Restoring South Beach to its Original Cool – Art Deco Close-up

South Beach, the southern tip of the sandbar that constitutes Miami Beach proper, has had many incarnations since becoming the largest area designated as a historic landmark in 1979 ( thanks to the passionate and tireless campaign by preservation activist Barbara Baer Capitman).

It has navigated the fickle world of “cool” from fashion shoots, modeling, and casting central, to glitterati hangout and gay mecca and to the home to Italian designer Gianni Versace palatial folly “Casa Casuarina.” It was branded the “American Riviera,” a nod not only to its sprawling turquoise seascapes but also to its lively, everything-goes party scene. Not surprisingly, it became host to the U.S. edition of one of the world’s most important art fairs, Art Basel Miami Beach, now considered one of the top events on the international arts circuit.

But, recently, the famed nightlife and free spirit atmosphere that made Miami Beach such a hot destination, has given way to a more raucous partying that has caused its hip factor to take a serious nosedive. The local community and city officials are now faced with the difficult challenge of how to clean up the scene and restore the popular resort town’s profile to a more civilized atmosphere while keeping it inclusive and exciting.

If the goal is to recoup the city’s flavor, maybe one idea would be to take a cue from what brought Miami Beach its acclaim in the first place: its architecture. Hundreds of Art Deco buildings in an area approximately one square mile are part of the historic district which was built mainly in the 1930’s and 1940’s. These buildings are Miami’s own unique interpretation of the Art Deco movement, with variations on the theme, like “Streamline” and “Tropical Deco,” adapting the bold geometric shapes to the seaside resort setting.  Painted in candy colors and pastels since its revitalization, the district has become known around the world. Its photogenic qualities have been featured in iconic advertising campaigns, fashion shoots and countless movies and TV series. South Beach has become a favorite stop for for archi-explorers. And, regardless of ups and downs or not, the buildings are still there, resilient and ready to be enjoyed in all their glorious eclectic mixture of forms, shapes and colors, so why not make them now the stars?

By Paul Clemence, photographer, writer, author of South Beach Architectural Photographs


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