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Miami Beach 411
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(see: Art Deco Pictures).

The Miami Beach Art Deco District

The Art Deco District in Miami Beach contains the largest concentration of 1920s and 1930s resort architecture in the world.
These vibrantly colored buildings represent an era when Miami was heavily promoted and developed as a "tropical playground." The Art Deco District was one of the earliest National Register listings to recognize the importance of the architecture of this period

(continue reading: South Beach Art Deco Tours).

Architectural Styles

Vernacular Style: 1900-1930's
Vernacular is not a style, but rather a common method of early construction in South Florida. The materials and forms encompassed wood frame and masonry construction. These materials and methods were transferred from abroad with the Beach's early settlers. Through time, many of these structures were replaced.

Wood Frame construction was most evident in the earliest days of Ocean Beach and reflected a secluded resort-like character.

Noted for stark simplicity, vernacular structures are usually rectilinear in form with little or no elaboration. Functional elements supply the only elaboration or decoration except that occasionally modest Classical elements were referenced such as the engaged pilasters that were seen on the Atlantic Hotel at 112 Ocean Drive, built in 1915. Most are one and two stories in height with flat, gable or hipped roof and a single story porch extending across the front.

Bungalow Style: 1910's - 1930's
Bungalows were a popular in Ocean Beach from the earliest development years through the 1930s. Many of these simple structures may have been constructed from mail order house plans gotten from catalogues, but others were designed by local architects as distinguished as V. H. Nellenbogen.

Typically, bungalows were of wood frame construction, one to one and a half stories in height, with gable roofs, overhanging eaves, front porches , and large wood sash windows. They afforded good cross ventilation, a shaded outdoor area, and adapted well to South Florida coastal conditions, generally being elevated two to three feet above grade on foundation walls or masonry piers.

Mediterranean Revival Style: 1910's - 1930's
Mediterranean Revival architecture was the "style of choice" for the first major boom period in Ocean Beach. It's connotation of Mediterranean resort architecture, combining expressions of Italian, Moorish, North African and Southern Spanish themes, was found to be an appropriate and commercially appealing image for the new Floridian seaside resort.

During the mid 1910s through the early 1930s the style was applied to hotels, apartment buildings, commercial structures, and even modest residences. Its architectural vocabulary was characterized by stucco walls, low pitched terra cotta and historic Cuban tile roofs, arches, scrolled or tile capped parapet walls and articulated door surrounds, sometimes utilizing Spanish Baroque decorative motifs and Classical elements. Feature detailing was occasionally executed in keystone.

Mediterranean Revival - Art Deco Transitional: 1920's - 1930's
"Med-Deco" in Ocean Beach was a synthesis of Mediterranean Revival form and A Art Deco decorative detail. This unique hybrid style became a fascinating bridge between the "familiar" and the "new" as the allure of Art Deco found its way into the Beach's architectural vocabulary. Clean ziggurat roof lines and crisp geometric detailing replaced scrolled parapets, bracketed cornices and Classical features on structures of clear Mediterranean Revival form. Likewise, sloped barrel tile roofs rested gracefully on edifices with spectacular Art Deco entrances and facade treatments.

Some of the most celebrated architects in Miami Beach designed structures in this brief-lived style, including V. H. Nellenbogen, Henry Hohauser and T. Hunter Henderson.
The predominant exterior material of Med-Deco was smooth stucco with raised o r incised details. Featured stucco areas were often patterned or scored. Keystone, either natural or filled and colored, was frequently used to define special elements. Windows ranged from wood and steel casement to wood double hung.

Art Deco Style: late 1920's - 1930's
Art Deco is considered one of the first twentieth century architectural styles in America to break with traditional revival forms. It emanated largely from the impact of the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, a design fair celebrating the reconciliation between the decorative arts and advancements in technology and industry.

Building forms in the Art Deco style were typically angular and clean, with stepped back facades, symmetrical or asymmetrical massing and strong vertical accenting. The preferred decorative language included geometric patterns, abstracted natural forms, modern industrial symbols and ancient cultural motifs employing Mayan, Egyptian and Indigenous American themes.

In Ocean Beach a unique form of Art Deco employed nautical themes as well as tropical floral and fauna motifs. Ocean liners, palm trees, and flamingos graced the exteriors and interiors of the new local architecture. The favored materials for executing this distinctive "art" decor included bas-relief stucco, keystone, etched glass, a variety of metals, cast concrete, patterned terrazzo, and others. Today this distinctive design vocabulary, which further incorporated glass block, vitrolite and stunning painted wall murals, has become the hallmark of Miami Beach's internationally recognized Art Deco gems.

Moderne Style - Streamline Moderne: 1930's-1940
As "Art Deco" evolved on the Beach in the 1930s modern transportation and industrial design began to have an even greater impact upon new construction. The "streamlined" character of automobiles, airplanes, trains, buses, liners and even home appliances inspired powerful horizontal design compositions, accentuated by striking vertical features and punctuated by icons of the technological era. Continuous "eyebrows", racing stripe banding, radio tower-like spires, portholes, and deck railings like those found on grand ocean liners, were among the unique features to set this architecture apart from anything before it. The creative incorporation of nautical themes showed this form of Art Deco to be true to its origins in Miami Beach.

Smooth, rounded corners often replaced sharp ones on Moderne buildings, especially on corner lots. "Eyebrows" swept around them as did other details. Street corners became inviting architectural focal points, whether the special treatment employed was based upon curves or angles.

Post War Transitional Art Deco - Post War Deco: 1960
Post War Deco drew significantly from the form and decorative vocabulary of both early Art Deco in Miami Beach and Moderne. Although single block massing was predominant the emphasis could be placed on either horizontal or vertical composition, dependent upon the size of the structure, the character of the site, and the will of the architect. Frequently, continuous us of eyebrows would be extended to form side or front canopies, either cantilevered or supported on their furthest edge by columns. New decorative materials were introduced which reflected changing tastes nationally, including brick, permastone, and cast architectural block in a variety of "open" patterns. Many of these delightful structures in Ocean Beach paid wonderful tribute to their architectural origins while effectively addressing changing times.

Post World War II Modern Style - Post War Modern: 1965
The Post War Modern style in Miami Beach exhibited many elements of its companion style of the period, Post War Deco, but clearly established a path of its own in terms of modern functional simplicity.

Floor plans were commonly reorganized from interior double loaded corridors to "open air" verandas on one side or more. Overhanging roof plates and projecting floor slabs became typical of the new "style" along with paired or clustered pipe columns to support them. Symmetrical staircases became significant exterior design features.

Additional design elements and materials were added to the architectural vocabulary, including rounded eaves, rock face feature areas, cast concrete decorative panels, and applied masonry elements denoting marine and nautical themes, such as seahorses and anchors.

Eclectic: 1920's - 1950's
Eclectic architecture in Miami Beach includes buildings which adopt the style(s) of another time and/or another place selected by the architect, at will, for a purpose. Henry Hohauser's fanciful English Tudor style cottage located at 321 Collins Avenue is an amazing example of Eclectic architecture in Miami Beach. Its sharp gable roofs, half-frame (exposed) timbers, and Gothic window lintel details are clearly not a part of the natural architectural progression on the Beach, but yet they command the desired attention and assure a special place.

Garden Style: 1940's - 1960's
The primary defining characteristic of the Garden Style in Miami Beach is that the entryway and public walkways are placed on the exterior, where they are open to the natural elements and surround a common garden area. A large central front entry leads to an open symmetrical staircase, ascending to the upper level(s), and behind it the courtyard. The plan is "U" shape and basically consists of two identical two to three story buildings facing onto a shared central garden/courtyard, often with a fountain in the center, and joined at the rear. Visually and structurally the buildings are united by a grand low pitched gable roof (typically) extending like gull wings across the front and over the open central entryway. The roof plate usually overhangs open walkways below and may be conclude in a rounded eave characteristic of late 1950s modern architecture in Miami Beach.

Architectural ornamentation is generally modest and minimal in the Garden Style, normally consisting of cantilevered balconies with ornamental pierced block railings, and sometimes exuberantly detailed wrought iron rails on stairs and along open walkways. In providing a large central open entry and situating the apartment units facing inward on a common garden area, this important modern building style in Ocean Beach provides a sense of community facilitating greater social interaction and security or its occupants.
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Art Deco District in Miami Beach 411's History section.
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