Architecture & Design

The 12 Best Arquitectonica Buildings in Miami

American Airlines Arena
American Airlines Arena Courtesy of Kubany Judlowe
New Times gets a lot of unsolicited mail from publishers and marketing firms: promo CDs, press releases, advance copies of books, and the like. Usually, though, the packages aren’t nearly as massive as the giant tome that arrived in the office earlier this summer: Arquitectonica, written by Alastair Gordon and published by art and photo book specialists Rizzoli. The monograph is a retrospective of Arquitectonica, a Miami-based architecture firm that, for better or worse, has come to define the look of Miami through its simple, blocky, pop-art-influenced style. You know the firm's buildings even if you don’t realize it.

“The book explores both our history and our global reach, which in reality are inextricably interconnected," Arquitectonica cofounder Bernardo Fort-Brescia says of the book. "Our contributions to the Miami architectural landscape often translate into what we can do for other cities, as our global clients look closely at what we have done or are proposing to do in our hometown. Miami has always remained our focus. We live with what we create here.”

It didn’t feel right to let this huge slab of paper and cardboard (seriously, the thing weighs like four or five pounds) just collect dust in our office. Instead, we were inspired to list our favorite Arquitectonica buildings, from creative condos to massive public spaces. See which South Florida landmarks made the cut, and pick up the book at your favorite local bookstore. (Remember to lift with your legs to avoid hurting your back.)
click to enlarge Atlantis - COURTESY OF KUBANY JUDLOWE
Courtesy of Kubany Judlowe
Atlantis. How do you turn a staid, Bauhaus-esque, modern apartment block into a work of art? First, you put a hole in the middle. Next, you add some funky neon-colored elements: a bright-red spiral staircase in the hole, a bright-yellow stack of balconies, and a red pyramid on top. Finally, you set it down in one of the most scenic locations in the world, overlooking Biscayne Bay in the heart of Brickell. To say that scheme worked well for Arquitectonica’s Atlantis condominium is an understatement of the highest order. After the building was featured in both Scarface and Miami Vice, it became not only a hit among architecture snobs but also an icon of Miami in the '80s.
click to enlarge Brickell City Centre - PHOTO BY PHILLIP PESSAR / FLICKR
Brickell City Centre
Photo by Phillip Pessar / Flickr
Brickell City Centre. Miami is replete with unnecessary shopping experiences. Aventura, Bal Harbour, the Design District — how many Gucci stores and pricey malls do we need? With Brickell City Centre, Arquitectonica decided to do something more utilitarian. The firm opted not to disrupt the existing traffic plan, for starters; pedestrian bridges cross the streets below, affording views of the complex’s clean lines and “blocky volumes.” There are also environmentally conscious elements, from plantings to a “climate ribbon” designed to improve airflow. The shops and restaurants — an Apple Store, the premium movie theater CMX, the luxe Italian food hall La Centrale — aren’t exactly egalitarian, but, hey, it’s Brickell.
click to enlarge American Airlines Arena in 2010. - PHOTO BY BOB B. BROWN / FLICKR
American Airlines Arena in 2010.
Photo by Bob B. Brown / Flickr
American Airlines Arena. Folks, it’s the AAA. We’ve all been here at one time or another, whether it be for a Heat game or a blowout concert by Paul McCartney, Kendrick Lamar, Katy Perry, or pretty much every other major act that comes to town. Of course, not every court can be a coliseum, and basketball arenas don’t become city-defining landmarks simply by hosting events. This one did because it’s a masterful piece of work, an unconventional, stately palace of spectacle whose massive windows, looking right onto Biscayne, both Boulevard and Bay, invite people in rather than shutting them out. We almost don’t deserve an arena this good.
click to enlarge Sawgrass Mills from above. - COURTESY OF KUBANY JUDLOWE
Sawgrass Mills from above.
Courtesy of Kubany Judlowe
Sawgrass Mills. We can still remember the days when this behemoth of a shopping mall, spread across more than 2.3 million square feet on a single floor, had its tropical theming. In the late '90s, Sawgrass Mills held a kind of wonder thanks to these colorfully named sections: Yellow Toucan, Pink Flamingo, Blue Dolphin, White Seahorse, and so on. It wasn't surprising to learn later that the megamall’s playful design — from the pop-arty, Donald Judd-like entry structures to the circus-tent roofs near the Rainforest Cafe (another beloved childhood staple) — were done by Arquitectonica. The Mills have faded from those glory days: They switched out the animal-themed concourse names for numbered “avenues”; took out the animal animatronics near Rainforest Cafe, replaced it with a playground, then took that out too; and closed the awesome, kid-centric theme park Wannado City in 2011. But the memories remain, as does the totally radical theming in the outdoor Oasis section. Sure, Aventura Mall is bigger and bougier, but Sawgrass Mills, in all its kitschy glory, is the mall that best defines South Florida.
click to enlarge Miami New Times' former offices at 2800 Biscayne Blvd. - PHOTO BY DOUGLAS MARKOWITZ
Miami New Times' former offices at 2800 Biscayne Blvd.
Photo by Douglas Markowitz
New Times Regional Headquarters. And now we come to a sentimental favorite, the former Miami New Times headquarters on Biscayne Boulevard. It was built back in the days when your beloved alt-weekly had both the means and motivation to brand an entire office building with its logo. Times have changed in the newspaper business, however, and New Times moved on, first to another office building on Biscayne and most recently to Wynwood. The old building still stands on the corner of NE 28th Street and Biscayne, not neglected, but perhaps a bit forlorn. It’s certainly not as impressive as the rest of the buildings on this list, but we can’t help but feel nostalgic about the place.
click to enlarge The Palace - COURTESY OF KUBANY JUDLOWE
The Palace
Courtesy of Kubany Judlowe
The Palace. Another early structure from the firm conceived and built in the late '70s, the Palace combined a conventional main tower with a bright-orange staircase-shaped second block. The book name-drops Le Corbusier, Sol Lewitt, and Euclidean geometry in its entry about the project, but we can think of another reference point: the Memphis Group, the Italian design collective founded by Ettore Sottsass in 1980. Its wacky, colorful designs and pop-art sensibility defined interior design for the rest of the decade, and because Miami was one of the most important locations in the world during that time, we can’t help but think those daring Italians might’ve looked at this building and thought to themselves, Now there’s something interesting.
click to enlarge PortMiami Tunnel - COURTESY OF KUBANY JUDLOWE
PortMiami Tunnel
Courtesy of Kubany Judlowe
PortMiami Tunnel. Proving itself to be a perfect architectural example of “get you somebody that can do both” — in this case, smart infrastructure and great design — Arquitectonica was partially responsible for the PortMiami Tunnel. Those hulking concrete slabs you see at the entrance of the tunnel, covered with Latin conjugates of the word “navigate,” are meant to conceal giant floodgates, preventing the tunnel from flooding during a hurricane.
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Douglas Markowitz is a former music and arts editorial intern for Miami New Times. Born and raised in South Florida, he studied at Sophia University in Tokyo before earning a bachelor's in communications from University of North Florida. He writes freelance about music, art, film, and other subjects.