I’ve been photographing the architecture in South Florida non-stop for the better part of three years either through commissions or my own general obsessions, and while there is still a ton left to shoot (or re-shoot), I wanted to take this time to reflect on it all and share my personal favorite buildings that photographed to date. Although judging by the amount of cranes dotting the skyline these days, my gut tells me I’ll be remaking this list more than once. So consider this “part one.”
Miami is a geographically small market that always seems to punch way above its weight class. I’d call it the Little Mac of America, a little runt with the power to knock you on your butt. We don’t have the scale, the industry or volume of humans as other major markets like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Dallas, but when it comes to real-estate, sports, nightlife, the arts scene, current political events, or even the bat-shit crazy of America, we’re always in the thick of things.
If you’ve lived here long enough, then you’ll know that the architecture has evolved to reflect Miami’s coming of age into a “real city.” Just look at that skyline.
Below are some of my favorite architecture photos accompanied by a brief description.
Freedom Tower: Weaver and Schultz (Cover Photo)
We’ll start with a tried and true classic: Completed in 1925, Freedom Tower definitely qualifies as “old” by Miami Standards since we have a tendency of tearing down in favor of the “new.” As one of the elder statesmen of Architecture in South Florida, it’s served quite a few purposes throughout its life.
It was originally built to be the headquarters for the Miami News and then became a processing center for immigrants fleeing Castro’s communist Cuba in the 1960s, where they were also provided with medical services. From there, it moved around through some private hands before officially becoming a monument to Cuban Exiles everywhere in 1997.
Since then, it has been donated to Miami-Dade college, where it currently houses the Museum of Art & Design and offers a variety of exhibitions throughout the year.
On September 10, 1979, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
I’d say my favorite thing about it is the contrast that it currently provides to the more modern, glass and steel aesthetic currently dotting downtown with a more Mediterranean inspired design.
I captured this photo using my a 24mm Tilt shift Lens with a 1.6 teleconverter giving it a focal length of about 35mm. The extra zoom was needed since I had to stand all the way across Biscayne Boulevard to avoid getting hit by traffic.
Mr. C Hotel: Arquitectonica
To provide a bit of contrast, we have the brand new Mr.C Hotel in Coconut Grove. I absolutely jive with the Stiltsville throwback aesthetic. The nautical theme is also enhanced by the porthole style windows on the facade, giving it the appearance of a luxury yacht. It feels right at home in the breezy, bohemian Coconut Grove neighborhood currently undergoing a massive redevelopment with lots of exciting projects in bloom.
I had been eagerly waiting for months for construction to finish, so I could get my shot. I woke up at 5:30am on a Saturday to catch it in its morning glory, as I figured there would be no traffic. Nine times out of ten, this is a solid plan. Unfortunately, I was wrong about everything. The city closed the streets for an ALS race. The street in front of the building was full of police tape and cops directing traffic. Additionally, I misjudged the angle of the sun and it was less than flattering on the facade. It ended up creating a boring, flat light not unlike what you’d see from an on camera flash. I ended up getting another money shot that day of a different building, but still left disappointed. Then two days later, on a whim, I figured “what the hell” let’s see if twilight is any better, and I ended up with a shot I was very happy with almost straight out of camera in less than fifteen minutes. Life is funny that way.
Museum Garage: Tim Haahs
This 7-Story, cast concrete building is bursting with the type of color contrast that gives me a craving for some skittles. It is the latest modern gem in Miami’s Design District and sits atop the number one spot as my personal favorite building in Miami as of the writing of this article.
If it looks like a hodge-podge of disparate parts, that’s because it is. Kennan/ Riley was commissioned to spearhead the facade portion of the structure, and in turn, they commissioned five other designers to create their take on different portions of the exterior. This technique was developed by the French surrealist and is known as Exquisite Corpse, which was inspired by an old pub game whereby each artist draws one component of a picture without knowing what the others are creating. The result is a final work that may not match, but flows in a playful way.
Getting this shot involved quite a bit of scouting to find the right angle, or rather find access to it. I shot it from a balcony of the building across the street, but had no idea how to get to it at first until a buddy of mine hinted at a hidden staircase that gives you direct access. I went on a random afternoon to confirm this and then knew I had to come back for that morning sun. Unfortunately, that was during the summer, when the sun rises a bit further north and hits the building with the most boring flat light relative to my chosen angle. I knew I’d have to wait until winter to get the southern sun, and thus a more directional, engaging source of light.
When the day finally came, I snuck passed a few security guards and made my way to the staircase only to find that it was locked. Unable to find another way up, I was frustrated and ready to give up, when I realized that the elevators were working (they normally required an access card). The shot was saved, and I spent a cool, lovely morning listening to Spotify and watching the sun paint the landscape, taking different exposures along the way that I would eventually blend in Photoshop and produce the final image above. I guess it pays to be patient sometimes.
Miami-Dade Children’s Courthouse: HOK
Built with locally sourced materials, and utilizing an east/west orientation that minimizes exposure to Miami’s tropical sun, Miami-Dade’s new children’s courthouse gave me one of my personal favorite photos in my portfolio.
The precast concrete and perforated, colorful windows invite an intentional playfulness designed to minimize the stress incurred by children and families in the system. I love that the structure retains a sense of authority while projecting a warmth and openness that could help mitigate the kind of tension you associated with being in court: an example of architecture that functions and serves the public.
Miami is a traffic nightmare during the week, but on weekends, downtown is a ghost town and provides a peaceful setting for a meditative drive. I love driving through the city streets and observing how the light bounces and reflects off the different structures and surfaces. On one particularly lazy Sunday, I drove past the courthouse, saw the bright, airy light hitting at just the right angle to carve out some depth and texture, and said to myself, “thank God I have my gear on me. “
Echo Brickell: CFE & Associates
The really cool thing about ECHO is how it looms over the horizon as you drive down Brickell Ave and then grows into the 56 story guardian of the neighborhood as you get closer, almost like it’s standing guard at the gate. My favorite features include the contrasting wooden panels midway through the building where the pool resides and the converging lines that get thinner as you scale higher. I wish I could step inside that 37 million dollar penthouse on the roof.
This shot was not for the faint of heart, and proof that photography is life. I would run into the middle of the street between traffic with my tripod and hope to get a decent composition with my 24mm Tilt Shift lens, pop off a few shots and run back onto the sidewalk in about 15 seconds before the traffic started again. If you’ve been to Brickell, you know how crazy that sounds. I was able to grab a keeper, and avoid becoming a pancake.
A close look at the balusters reveals shapes that differ in each of the 46 floors, giving the facade the impression that it’s mimicking the waves and the breeze of the beach it’s built on. Each floor is its own unit with complete, unobstructed 360 degree views. And I love that it stands alone, unobstructed, looming over the sleepy little town of Golden Beach.
This photo was actually shot at 85mm. I snapped about 25 images to create this incredibly detailed 100 megapixel panorama from about a quarter mile away sitting comfortably on the roof of a parking garage.