[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] I [/dropcap]t’s my first time to visit Miami since assuming the role of travel writer (in fact, this is our first post on the United States), and my hometown is just as richly multifaceted as ever, if not more so. Sure, you can still head to Ocean Drive and shake your head over the ostentatious display of skin and money, but stop there and you might as well dismiss the Big Apple because you don’t like the scrolling marquees of Times Square. The true Miami is a cosmopolitan ropa vieja of varied ideologies and cultures that incubates personal expression (art, design, performance, and yes – short skirts) and liberates gastronomy and lifestyle, set against a backdrop of stunning architecture both old and new.
There’s just one issue: Until now, I’ve never felt responsible for writing about it. And as Ben and I strolled the January streets in flip flops, despite large amounts of Cuban coffee which left us feeling we could conquer the world, the truth was irrepresible. Even with an entire website devoted to just one aspect of the Magic City, we’d only be scratching the surface.
In the face of such overwhelming subject material there’s only one thing to do: write about the parking lots of Miami Beach. Or rather, drill down to one tiny, obscure aspect of our subject which serves to illuminate the greater whole.* Stick with me here, because with topiary monuments, Frank Ghery commissions, floating bamboo masterpieces, and Zaha Hadid curvature on the way, Miami parking is nothing to shake a palo at.
Where it all began
I had a tough life when I lived in South Beach (or “Sobe”). On my five-block walk to the beach, I got to pass my favorite building, Arquitectonica‘s Ballet Valet, a parking garage disguised by a tangle of vines framing the retail shops below, and a self-described – this is such a great term – “monumental topiary.” At the time I didn’t know it had a name, didn’t know it was designed by award-winning architects, didn’t know it would inspire a series of successors.
All I knew was that I loved it. It looked like some kind of Fluxus masterpiece, where the forces of nature and time slowly overtake the urban skyline, transforming our ephemeral concrete jungles into truly verdant spaces. (It’s not a bad metaphor for Miami, a city whose expansion constantly encroaches on the Everglades.)
Why don’t other designers/developers employ this simple method of improving the curb appeal of those archetypal concrete-block parking structures we’ve all come to hate? Why don’t all municipalities put thought into even the most mundane edifices which will eventually surround them? Why don’t architectural clients demand greener spaces? With a modicum of effort, we could transform this:
And then there were two
Another Arquitectonica brainchild is Bentley Bay, a condominium complex that provides initial eye candy to every visitor as they cross the bay to South Beach.
See those poles that seemingly rise from the water, “growing” at odd angles like stalks of bamboo? You guessed it! They disguise a parking garage. (Just imagine what an eyesore this could have been in the hands of a group less talented or motivated.) As an added bonus, the top floor of the garage houses a pool deck – such a fantastic way to maximize space, and the view ain’t so bad, either.
Eyesore or masterpiece?
Next up is 1111 Lincoln Road by Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron, the cornerstone of the western end of the famed pedestrian street, which is one of those buildings you either love or hate. I love it because it is bold, airy, innovative, and subversively takes that archetypal concrete-block structure I mentioned earlier and turns it on its identically-cubed head.
It’s another mixed use structure, with retail space below (and inside – check out the windows on the fifth floor), condominium units above, and parking all in between. A friend commented that it seemed a rather uneconomical use of real estate, but in an area where parking spots can go for $10,000 (mere pennies compared to the cost of your Bentley or Lamborghini), that’s not necessarily the case. (Note: Most of these lots are owned and commissioned by the City of Miami Beach, and rates are extremely affordable.) Either way, this private Miami Beach parking garage helps to facilitate access to the restaurants and high-end shops below, including Y3, Taschen, and Rosa Mexicana (home of the $14 guacamole for which I’d probably pay $20, especially by the time I’ve finished one of their killer fresh margaritas).
And that’s not all
There has been a rapid explosion in the population of South Beach parking structures since I’ve been away, recession-be-damned, with some big names jumping on the bandwagon. Miami Beach mayor Matti Bower has famously said, “Our parking garages are more than a group of parking spaces. Some have become destinations within themselves. Every building can be a work of art.”
Judge for yourself:
*For those who want to skip ahead, here in a nutshell is what we’re trying to convey about Miami through this survey of parking lots: It’s innovative. It’s bold and willing to chart its own course. It’s diverse. It’s resourceful (it costs a lot less to build a parking garage than other buildings). It cares about beauty. There’s a lot below the surface, sometimes in the most mundane, overlooked things. And it really loves its cars.
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