New York and Miami: Two Architectural Heavyweights
July 23, 2012 | Permalink
The US has some of the world’s most architecturally significant buildings. We have been a leader in worldwide architectural trends since the 19th century. The East Coast alone has more buildings of historical and aesthetic interest than one could hope to visit on a single trip. Two cities that very much helped to define the American character (both at work and at play) in the 20th century, and continue to do so in the 21st century, are New York City and Miami. Their buildings reflect their significant cultural standings. For the architecture-aficionado Road Warrior, these cities are must-sees.
If you go on the Miami Design Preservation League’s 90-minute Art-Deco walking tour, you will comb through the three stylistic strata of 20th-century Miami Beach architecture: Mediterranean Revival, which dates from the 20s and 30s, Streamline Moderne, which overtook Mediterranean Revival during the Great Depression, and Miami Modern (MiMo), the indulgent icing on Miami’s architectural cake, which arrived in the 50s.
As Miami was associated in the popular imagination in the 1920s and 30s with legendarily idyllic Mediterranean locales like Rome and Seville, Mediterranean-Revival buildings were erected in this period referencing these cities’ architectural styles. An excellent example of these Spanish and Italian-Renaissance-based, but still very American, buildings is Miami-Dade College’s Freedom Tower. Built in 1925, it is based on Seville’s Giralda Tower.
During the Depression, the architecture of Miami, the lower 48’s southernmost major city, came into its own, throwing off nostalgia and Europhilia and helping to found the forward-looking, vehicle-inspired Streamline Moderne School of architecture. Many of these buildings look like ships, automobiles and airplanes; they barely look planted in the ground. An exemplary Miami-Beach Streamline-Moderne building is Jerry’s Famous Deli.
In the post-WWII period, the country’s fascination with the future influenced Miami’s architecture. MiMo architecture was an attempt to erect buildings with the look and feel of tomorrow today. We now recognize the buildings in this style (a great example of which is 1963’s Bacardi Building) to be based on a collective fantasy (like The Jetsons was). Artists are not so adept at predicting the future. Just look at the “futuristic” computers in the film Alien. (They look conspicuously like 80s laptops.) At the time, there was the feeling that a life of futuristic, utopian ease was just around the next corner, and these buildings reflect that feeling.
New York City
Manhattan is a melting pot in many ways. Its architecture is as mixed-bag as its inhabitants are. Modern condos stand cheek by jowl with buildings from the city’s beginnings. Since the city is so vast and dense, covering all of its notable architecture is an overly-ambitious project. An excellent way to make touring the borough’s architecture manageable is to survey it from the water that surrounds it (the East, Hudson and Harlem Rivers), which you can do on Classic Harbor Line’s Architecture Tour.
You’ll feel like Gatsby as a passenger on Classic Harbor Line’s 1920s-style pleasure boat, the Manhattan. You will see Wall Street’s Trinity Church, which was the tallest building in the city when it was built in 1846 but now stands rather diminutively at the end of a canyon of enormous financial buildings. The Woolworth Building, Manhattan’s premier neo-Gothic skyscraper, which was the tallest building in the world when it was completed in 1910, will be explained to you by the cruise’s very-able tour guides, who belong to the American Institute of Architects. Since the tour takes place on the water, the city’s bridges—just as important for the city’s commercial and civic life as its buildings—will be explored and explained as well.
After a day checking out exotic architecture, you’ll probably want to head back to a homey, comfy hotel—one with a kitchen for making a home-style meal. You need look no further than an Extended Stay Hotel for this.
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