The Miami Beach Art Deco Historic District
A section of twenty blocks, or a square mile of Miami Beach (Miami Beach Architectural Historic District) has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places due to the distinctive architecture of its buildings. This website includes a selection of these buildings.

The Art Deco Style
The Art Deco style derived from a synthesis of exotic influences which developed during the first two decades of the twentieth century. It was crystallized at an 1925 international exhibition in Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels, which is abbreviated as “Arts Deco.” Although this exhibition dealt mostly with interior decoration it had a strong influence on Architecture. The use of the term “Art Deco” did not begin until 1968, when it was coined by British art historian Bevis Hillier in reference to designs resulting from this exposition. The Art Deco style emphasized rich textures and ornamentation, often using expensive materials such as crystal and marble.  Decorating images show romanticized, mainly tropical, animals and garden scenes. Architecrural structures are influenced by Egyptian, Mayan and Aztec pyramids and surface decorations. Art Deco architecture tends to favor symmetrical structures.

The Streamline Style
The Streamline or Streamline Moderne style was a slightly later movement influenced by industrial and machine design, and it peaked during the decade of the 1930’s. It was fascinated with speed and travel, and the images of trains, automobiles and ocean liners. This was also a time of science fiction in movies and comic strips, such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, and the futuristic images from these medias also influenced the movement. During this decade, vehicles were streamlined for aerodynamic purposes, with smooth, rounded surfaces designed to reduce air resistance. The term streamlining also applies to industrial efficiency resulting from simplification.   Streamlining became a symbol of modernity and progress away from the depression. The sleek curved style of the vehicles was then applied to appliances, jewelry and buildings.

In reaction to Art Deco, the Streamline architectural style calls for smooth, simple surfaces with minimal ornamentation. Any decorations would tend to be geometric patterns rather than images. Structures are often asymmetrical, and seek to express an aerodynamic character. The sense of speed is often conveyed by narrow horizontal decorative bands or “racing stripes.”

The American skyscraper is more of a building type rather than an architectural style, and it included Art Deco and Streamline elements, but it developed an identity of its own, which influenced the Miami Beach Deco architecture.This building type emerged from New York, Chicago and other large urban centuries during the early twentieth century. These tall tower structures were a natural result of the density and congestion of the these cities, but they quickly became a symbol of  modernity and prosperity.

Miami Beach Deco
The hotels built in Miami Beach hotels during the 1930’s and early 1940’s developed a coherent style influenced by the above movements. This style has been called Miami Beach Deco or Tropical Deco.  Although some of the hotels may adhere closer to Art Deco or Streamline features, a blend of the two styles predominates. Most of the buildings were designed by a small number of architects.  Elements of the Miami Beach Deco style are outlined below.

Moderate Cost
Miami Beach Buildings were designed to be flashy and striking while maintaining modest construction costs, aimed to appeal to a middle-class clientele which was attempting to emerge from the depression doldrums. One example of this is the imitation of the skyscraper style on buildings of moderate size, by emphasizing vertical lines and topping the buildings with towers and finials.

Façade Symmetry
Many of the buildings show façade symmetry, with a prominent central section and two similar side wings. The central section sometimes projects forward from the side wings.

Many of the buildings show rounded corners in Streamline style.  Sometimes windows or “eyebrows” sweep around these corners. Other buildings use sharp corners to emphasize angularity, and sometimes both styles are combined for contrast.

Frieze Panels
Façade surfaces are often decorated with bas-relief panels scultured into the stucco surface, generally representing tropical or exotic themes. These panels are often set as decorative bands above and below the windows (called spandrels).

“Eyebrows” are sun shades made of concrete that extend out above a window to keep the building cooler in the Miami tropical weather.   The may cover individual windows or extend along an entire side of a building.

Porthole Windows
Many buildings have rounded glass windows imitating ocean liner portholes, emphasizing nautical themes.  These can be grouped and used as part of horizontal or vertical bands.

All the buildings described in this website are made of concrete. Concrete is not only an economical and moldable material, but its resistance to rot and insects make it particularly well suited to South Florida. Metal railings made of stainless steel or aluminum are often used, imitating the railings of ocean liners.   Hotel titles are often made using neon signs or metal marquees.

A material that is often used for surface decoration is keystone.  It is made form the oolitic limestone indigenous to South Florida.   This material is found in the Florida keys and the Everglades, where it is cut into slabs.  Artisans fashion relief sculptured panels from these slabs, which are polished and often dyed in colors.  The material is porous enough to absorb these color tints. A careful look at these panels may show the fossilized imprint of corals and shells. Another, less expensive method of achieving surface ornamentation is to cast the design into the stucco facing. Stucco is a concrete derivative that can be used to cover surfaces.

References (For the whole website):
Richard abd Valerie Beaubien, Discovering South Beach Deco, Domani Press, Bolton, Mass., 2004
Barbara Baer Capitman, Deco Delights, E.P. Dutton, New York, 1988.
Laura Cerwinske, Tropical Deco, Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 1981.
Jean-Francois Lejeune and Allan T. Shulman, The Making of Miami Beach, 1933-1942- The Architecture of Lawrence Murray Dixon, Bass museum of Art, Miami Beach, 2000.
Keith Root, Miami Beach Art Deco Guide, Miami Design Preservation League, Miami Beach, Florida, 1987.

Copyright ©  2007   Technology Base Corporation    Author: Alfredo Romagosa   Photography: Margarita Gavalda Romagosa