Homegrown Architecture: MIA and the USA

A glimpse of the terrace of Palau de La Musica Catalan, a Montaner masterpiece.

The Architect and the City

No one can better represent a city than a local architect—whether you consider Fillipo Brunelleschi in Florence or Lluis Domenech i Montaner and Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona. The expression of their architecture is synonymous with the pride of their cities.

Miami’s architectural scene is robust and diverse. Its relationship with homegrown architectural firms, intimate. They’ve shaped its skyline with little external influence, making it uniquely Miamian.

To put this into perspective and draw comparisons with Miami, I surveyed seven major U.S. cities and ten prominent buildings in each one (for the sake of simplicity, in order of height):

  1. NYC
  2. Chicago
  3. San Francisco
  4. Seattle
  5. Atlanta
  6. Houston
  7. Boston

We’ll get to Miami, at the end.

NYC (7 for 10)

NYC architects have the most influential role in shaping their city. Of the ten towers surveyed, all but three were designed by New York based firms. Skidmore, Owings, and Merril (SOM) having the privilege of retaining the most prominent current commission (One World Trade Center).  The list of architects was varied with not one repeating.

Chicago (5 for 10)

In Chicago, things were not as local. Of the ten buildings surveyed there, half of them were outsourced to NYC-based architects. Four of the city’s tallest five building were designed by SOM. Surprisingly, the Windy City’s prominent place among world skylines seems to be one largely defined from the Big Apple vantage point.

San Fran (o for 10)

San Francisco fared the worst. Not one of its ten most prominent buildings were designed locally. Here, again, half of the designs were otusourced to NYC firms. Architects based out of Chicago, Seattle, and L.A. closed out the list. SOM has played the most influential role in the San Fran with four of their designs in the top ten.

Seattle (10 for 10)

Seattle should be proud. They are among the most archicentric cities in America. Of the ten buildings surveyed, seven were designed by local firms. Seattle’s architecture scene is also varied with only one repeat; NBBJ. Its most emblematic building, the Space Needle, was locally designed by John Graham and Associates.

Atlanta (5 for 10)

Atlanta, like Chicago, had half of its buildings snatched up by outside firms except in this case it wasn’t monopolized by NYC firms. Two of its three most prominent buildings, Sun Trust Plaza and the Westin Peachtree Plaza, were designed by the same architect, John Portman and Associates.

Houston (3 for 10)

Houston is another city heavily influenced by NYC-based firms. The Lone Star State’s largest city only has three of its most prominent ten solely designed by Hoston-based firms. NY-based SOM is most influential with three of the ten being their designs.

Boston (5 for 10)

Boston matched Atlanta and Chicago with five local designs in their top ten. SOM, naturally, wasn;t left out. Not surprisingly, NYC firms played the most important external role in shaping Beantown’s skyline.

Evidently, NYC is an architectural hub. It’s played a significant role in exporting architectural vision to some of America’s great urban centers. Only Seattle remained untouched by it. Let’s see if Miami can share in that distinction:

Miami (8 for 10)

The Magic City is fond of its architecture. The two buildings not designed locally are the Wachovia Financial Center, which was designed by NYC powerhouse SOM, and the other is the Bank of America building (Miami Tower) designed by NYC-based Pei Cobb Freed and Associates. Interestingly, the both externally degined buildings are 1980s babies–a time in which the city’s skyline, along with its architectural scene was beginning to emerge fro obscurity. Had the survey included structures since 2000, Miami would have scored a perfect  (10 for 10).

To be fair, many of these firms have offices in the cities all over the country and world. They are also comprised of professionals from the world over so there is no telling if the designs came from the drawing boards of true locals or not, particularly with the larger firms. Still, their city of origin (headquarters) is what has been considered due to the invariable influence it has the culture of their designs.

Coming Up: The global reach of Miami’s architects compared to other major U.S. markets

Post Script:

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1 Comment

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One response to “Homegrown Architecture: MIA and the USA

  1. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and posting
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