete that are colorful and ostentatious and extraordinary and every bit as magical as the city it beams above.