Dezeen and MINI World Tour: architect Terrence Riley takes us on a tour of downtown Miami and says that redevelopment of the historic area has coincided with a new emphasis on outdoor living in the city.

Miami River
Miami River

Downtown is a small nineteenth-century area of Miami located to the north of Miami River and the west of Biscayne Bay. Formerly the economic hub of the city, the neighbourhood was largely abandoned in the nineteen-seventies.

"The developers, their clients and the tenants needed bigger spaces," explains Riley, a partner at Keenen Riley Architects and former director of Miami Art Museum and curator at New York's Museum of Modern Art. "Eventually you saw empty stores, empty office buildings and it was really across the river, in the south, where all the development began."

Miami-Dade Cultural Centre by Philip Johnson
Miami-Dade Cultural Centre by Philip Johnson

Miami Art Museum, which moved to a new building designed by Herzog & de Meuron in December, was originally based in the historic downtown district as part of a cultural complex designed by American architect Philip Johnson.

"This is a very familiar tactic," Riley says. "Take a really lousy neighbourhood and what do you do? You put the cultural facilities there, because they'll go anywhere those people."

"Miami Art Museum, from its earliest days, was put into this situation of trying to be a catalyst for spurring development downtown."

Miami Center for Architecture and Design in a former downtown post office
Miami Center for Architecture and Design in a former downtown post office

Riley claims that downtown Miami is now a very different place compared to when the museum first opened in the nineteen-eighties.

"What were empty lots are being redeveloped," he says, pointing out the old post office, which has now been taken over by the American Institute of Architects.

Downtown Miami
Downtown Miami

The redevelopment and repopulation of downtown Miami has coincided with the emergence of a renewed interest in outdoor living in the city, Riley says.

"A lot of people in Miami lived this air-conditioned life 12 months a year," he explains. "Now I think the attitude is changing. You see that reflected in all the outdoor cafes and things like bike riding."

"The whole idea that you can live downtown now, shop downtown and have restaurants downtown is something completely new."

Downtown Miami
Downtown Miami

Many of the buildings in downtown Miami feature long arcades to shelter people on the streets from the elements.

"Miami was [originally] laid out as a pedestrian city," Riley explains. "Miami lost a lot of that common-sense architecture with air conditioning and underground garages where you go directly from your car into the building."

Perez Art Museum Miami by Herzog and de Meuron
Perez Art Museum Miami by Herzog and de Meuron

However, he believes that architects are now using similar principles in the design of new buildings.

"You'll notice on the Herzog & de Meuron museum these long, broad, overhanging eaves that provide protection all the way around the museum," he says. "These recall some of the more thoughtful, intelligent things that they used to do in the traditional city."

Perez Art Museum Miami by Herzog and de Meuron
Perez Art Museum Miami by Herzog and de Meuron

We drove around downtown Miami in our MINI Cooper S Paceman. The music in the movie is a track called Jewels by Zequals. You can listen to the full track on Dezeen Music Project.

Terrence Riley of Keenen RIley Architects
Terrence Riley of Keenen Riley Architects
  • Raulvel

    What is the obsession with turning Miami into a pedestrian city? Miami is too hot, humid and too scattered for it to become a pedestrian city. Average temperature here year round is 89 degrees with summer temperatures reaching 98 degrees and humidity levels exceeding 85% for well over 7 months out of the year.

    I was born and raised in Miami (living here for 39 years) unlike Mr. Riley. And I also practice as an architect here. Turning Miami into a pedestrian city will be an utter disaster, not just in terms of function due to obvious weather and natural disasters, but also financially for folks living here. Miami has an enormous level of political corruption and starting this type of government project is a recipe for disaster.

    I feel that as architects we are very much doing what our classical ancestors fell victim of: copying each other and assuming that you can “plug” the same cookie cutter concepts into all cities, states and countries, and that will always be successful, i.e. dense city’s, abolishing suburbs and cars etc.

    The little evidence that exists in Miami regarding its history and pedestrian friendly design does not work due to the obvious reasons listed above.

    • Dbz123

      South Florida resident for 30 years – so by your logic Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Cairo, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc. should not exist or can not exist? All that Mr. Riley is saying is that doing simple things such as providing covered walkways can go a long way to making the outdoors more comfortable, not exactly an earth-shattering, impossible solution.

      If you want to see a successful pedestrian city just go to South Beach. It works just fine.

      • Electriz

        South Beach is a predominant car-driven city nowhere near pedestrian.

    • Bruce Hitchman

      The average temperature in Miami year ’round isn’t eighty nine degrees. The average temperature in August (the city’s hottest month) isn’t even eighty nine degrees.

    • Nettah

      89 (or 31 celsius) isn’t even that hot. That’s routine for most parts of southern Spain where there are countless beautiful cities with vibrant pedestrian life outdoors. Even 98 degrees (or 36 celsius) in the summer is bearable with a bit of planning. Japanese cities routinely reach that temperature with close to 100% humidity but they are far from abandoning city centres, outdoor spaces and pedestrian life.

      If you prefer suburbia, driving and sprawl fine but don’t pretend that the weather makes it necessary. It doesn’t!

  • Guillermo

    Miami (resident for nearly 30 years) –
    temperature 98 degrees practically year round,
    humidity 100 percent practically year round,
    summer rains practically everyday.

    Transforming Miami into a pedestrian city – perfect.

    • Nadi

      So true that nearly none of the outdoor pedestrian areas in Miami work but you’ll have a hard time in this post trying to convince architects and planners otherwise. The ideology of ‘fantasy has to become reality’ has taken over the profession. I totally agree with you and the first post.

    • PlentyOfWalkers

      98? Now you are just making stuff up. It’s perfect out right now. In fact it’s pretty great from October through March. Also, not everyone needs to be wearing a business suit. My office isn’t idiotic and lets us wear shorts and a t-shirt (and yes, I make over $80k a year…)

  • Dbz123

    In response to article and guest Raulvel, most of the things that Mr. Riley is talking about are included in Miami21, the new zoning code for Miami.

    In more general terms Miami is an interesting place that I hope Dezeen will continue to investigate. I would like to add a small description of Miami so that anyone coming here can understand what is happening.

    First think of Miami as 1/3 Manhattan and 2/3 Los Angeles. The downtown area around Brickell is full of high rises. Twenty years ago it was only offices but now there are more and more residential buildings. Most of these developments are financed with foreign money mostly from Venezuela, Argentina and now Brazil. As those economies rise and fall, people come to Miami to put their money in good times and bad.

    Now for the suburbs, the endless Los Angeles-type suburbs are full of low-rise buildings rich in various multicultural neighbourhoods. You can find people from any country in Latin America here. The suburbs are poor though and undeveloped. Only once you get very west, to the new developments that things change again. Then you hit the edge of new development, the Everglades.

  • Tripz

    Miami 21 in many areas of the city is actually hurting the city and its residents. For example, in the Shenandoah neighbourhood you’ll now see 10-storey buildings with massive underground garages and a 10 ft setback going up next to a 1200 sqft house. Many of these neighbourhoods are multi-cultural working class areas. They are rich in cultural diversity and class yet they soon will all be booted out by developers and turned into a ridiculously expensive ‘urban area’ where only the young and rich and live. This is the case in most cities. Funny how we are against money-hungry development only when convenient.

  • Valerie

    Brickell is not a successful city. Unless you can afford to foot $700k for 1000 sqft. And want to live in ghost town come the weekends.

  • Juliachess

    I must say that as an architect the whole city conversation is becoming very much cliché. There is a huge resurgence with ordinary people heading back to the “darn” and actually abandoning cities. Alaska of all places, is experiencing the biggest real estate boom in its history. But not to worry, it’ll be only a matter if time before ‘the architects” the know-it-alls that will begin to propose for Alaska to abandon the car and become a dense pedestrian city.

  • Gilvarela

    Sure it is Bruce look it up.
    August Weather in Miami

    Average High Temperature: 89.8 degrees Farenheit

  • PlentyOfWalkers

    Tell that to all the people who live there and don’t own cars…