Cars represent an important part of Miami’s history and culture.
The Vagabond Hotel sits on Biscayne Blvd and NE 74st ST, boasting a large sign, and a curving driveway leading to a canopy. Opened in 1953, the Hotel represents a time in Miami when cars were used by tourists up the east coast, to cruise down for warmer weather and winter fun. During this time, roadside hotels popped up all over Biscayne Blvd, and many of these mid-century creations were preserved and can be found today. Their designs fetishized the automobile, using driveways, entrances, and garages as social condensers and spectacles for all to watch.
While a growing number of Miamians are looking to public transit options to replace their daily commutes, it is important to recognize the intertwined history of Miami and the Automobile. Miami, a place where cruising down Ocean Drive is considered a past time; Where new condo buildings are built to display luxury cars inside owner apartments; Where mid-century hotels used their driveways as places of social interaction; And where the design of parking garages is becoming almost as important as the design of buildings themselves.
As much as I would like Miami to have a fully integrated public transit system that could replace all need for cars, I do think that our history as an automobile city cannot be erased quite so easily, nor perhaps should it. The importance of the car in American culture, but also Miami culture, as a symbol of individual choice and independence of movement, should not be ignored. While many daily commuters will benefit from the extension of public transit systems, intermediate options such as ride sharing and shuttle service can use existing road infrastructure and allow for those differences. Miami’s future involves the integration of public transit, while also respecting the important role the automobile has and will continue to play in how we access the city.
The Perez Art Museum is an example of the acceptance of Miami as a car-centric city, while also nodding to a future of public transit. The masterplan includes a renovation of the people mover stop, creating a direct entrance into the museum. If approaching by car, you slip beneath the museum into the spacious parking garage, while visually accessing the design of the building from underneath. The open risers of the auditorium and bio-swales along the edges allow views out to the water and downtown from inside the garage. While it does not fetishize the car as the mid-century hotels did, it accepts the reality of how people interact and approach the building in diverse ways and leans into that fact.
Both Herzog and De Meuron’s 1111 Lincoln Rd., and Robert Law Weed and Associates’ garages do fetishize the car and sought to create a display of the act of parking half a century apart from one another. Counter to that, garages at the Faena and in the Design District act to enhance their surroundings by providing aesthetically pleasing skins on a fairly regular garage interior. A third, more expensive option, the Porsche Design Tower allows people to view and park their luxury cars in their high rise condos. No matter the solution, automobile access continues to be problematized in a variety of projects all over Miami.
While sustainability and traffic are pushing us to bring more cars off of the road, I believe that there will be great resistance, especially in a city that grew up by immortalizing the automobile. The Vagabond was renovated by developer Avra Jain, who chose to keep its wide driveway and highway signs intact. She understood the history of the place and the importance of the car in it and wanted to keep that mid-century culture point alive. Perhaps this will be a pitfall for the city in the years to come, or perhaps we can learn from it and use it to our advantage. Either way, I believe Miami is set to be Vroom City for quite some time.
“Drive-By Design” by Alastair Gordon. Miami Herald, Dec 18, 2016