written by:
photos by:
February 26, 2009

Cathy Leff takes to the road (and sidewalk) to lead us on an intrepid bicycle tour of Miami’s architectural and cultural wonders.

Beginning the tour in North Miami, at the recently opened permanent space of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Cathy Leff (far right) readies her tourists for a long day of cycling and sight-seeing.
Beginning the tour in North Miami, at the recently opened permanent space of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Cathy Leff (far right) readies her tourists for a long day of cycling and sight-seeing.
Photo by 
1 / 10
A pier at the private Hochberg residence typifies Miami’s complete embrace of the outdoors during the warm spring months.
A pier at the private Hochberg residence typifies Miami’s complete embrace of the outdoors during the warm spring months.
Photo by 
2 / 10
In Miami, even the supermarkets have flair.
In Miami, even the supermarkets have flair.
Photo by 
3 / 10
The Bacardi Building is one of Leff’s favorite buildings in Miami. Designed by Enrique Gutierrez of the Puerto Rican firm Sacmag International, with ceramic murals by the Brazilian artist Francisco Brennand, the Bacardi Building, built in 1963, houses off
The Bacardi Building is one of Leff’s favorite buildings in Miami. Designed by Enrique Gutierrez of the Puerto Rican firm Sacmag International, with ceramic murals by the Brazilian artist Francisco Brennand, the Bacardi Building, built in 1963, houses offices, a restaurant, and a museum open to the public. Behind the tower is a 1973 addition designed by Ignacio Carrera-Justiz, with glass tapestries by Frenchmen Gabriel and Jacques Loire.
Photo by 
4 / 10
The Raleigh Hotel was originally designed and built in 1940 by Lawrence Murray Dixon. It is renowned for its Art Deco elegance and its pool just a short walk from the beach. André Balazs recently completed a thorough renovation, and the Raleigh is now a s
The Raleigh Hotel was originally designed and built in 1940 by Lawrence Murray Dixon. It is renowned for its Art Deco elegance and its pool just a short walk from the beach. André Balazs recently completed a thorough renovation, and the Raleigh is now a sister hotel to the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood and the Mercer in New York.
Photo by 
5 / 10
The Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach was founded in 1986 to display Mitchell Wolfson Jr.’s huge collection of decorative and propaganda arts—including furniture, paintings, prints, books, and other decorative and industrial objects. In 1997 it became part
The Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach was founded in 1986 to display Mitchell Wolfson Jr.’s huge collection of decorative and propaganda arts—including furniture, paintings, prints, books, and other decorative and industrial objects. In 1997 it became part of the Florida International University and is now a full-blown research center as well.
Photo by 
6 / 10
The three-story outdoor cut-away living room by Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt announces the entrance to South Beach’s design district.
The three-story outdoor cut-away living room by Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt announces the entrance to South Beach’s design district.
Photo by 
7 / 10
The Aqua development on Allison Island is the brainchild of South Beach’s development impresario Craig Robins.
The Aqua development on Allison Island is the brainchild of South Beach’s development impresario Craig Robins.
Photo by 
8 / 10
A kind of modernist, New Urbanist experiment, the eight-and-a-half acre Allison Island features structures by Emanuela Frattini Magnusson, Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company, Hariri and Hariri, Alison Spear, Alexander Gorlin, and Walter F. Chatham, among oth
A kind of modernist, New Urbanist experiment, the eight-and-a-half acre Allison Island features structures by Emanuela Frattini Magnusson, Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company, Hariri and Hariri, Alison Spear, Alexander Gorlin, and Walter F. Chatham, among others.
Photo by 
9 / 10
The soon-to-be-completed Performing Arts Center designed by Cesar Pelli in downtown Miami provides a fitting end to Leff’s tour and a perfect beginning for a re-energized business district.
The soon-to-be-completed Performing Arts Center designed by Cesar Pelli in downtown Miami provides a fitting end to Leff’s tour and a perfect beginning for a re-energized business district.
Photo by 
10 / 10
Beginning the tour in North Miami, at the recently opened permanent space of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Cathy Leff (far right) readies her tourists for a long day of cycling and sight-seeing.
Beginning the tour in North Miami, at the recently opened permanent space of the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Cathy Leff (far right) readies her tourists for a long day of cycling and sight-seeing.

Miami is a matrix of man-made islands, causeways, and paved-over Everglades that has gotten by on a desirable climate, a thriving pan-Caribbean culture, and some of our nation’s finest hucksterism. Born as a high-class playground—the original polo fields are now golf courses—Miami first boomed at the beginning of the 20th century. Wondering how to attract vacationers and residents to a place without a history, Miami’s developers lit upon a grand idea: Build the place like it had one. Mediterranean revival abounds, Spanish colonial holds court, and swimming pools are cut to look more like Pompeii than Palm Beach. Even the oranges were imports, cultivated to convince railroad baron Henry Flagler to extend the rails all the way to Florida’s tip.

Cathy Leff, director of Miami Beach’s Wolfsonian–Florida International University Museum, loves Miami in part for all its flashy invention. But she says that big bucks and big construction are adding some serious substance to her subtropical city. Miami was, and for some still is, a winter destination, but this current boom is about more than just another faux-Deco hotel.

The city of Miami, located on the Florida mainland, sprawls inland from its downtown waterfront as city neighborhoods eventually bleed into the first ring of suburbs. The more urban Miami Beach is actually a separate city. Just one of the many islands in Biscayne Bay, it is connected to the mainland by a web of causeways and is home to some of Miami’s most fabulous hotels, Art Deco architecture, and beaches.

Defying conventional Miami wisdom, and its prestige-loving car culture, Leff convinced us to join her on a two-day bike tour exploring the city streets, galleries, delicious dives, one-stop Haitian voodoo shops, and even a night club still bumping at nearly noon (we’re 99 percent sure we spotted Vanilla Ice). We covered 40 miles and 11 islands, and used up an entire tube of sunblock.

What are your favorite buildings here?


One of my favorites is the Bacardi Building north of downtown Miami, at Biscayne and Northeast 21st. Bacardi has always realized the power of architecture in branding both a product and a company. They have built great buildings in Havana and Santiago also. The Bacardi Building is the best example of the International Style meets the subtropics.


And the famous Art Deco hotels?


The “famous” buildings are the authentic Art Deco buildings, the Art Deco historic district, and what we call MiMo (Miami Modern). I’m a modernist and a preservationist, and I believe we should protect the buildings of the past, but new architecture should reflect our own times and aspirations. The good is that the change we are now starting to see is the recognition that contemporary architecture really can be compatible within a historic district. I think architecture has been (and will continue to be) less successful when we have tried to emulate or reinvent the past, and Miami definitely has its fair share of faux Art Deco and Mediterranean revival architecture. But I do love the real deal like the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc hotels on Collins Avenue in South Beach, both by Morris Lapidus.   Miami has some funny moving architecture—the cruise ships that come into town. My apartment overlooks the Port of Miami, and I love getting up early on Saturday and Sunday to watch the cruise ships—or horizontal skyscrapers—as they arrive, completely dominating the downtown landscape. They are great visual additions to the skyline and contribute to the excitement of this growing urban activity.


The sandwich I had at Enriqueta’s was great. I’d love to eat my way through Miami.


Enriqueta’s is a delicious little Cuban spot just north of downtown, and just one of hundreds of small, fun, and mostly family-run restaurants. A great way to experience Miami’s cultural diversity is through its culinary culture. We have incredible Cuban, Nicaraguan, Peruvian, Brazilian, and Argentine food.


The Cuban influence on Miami is well-documented, but the Little Haiti neighborhood struck me as pretty vibrant itself.


Miami is such an extraordinary confluence of cultures, but sometimes you have to get out of South Beach to see it. By exploring the neighborhoods and the specialty shops within them, you learn so much. about the cultures that populate the city. The botanicas in Little Haiti, the heart of which is around Northeast Second and 54th Street, are just an example for getting a sense of the rich Haitian culture here. I’ve collected religious objects, so I love shops where you get the saints right alongside the Haitian voodoo.


The Wynwood neighborhood and the Design District in Miami are hot spots for contemporary art. What should we see?


The Rubell and Margulies collections are great in Wynwood, as is the Bakehouse Art Complex, Emmanuel Perrotin Gallery, Rocket Projects, and MOCA at Goldman Warehouse. Try Placemaker and the Moore Space in the Design District. I also like the Fred Snitzer and Bernice Steinbaum galleries.


Miami is a pretty young city. It didn’t really take off until the 20th century.


Though we have the oldest European settlements in the U.S., the state only took form when Henry Flagler extended the railroad to Miami in 1896. Florida understood the need to promote the state’s image to lure tourists and investors. This can be seen in the invention of new architectural styles that communicated centuries-old appeal in then-new cities like Coral Gables or Palm Beach, or through the images the state exported at the 1933 and 1939 World’s Fairs. They came, they built, and they are still coming. But this time there is substance behind the images.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

marcel breuer architect letter office kansas city snower house
See a glimpse into the office of a master architect.
May 01, 2016
Santa Monica living room with an Yves Klein coffee table
Dwell editor-in-chief Amanda Dameron talks us through Dwell's May 2016 issue.
May 01, 2016
house that sottsass built maui hawaii memphis group home renovation ettore facade colored volumes
In Maui, of all places.
May 01, 2016
two of a kind padua italy matching family homes facade green roof doors color
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to dream homes , we visited homes from Haiti to Italy. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
April 30, 2016
houseofweek
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
April 30, 2016
W House living room
Our best reader reactions this week.
April 29, 2016
Vineyard house illuminated at night
Rammed-earth construction fuses this Portuguese house to the environment.
April 29, 2016
vintage Scandinavian furniture Kathryn Tyler
In southwest England, interior designer Kathryn Tyler built her home around her ever-expanding furniture collection.
April 29, 2016
steel facade home Seattle
On the sandy shores of Fauntleroy Cove in Seattle, renowned firm Olson Kundig Architects crafts a subtle home with striking steel accents.
April 29, 2016
seperate piece renovated guesthouse eames storage unit cork floor tiles living room
An architect and an interior designer put the tools to the test for this impressive renovation.
April 29, 2016
Ceramics by WrenLab
Manhattan doesn’t get to have all the fun during NYCxDesign. Brooklyn is set for the return of BKLYN DESIGNS at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint from May 6-8, 2016. Here are just a few exhibitors we are excited to see this year.
April 29, 2016
n0a6974 dxo
Architect Diego Revollo refreshes an apartment with a standout kitchen.
April 29, 2016
img 8652 1
The city of San Francisco has been eagerly awaiting the reopening of SFMOMA for years—and as the May 14th opening approaches closer everyday, the anticipation continues to build for art enthusiasts both near and far. This morning, we were given the opportunity to explore the newly expanded space before the crowds roll in. After a series of speeches, remarks, and tours, we left the grounds feeling thoroughly inspired and excited to share what we discovered.
April 28, 2016
gramercy 1 ar53319
A family doesn’t have to travel far for a private oasis away from the busy city.
April 28, 2016
Renovation of 1967 Hamburg apartment with Vipp kitchen.
In our April issue, we showcased an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, with a striking, matte-black kitchen from Vipp. The 77-year-old company became famous for its iconic pedal trash can before venturing into kitchens and other tools for the home. This isn't the first time that the Danish company's products have graced our pages, and here we've gathered additional examples from our archive that show how the brand's minimalist black kitchens are always a win in modern interiors.
April 28, 2016
Zafra residence living room.
A man and his wife make an emotional return to an apartment building he loved as a kid.
April 28, 2016
the garden inside concrete dining pavilion indoor outdoor custom cabinets thermador dishwasher refrigerator
A skylit conservatory doubles as a verdant dining parlor in Sonoma County, California.
April 28, 2016
Details of the Calico collection.
Calico Wallpaper founders Nick and Rachel Cope showed us through their home in our March Issue, now step inside their studio.
April 28, 2016
william krisel pow 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
April 27, 2016
Dwell on Design and designjunction at ArtBeam
It's all part of Dwell on Design + designjunction's three-day event, featuring a program of talks chock-full of leading figures in design, architecture, urbanism, and beyond—coming up May 13-15 at ArtBeam in New York.
April 27, 2016
seattles mariners floating house prefab facade exterior fiber cement panels
A prefabricated floating home drops anchor in the Pacific Northwest.
April 27, 2016
royan treatment living room stone fireplace vintage new furnishings
French designer Florence Deau effortlessly mixes the old with the new.
April 27, 2016
modern netherlands 13 noordeinde schoolhouse parquet herringbone floors stove
Take a lesson from this school-turned-home.
April 27, 2016
The sidewalks of Copacabana in Rio De Janero, Brazil, designed by Roberto Burle Marx
The Jewish Museum in New York City takes it outside with a celebration of the Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.
April 26, 2016
Waterfront home in Belvedere, California
A 1960s home infested with powderpost beetles had to be sacrificed before this this Zen-inspired house could happen.
April 26, 2016
dialogue house
At the base of Echo Mountain in Phoenix, a geometric home by Wendell Burnette opens up to the surrounding desert landscape.
April 26, 2016
street smarts kitchen full view
A creative couple transforms an old Toronto storefront in Dundas West into a home and studio.
April 26, 2016
hald strand
This architect thinks of everything for his summer escape, pizza oven included.
April 26, 2016
gans turin residence living room
Thanks to a contemporary interior that she’s been updating for a decade, modern architect Abigail Turin has learned to love her traditional 1925 San Francisco home.
April 25, 2016
131
Johannesburg-based design studio Counterspace was founded in 2014 by young architecture graduates Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers, and Amina Kaskar. Their projects are collaborative, research-led investigations into possible futures and ideas of otherness in Johannesburg.
April 25, 2016