Architecture & Design

Miami Icons: The Miami Tower, Colorful Chameleon of the Skyline

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, writer Travis Cohen argues that the Miami Tower's changing colors and eye-catching design make it the perfect symbol for the city at large.

When you think of Downtown Miami, there's no shortage of images that your mind might conjure up. From the American Airlines Arena to the big, bold letters of "BAYSIDE" to wandering crackheads meandering between the shadows and the bright purple lights that glow along the underside of the bridge to the port of Miami, Downtown is an undeniably interesting arrangement of strange layers of sights and sounds and scenery. But more than anything, what you can't help but see when you hold Downtown in your mind's eye is that splendid, sprawling skyline.

It's a majestic sight, that skyline, and whether you take it in from the arching lanes of the Julia Tuttle or the seawalls of Watson Island, it's a vista composed of some truly stunning pieces of architecture. Some of them are gaudy and gauche, some are decorated with gigantic gyrating strippers made of light, some are classical stone monoliths of Roosevelt's America, and some are resplendently modern megastructures with skins of glass. And while nearly every one of these buildings are beautiful in their own right, not a one can claim to be more iconically Miami than the old CenTrust Savings and Loan building at 100 SE Second Street, better known today as the Miami Tower.

Designed by the famous architect I.M. Pei, the Tower is arguably most well known for its multi-colored LED light system. Every night, the city is treated to a 47-story light show of smoothly transitioning hues that range from tropical combinations of blue and green and yellow to Miami Heat-centric reds and oranges on game nights. It's massively unsubtle, majestically unique, and unavoidably over the top and impossible to ignore. Basically, those lights scream Miami at full volume every single night.

But the design building itself doesn't get nearly enough credit for how aesthetically pleasing and creative it is. The soaring mass of black and white bars that make up the building's shell is just as beautiful when lit by sun as it is when it glows under the LEDs at night, largely because of the contrasting curves of the three-tiered sides of the Tower and the sharp squared edges on the opposing sides.

And if you have a chance to wander through the building, you'll find another wonderful aspect of how Miami it is. From the gilded elevators to the marble encased skylobby on the 11th floor to the glimmering surfaces of nearly any random hallway between office spaces, the Miami Tower is utterly opulent -- in many cases tastefully so, in some cases, not so much.

But what makes the Miami Tower such a completely iconic landmark for this city is how much screen time the building has gotten over the years, and continues to get to this day. From flyover shots on TNT and ESPN between quarters of Miami Heat home games, to being one of the focal points in the opening credits of Miami Vice (which earned it the moniker of "The Miami Vice Tower" for many years), to featuring prominently in the landscape of Grand Theft Auto Vice City, the Miami Tower is quite likely the single-most recognizable building in the city, and will likely continue to hold that honor until the day they cut the lights when this town goes underwater.

Previous Icons:

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

The Freedom Tower Welcomed Cubans to America

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Travis Cohen is a writer for Miami New Times and covers subjects ranging from arts and architecture to marijuana and monkeys with herpes. He graduated with honors from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor's degree in English in 2012 and began working with New Times shortly thereafter. He was born and raised in Miami.