Architecture & Design

Miami Icons: Espirito Santo Plaza, Brickell's Algebraic Skyscraper

San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge. St. Louis has the Arch. Las Vegas has its retro welcome sign. It seems like every city has an iconic structure to represent itself to the rest of the world. Every city but Miami, that is. The Magic City is full of architectural gems, and maybe that's why no one building has come to define it. But that's left this town without a symbol of its own. In our Miami Icons series, we're aiming to fix that. Today, New Times web editor Jose D. Duran argues for Espirito Santo Plaza.

Yo, Miami Tower, I'm really happy for you. Ima let you finish, but Espirito Santo Plaza is one the best Miami skyscrapers of all time.

Clichés aside, is there any argument that this algebraic curve of a building isn't beautiful?

The first time I really noticed the building was in 2006, shortly after moving back to Miami from college. I was driving north on I-95 when the glare from a building caught my eye. The sunlight playfully bounced off the concave arch that defines the monolithic tower.

Later, when I worked in Brickell, I stood in front of it, feeling like I was the early man depicted in 2001: A Space Odyssey -- all I was missing was the Richard Strauss soundtrack.

The building is elegant it its understatement, which, let's face it, isn't Miami's M.O. In a city that enjoys being tacky and loud, Espirito Santo Plaza is a gentleman. Other buildings dotting the skyline fall under two categories: look-at-me loud or uninspired. This building "simple" façade proves that a little bit goes a long way.

Opened in 2004, the building was designed by New York architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox -- responsible for iconic structures like International Commerce Centre in Hong Kong, the Shanghai World Financial Center, and the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower in Tokyo, as well as renovating the Unilever House in London.

So how can a building that's barely a decade old already be an icon? Well, Miami is all about the new, rarely letting history or cultural importance get in its way. And Espirito Santo Plaza was the one of the first skyscrapers that gave the city -- and in particular the Brickell area -- the green light to grow up. It told the city it didn't have to forever live in Miami Vice's version of the '80s under the neon glow and pastel hues.

The concave arch is reminiscent of the Gateway Arch, AKA the St. Louis Arch, which reflects Miami's position as "the Gateway to Latin America." The building's name comes from its tenant, Espirito Santo Bank, a Portuguese financial institution with heavy ties to Brazil. (Though the bank has fallen from grace in Portugal, the Miami bank seems to be doing OK. However, we wonder if a name change for the building could be on the horizon.)

But unlike most commercial buildings in Miami, this one also doubles as a 203-room hotel -- a Conrad to be exact -- and has residencies as well. But thankfully the view from Brickell Avenue is free, because in all honesty, the building is best viewed from outside as the sunlight breaks just above it.

Espirito Santo Plaza ushered in Miami's future, and something tells me it will be an exciting thing to witness.

Previous Icons:

The Colony Hotel, Ocean Drive's Most Famous Art Deco Building

The Freedom Tower Welcomed Cubans to America

The Miami Tower, Colorful Chameleon of the Skyline

Vizcaya, Birthplace of Magic City Luxury

Stiltsville, Offshore Escape For Miami's Most Colorful Characters

American Airlines Arena, Home of the White Hot Heat

The Bacardi Complex (AKA YoungArts), Striking Beauty of Biscayne

The Biltmore, a Glitzy, Golden-Age Throwback

The Adrienne Arsht Center, Where Glossy Style Meets Cultural Substance

The Welcome To Miami Beach Sign, a Nostalgic Causeway Beacon

The Versace Mansion, a High-End Hotel Inspiring Macabre Fascination

The MacArthur Causeway Bridge Pairs Striking Skyline Views and Strange History

El Faraon, Where Fidel Castro Once Visited (Maybe)

Send your story tips to Cultist at

Follow Cultist on Facebook and Twitter @CultistMiami.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jose D. Duran is the associate editor of Miami New Times. He's the strategist behind the publication's eyebrow-raising Facebook and Twitter feeds. He has also been reporting on Miami's cultural scene since 2006. He has a BS in journalism and will live in Miami as long as climate change permits.
Contact: Jose D. Duran