Currently viewing the tag: "Midtown"

While some may find a lamppost to be a mundane element in the urban landscape, it is yet another of the thousands of elements that create the complete aesthetic experience of our environment. This beautiful new lamppost design in Midtown Miami is another piece in the puzzle of the cool design mecca that is blossoming in Miami. Every single improvement reveals its significance in the final vision. Whether it is a newly planted tree or 70 story skyscraper.

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The first thing I always want to talk about, when I talk about Miami, is Chad Oppenheim. Be forewarned, I may gush. Ever since this young architect appeared on the scene we have had the pleasure of one exciting building after another being proposed and built by this edgy, self-expressed talent. The level of achievement of both built and conceptual projects, by an architect so young, is nearly unprecedented.Among his first built structures in Miami Beach was the boutique building Ilona. Tucked away on a secluded street south of fifth street, and having seen renderings of several projects it was a strange experience to happen upon the completed building by mistake. Oppenheim’s work began intimately connected to the tropical modernist precedents set forth by the MiMo school. After what was clearly a profound analysis of the period, Oppenheim set out to create a new, more minimal, purist and luxurious interpretation. Simply put, he created a housing for all of the most beautiful and unique properties of South Florida life: light, color, air…sea and sky, the passing of the day. Stopped in my tracks as the building came into view, I felt that I could see the future of design in Miami, and it was good. As with much of his work to date, the design is at first quiet, restrained, and yet continues to reveal itself and its subtle beauty.Another South Beach jewel is yet another small residential building, Ilona Bay. Here we began to see the sophisticated relationship to the sculptor Donald Judd and his minimalist repetition of form. The geometric white grid enclosures that make up the balconies, are an apparent foreshadowing to the series of skyscrapers in store for downtown Miami. Judd’s complicated study of a numerous identical shapes, and the richness of such, based on perspective and light were the inspiration for the period in Oppenheim’s work that included Ice, Ice 2, and Ten Museum Park, as well as Sky and Space 01 in North Bay Village. As in the past, what seems at first, quite simple, is in truth an analysis of order and sublime proportion. That Oppenheim is able to achieve this in the face of program (number of units, required square footage, balconies etc.) and budgets is almost unbelievable.

To the great loss of Miami urbanists and art lovers, several of Oppenheim’s projects have been mired in difficulty with developers and the erratic whims of the real estate market, and may never come to fruition. Several of the above mentioned structures may never be realized, as well as the dynamic Park Lane Tower. Perhaps the greatest surprise, and disappointment is the recent news that 3 Midtown may not be built. This building, is what I believe to be, the most beautiful of the recent boom. Illustrating his sensitivity to each individual site and his desire to deliver to the future residents, an extraordinary experience of Miami, the building is brilliantly twisted and torqued out of the site lines of the two neighboring buildings. The resulting trapezoidal tower creates exciting relationships with the other portions of the buildings, the mews and the low-rise. The structural exoskeleton is a constantly evolving composition of obscuring elements and reveals. This exercise is even carried out on the roof, wrapping the top of the tower in an artful camouflage of the buildings service features, a feature sadly absent in most contemporary building designs. The fenestration on the exposed sides develops into a massive abstract canvas of light absorbing concrete and light reflecting glass, hence blackness in opposition to emitting light after dark. I sincerely hope that the cancellation of this project is a misrepresentation.While the very lofty conversation of Donald Judd and architecture may be to abstruse for the taste of some, it seems that another parallel can easily be drawn with the discussion of the very nearly finished Ten Museum Park. Like a diamond, that on one hand seems only to be a white shape of a stone, the 50 story tower on Biscayne Boulevard, towers above us as a simple gleaming white shape. Upon closer examination of the stone, the facets inside emit an ever shifting, evolving show of extraordinary shadow and brilliant light, that is undeniably hypnotic. So too, as the South Florida sun rises and illuminates the many complicated facets of the tower’s design, there is a most enjoyable, ever transforming display of darkness and luminosity, straight through til the sun sets, and reflects off of the vastly contrasting, elegantly proportioned back facade. Check it out.

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Although I have been generally pleased with Miami’s growth patterns of the last few years, I have always been concerned about the outcome. I am afraid Miami is building a completely novel urban environment, perhaps unlike anywhere else on Earth. What do I mean by this? Partially due to the lack of comprehensive transit and the region’s obsessive car culture, nearly all of the City’s new development is being designed for people to drive to, park in a garage, and walk in only the very immediate area to arrive at their destination.

This is exacerbated by the excessive minimum parking standards set by the City Code. Miami’s urban central business district has always had way too much parking for an urban core, but with the addition of all these new buildings as many as 100,000 more parking spaces are being added to the area. What a disgusting waste of valuable urban space. This is what I mean by Miami creating a novel urban environment – I can’t think of another major city in the history of the world that has simultaneously added so much core density and so much more parking. Or, put another way, I can’t think of another major city in the history of the world that has added so much more dense urban infrastructure without substantially curbing driving demand.

Perhaps even more worrisome is that people won’t even do the little bit of walking I mentioned above. They often may not need to. If you’re living in a high-rise in Brickell, you surely have a large parking garage pedestal. Say you want to go shopping at a downtown building with ground floor retail. It’s highly likely, especially if the building is new, that it will also have plenty of on-site parking. All you would have to do, in this case, is take the elevator to the parking garage (or valet), pull out and drive to the on-site garage at your destination. In many instances, there may even be direct access from the parking garage to the ground-floor retail. The same is true if you’re planning on visiting a friend in another building; just drive from one garage to another without ever setting food outdoors.

To see if this is happening, I went downtown and to Brickell to do some qualitative observation to gauge the ratio of pedestrian-to-automobile traffic coming and going from various buildings. I started at the One Miami building, where one of my friends resides. First of all, it doesn’t help that the building is almost entirely designed to interact with automobiles, not the pedestrian realm (seen here on the left), as Gabe pointed out in a recent post. Unfortunately, just as I suspected, one car after another came and went from the building’s massive parking garage. As for pedestrians? I was one of only a handful during about a 45 minute stretch between 1:45 pm and 2:30 pm.

Next, I took the Metromover down to Brickell so I could survey another building where a friend resides – the Club at Brickell Bay. It should be noted that this building felt rather hostile to pedestrians as well, due to the half-circle valet area and columns out front at the building’s only pedestrian entrance. At first, however, it seemed like there was more pedestrian interaction in this area. However, upon closer observation, almost all of the pedestrian activity was from people coming from and going to their cars which were parallel parked within about a two block radius of the Club. Meanwhile, car after car rode down Brickell Bay Drive looking for on-street parking, or entering and exiting the garage from the side of the building. Same went for the building next door. An occasional pedestrian or two could be seen coming from a distance every now and then, but they were far outnumbered by those driving.

Some of my friends have told me to relax, that things will improve a lot once the area matures and more retail is added nearby. This may be true to some degree, especially downtown, where pretty much everything is closed by 8:00 pm. However, I don’t think we can rely upon the major proposed retail projects to help a whole lot. For example, City Square is planning on providing a whopping 4,052 parking spaces! Same goes for Bayview Market (2,360). Same goes for Midtown Miami (2,900), regardless of the proposed Streetcar that would serve it.

Furthermore, we can’t blame a lack of transit for people deciding to drive everywhere in downtown and Brickell. These two locales are served by multiple modes of transit including taxi cabs, pitting them among the best transit-served areas in the southeastern United States. Everything, from groceries, retail, medical care, schools, jobs, banks, parks, restaurants, cafes, and nightlife are all accessible from short Metrorail, Metromover, or taxi rides (I’m not even going to include Metrobus in this piece).

In fairness, I know there are many people who have moved downtown or to Brickell so they could leave the car at home (or behind). We’ve even had commenters on TransitMiami mention their delight for being able to walk or take transit to most destinations. However, I believe these people are still very much in the minority.

Miami 21 aims to solve these problems. Due to fervent public outcry, parking will still be over mandated, but not quite as much as under current ordinances. Moreover, Miami 21 will force new buildings to have habitable space on nearly all building facades, aiming to significantly improve interaction with the pedestrian realm. The Streetcar proposal aims to improve north-south transit between downtown and midtown. A Bicycle Master Plan is still desperately needed. I sincerely hope that these actions improve the current situation in our urban core.

I don’t want Miami to become infamous for its dubious distinction as a park n’ walk city.

top photo courtesy of James Good’s flickr account

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