Miami Beach: glitz, glam, and great parking

[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:

 

English: Parking garage at Qwest Tower, 1801 C...

Image via Wikipedia

into this:

Arquitectonica's Ballet Valet on 7th & Collins, Miami Beach

Arquitectonica’s Ballet Valet on 7th & Collins, Miami Beach

 

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.

 

The Bentley Bay in South Beach

The Bentley Bay in 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.

 

View from Miami Beach of Downtown Miami

View from Miami Beach of Downtown Miami

 

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.

 

1111 Lincoln Road at night, Image by Jonathan Schilling via Wikipedia

1111 Lincoln Road at night, Image by Jonathan Schilling via Wikipedia

 

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:

 

Perkins+Will City of Miami Beach City Hall Annex parking structure

Perkins+Will City of Miami Beach City Hall Annex parking structure

  Pennsylvania Avenue Garage, in Frank Ghery’s New World Symphony Center

Pennsylvania Avenue Garage, in Frank Ghery’s New World Symphony Center
Enrique Norton's Park@420, Drexel Avenue, Miami Beach

Enrique Norton’s Park@420, Drexel Avenue, Miami Beach

 

Rendering of Zaha Hadid's Miami Beach parking garage at Collins Park

Rendering of Zaha Hadid’s Miami Beach parking garage at Collins Park

 

*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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Comments

  1. Great idea for a post! I live on SoBe and love the vine covered lot as well, it was genius. For the concrete monster at the end of Lincoln rd, I don’t know what to think yet. I want to like it, I truly do, but for some reason I just always think “incomplete”. It’s cool that they host awesome parties there that you can see from many blocks away from how open it is, but I just don’t know. Maybe I’ll come around 🙂

  2. You’re definitely not alone – many of the locals I talked to were less-than-thrilled about the concrete monster 🙂 There’s no doubt it inspires conversation! One person said they saw it in an Audi advertisement recently, but I haven’t seen it yet. Just yesterday I finally made it to the top to check out the view – seems like a neat place for a party. They must be a lot of fun…

  3. Honestly, I see a book in the making. I agree, Miami has come up with the most clever idea. It showcases some amazing architecture and an innovative way to disguise parking garages, of all things. Who knew? Kudos to Miami for their efforts and to you for putting a creative and thought provoking slant on something so obvious.

    A treat to read, love the pictures!

  4. Who would have thought the subject of parking garages would be so fascinating!!

  5. It’s a nice feeling when people say great things about your home town, even if it’s just a part-time home town. Thanks!

  6. Right? 🙂 Glad you thought so.

  7. Hi Ben & Jenna,

    It sounds like the architecture in Miami is fun to photograph if even the car parks are interesting 🙂

    We are visiting for a few days later in the year as part of a wider trip around Florida, staying in South Beach. Do you have any good recommendations for food, drink, off-the-path sights and photo opps? I’d love to hear them.

  8. Yes and yes! It’s always most difficult to condense thoughts on your home town, but here are five of our favorites: 1) Head to Tap Tap on 5th Street for Haitian food and homestyle mojitos, 2) Rent a kayak from Sailboards Miami and explore the Vizcaya groves, 3) Check out the Wynwood Arts District (join an art walk or visit Wynwood Walls), 4) Rent a boat on a weekend and cruise to Stiltsville, or just pull up to a random sandbank party and join the revelry, 5) don’t miss The Raleigh, a masterpiece hotel of a bygone time, where Esther Williams used to film synchronized swimming movies.

    Mmm, ok, can’t stop at just five! Las Olas cafe on Euclid serves the best Cuban coffee on the beach and has warm guava and cheese pastries – get them to go and carry them to the beach, just a couple blocks away. Another fun place for Cuban food is Versailles on Calle Ocho (downtown) – and a friend has said that PAX on Calle Ocho under the I-95 Expressway is now the very best new music venue, showcasing upcoming Cuban music and world music bands.

    Enjoy your trip!

  9. Wow! Miami Beach looks really fancy and fun! I hear a lot of great things about Miami Beach and it’s been years that I wanted to go to that place and have the best time of my life. I must say that I should pursue it and this time, I’ll visit that place with my family. It’s great to read from this post more new and amazing things about Miami Beach, I can’t wait to dive into that beach soon. Thanks for sharing!

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