Miami Beach - where history, art, and design come together - Susan Gale

Design elements of the Art Deco style

The design elements distinct to the Art Deco style include repetitions, linear and geometric designs that use triangular, zigzagging, and chevron patterns, and basic geometric shapes. These are recognizable in their heavy decorative ornamentation that deviates from strict functionality. The architecture is modern, yet reminiscent of the neoclassical. It is historic, retro, and glamorous, marked by bright colours and pastels. Glass blocks, decorative panels, round porthole windows, terrazzo flows, fountain, flora, and fauna motifs, and neon lighting are other distinct accents associated with this architectural style.

The Miami architects were known for their use of streamlined curves, window ‘eyebrows,’ and something known as the ‘law of three.’ Here, no construction was taller than three stories high, and each building comprised of three sections, the central one larger than its two identically-sized counterparts. A prime example of this ‘law of three’ is The colony on Ocean drive. The McAlpin, designed by Murray Dixon in the early 1940s, one of the districts most photographed buildings to date, features perfect symmetry, eyebrows, and the classic pastel pink and turquoise hues.

The hotels

The hotels, of course, are the main attractions, a testament to the rich artistic history and a sight to see in themselves. Walking down Ocean Drive, turning into Collins Avenue you will spot several landmark locations, boutique hotels where history, art, and design come together.

The iconic Cardozo South Beach Hotel on ocean drive, designed by Henry Hohauser in 1939, is one such luxury boutique hotel. An ideal location to enjoy South Beach and the historic Art Deco architecture, as seen in the neon-illuminated exterior, restored to its 1930s glory. This 80-year old property has been the backdrop to many famous films.

The Marlin Hotel is another signature South Beach landmark, nestled in the heart of Miami’s Air Deco District. It was designed in 1939 by art deco genius L. Murray Dixon. A member of South Beach’s architectural renaissance, it was renovated to maintain the timeless Art Deco touches, the iconic ‘eyebrows’ over the windows, and pastel walls. It also houses one of the city’s top recording studios. One more of Dixon’s construction is The Tides, embellished with nautical porthole windows, the signature ‘eyebrows,’ and pastel walls. Unfortunately, this hotel has been closed since 2017 in the wake of storm damage.

The Breakwater is an iconic Art Deco Hotel on Ocean Drive. A central tower, emphasis on symmetry, and an overarching nautical grandness are all testament to its historic architectural past. Essex House Hotel, the work of Henry Hohauser in 1938, is an art deco oasis amidst the vigour of South Beach. The tropical-inspired courtyard, porthole windows, neon tower, and curved construction are recognizable elements of this art deco hotel. The Clevelander, built in 1938 by Albert Anis, responsible for approximately 70 projects spanning Miami Beach, is another iconic landmark on Ocean drive. It exudes a historic glamour, with an ornate central bay and the quintessential eyebrows, coupled with a more recent outdoor pool and bar area.

These are a few of several buildings in the Art Deco District of South Beach characterized by this distinct architectural style. The palpable intertwining of architecture and history provides a most memorable attraction to this area.

Susan Gale

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