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Architect About Town

The lure of Miami architecture

Architect About Town - Special to the Fort Myers News-Press

When a larger bus was ordered and there was still a waiting list, we knew we had stirred interest.

Two Saturdays ago, the American Institute of Architects organized an architectural tour of Miami. For the first time, architects were the minority.

It wasn't a historical tour, nor was it billed as such.

Zach Smith, an energetic young member of the AIA, consciously put together a day trip focusing on modern.

Deliberately, he selected buildings that were not victims of mediocrity. They varied in style and function yet all created a similar response:

Wow.

Everyone on the bus found it a thought-provoking and unique opportunity to tour Miami while getting the inside story on some very cutting-edge, modern structures.

For those of us who practice architecture, it was a massive injection of Architecture with a capital A, i.e. the real thing.

Vince Noble, a high school teacher who joined the tour, was compelled to forward his thoughts:

"Born in Chicago, and son of a man who left books of the great 20th century modern architects strewn around, a fascination with architecture is embedded in my genetic code. It didn't require convincing to get me on a bus bound for Miami.

I found Miami incredible. We passed buildings I loved, more often than not, the modern ones. Not surprising, as I find modern architecture more dramatic, challenging and, mostly, cool. We also saw buildings I hated. Several were simply awful.

That's what I enjoyed about the tour: Nearly all evoke a genuine response. Love 'em, or hate 'em, they made you think and react with legitimate emotion.

Florida International University campus is a great example. The School of Business is a stunning building - trendy and dramatic. A great use of color, texture and forms create a grand simplicity, and, in the courtyard, exciting rhythmic devices and water features provide a lively but measured focus.

And, for a government building constructed within a tight budget, it communicates an abundance of commitment and vision from both the university and the architect.

A short walk away is the School of Law. I didn't get it. To a novice, it looked like a building that couldn't make up its mind - first it's contemporary, and then, traditional.

The scale of the lobby eluded to the grand spaces of old courthouses, yet, it was too tall, and made me feel unwelcome - uncomfortable and small. It reminded me of the teenagers I teach everyday, who want to be something important but are not sure how.

At the University of Miami's School of Architecture, we toured the Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center, designed by a world-renowned architect and theorist of Urbanism and advocate of traditional architecture.

Again, I didn't get it but this time, I also wanted out. Perhaps a lack of architectural expertise gave me no tools to appreciate the Perez Center - it was lost on me. ...

A long time ago, a teacher told me that if it doesn't make you think and doesn't make you feel, it's not art. Seems to me that they figured out the same thing about architecture in Miami."

So why do buildings in Miami provoke emotion, make us think, and feel ... something?

There is something extraordinary there. Civic leaders, planners, developers and architects work toward the same goals. Building a concrete box and randomly applying architectural ornamentation evoking another time or place is not on the agenda.

Average is not good enough and vanilla is not allowed on the plate. New ideas are explored, technological advances thrive and, remarkably, architects are encouraged to take risks and push the envelope.

Inevitably, the result is a higher quality, well-thought-out building, judged not only by how much money it makes but, notably, on design merit as well. If you want to sell in Miami – safe won't suffice.

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Joyce Owens AIA RIBA