Miami Modern Metropolis

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By Aaron Britt / Published by Dwell
Aaron Britt: Having been to Miami several times now, most recently for Design Miami and Art Basel Miami Beach just last month, I've grown increasingly fond of the place. Equal parts pleasure center, vibrant cultural whirlpool, and throbbing exercise in artifice, Miami is a city perpetually grasping at a history that in many ways, it simply does not have. Only 100 years ago it was largely swampland, and a nascent playground for the rich. As year-round residency increased, and the city embraced the swelling middle class of American vacationers, the boom of authentic Art Deco building eventually exploded into some of the US's most compelling mid-century modern design.
Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 1 of 13 - This spread, designed by Giampiero Caiti, shows the high dive at the McFadden Dauville Hotel on Miami Beach. Rocco Ceo and Allan T Shulman's essay discusses the intersection of modern design and the thriving aquatic culture of America's favorite beach town.

This spread, designed by Giampiero Caiti, shows the high dive at the McFadden Dauville Hotel on Miami Beach. Rocco Ceo and Allan T Shulman's essay discusses the intersection of modern design and the thriving aquatic culture of America's favorite beach town.

Which is exactly the subject of the smart, thoroughly-researched and visually exciting Miami Modern Metropolis: Paradise and Paradox in Mid-century Architecture and Planning from Balcony Press. This book, edited by Allan T. Shulman, an architect, historian and professor at the University of Miami School or Architecture, could have been another coffee table book dedicated to mid-century porn and the haunts of the East Coast elite, but instead it is a coffee table book that merits main course reading.

Ranging in subject from glitzy South Beach hotels to the human geography dictated by segregation to the way a handful of new university campuses altered the notions of public space, Miami Modern Metropolis is a portrait of a city stretching out under the influence of post-war optimism, ample cash and the ceaseless hum of the air conditioner. Though there's certainly lots here to delight the eye--as a romp through the aesthetics and advertising of the 30s-60s it succeeds--they are the wonderfully sharp and digestable essays that make this book worth continued perusal.

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 2 of 13 -

 

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 3 of 13 - Boat racing at Miami Marine Stadium, designed by Hilario Candella, was a popular spectator sport. Today the stadium is an imperiled modern masterpiece.

Boat racing at Miami Marine Stadium, designed by Hilario Candella, was a popular spectator sport. Today the stadium is an imperiled modern masterpiece.

To images from the book, please visit the slideshow.

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 4 of 13 - Ezra Stoller's photo of the interior of Alfred Browning Parker's Jewell Parker Residence in Coconut Grove accompanies Allan T. Shulman's essay on Miami's (and to an extent, America's) fraught relationship with its cultural origins.

Ezra Stoller's photo of the interior of Alfred Browning Parker's Jewell Parker Residence in Coconut Grove accompanies Allan T. Shulman's essay on Miami's (and to an extent, America's) fraught relationship with its cultural origins.

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 5 of 13 - The Castaways Island Motel on Sunny Isles was a popular expression of tropical modernism.

The Castaways Island Motel on Sunny Isles was a popular expression of tropical modernism.

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 6 of 13 -

"High Cotton" is an entry by documentary filmmaker Kathy Hersh on the Hampton House, a motel in suburban Miami that catered to African Americans in an otherwise largely segregated hospitality industry.

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 7 of 13 - This photo is from the nightclub at the Hampton House designed by Miami architect Robert Carl Frese.

This photo is from the nightclub at the Hampton House designed by Miami architect Robert Carl Frese.

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 8 of 13 - A 1951 postcard of the Bombay Hotel on Miami Beach helps illustrate Greg Castillo's essay "Fantasyland" which concerns how Miami was portrayed in the mid-century media.

A 1951 postcard of the Bombay Hotel on Miami Beach helps illustrate Greg Castillo's essay "Fantasyland" which concerns how Miami was portrayed in the mid-century media.

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 9 of 13 - Here in this 1955 picture, Frank Lloyd Wright examines a photo of the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach.

Here in this 1955 picture, Frank Lloyd Wright examines a photo of the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach.

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 10 of 13 - Rufus Nims was a residential architect in Miami who experimented with concrete forms.

Rufus Nims was a residential architect in Miami who experimented with concrete forms.

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 11 of 13 - The Birdcage House by Igor Polevitzky in Biscayne Island, with its massive screened facade, was directly inspired by Marcel Breuer's experiments in regional modernism in Massachusetts.

The Birdcage House by Igor Polevitzky in Biscayne Island, with its massive screened facade, was directly inspired by Marcel Breuer's experiments in regional modernism in Massachusetts.

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 12 of 13 -

"Paradise and Paradox" is the overriding theme of Miami Modern Metropolis, one examined from dozens of design and urbanistic lenses.

Miami Modern Metropolis - Photo 13 of 13 - This rendering of the Center for the Americas (Interama) by Spillis, Candella, DMJM shows a building and world's fair that was meant to unite the Americas.

This rendering of the Center for the Americas (Interama) by Spillis, Candella, DMJM shows a building and world's fair that was meant to unite the Americas.