Miami’s Waterfront Transformed by Art & Architecture
You can always find a new view of Miami’s waterfront, thanks to its art and architecture.
There’s much to see from the water, from both Biscayne Bay and Atlantic Ocean lapping at Miami Beach. At PortMiami, it’s hard to miss newly installed, soaring blue geometric sculpture Je Souhaite by John Henry. That’s just the beginning of unique treasures enriching the Miami skyline when seen from the water, from boats large and small. Take in all the remarkable sights: from historic Stiltsville houses in Biscayne Bay to iconic and luminous lighthouse sculpture on Miami Beach, from Vizcaya’s lavishly fanciful Stone Barge to graffiti-embellished Miami Marine Stadium.
Je Souhaite by John Henry is one of the first Miami sights greeting annually some four million cruise ship passengers when they disembark. Commissioned by Arison Arts Foundation and now part of Pérez Art Museum Miami collection, it’s one of Henry’s most massive and complex sculptures to date, standing 80’ high and weighing almost 70,000 lbs. The title means “I wish” in French. Its PortMiami placement, the artist notes, “is all about scale and presence. The cruise ships themselves are mammoth moving objects that are sculptural statements in and of themselves.” Although such massive objects pose tough competition, “they do leave port and Je Souhaite stands alone waiting to beckon them home once again. The connection between the two is both symbolic and literal.”
Beckoning visitors for years, wooden Stiltsville houses, with their wraparound porches, perch on stilts in shallow sand flats of Biscayne Bay. In fact, they’re an architectural precedent for glamorous PAMM. Even before coming on board as this museum’s director, Thom Collins recalls seeing images of Stiltsville in early PAMM plans by architects Herzog & de Meuron. The museum’s shaded wrap-around patio amplifies the open-air allure of Stiltsville a thousand-fold.
Stiltsville is “one of a kind,” says historian Paul George. This collection of modest houses, legendary destinations for fishing and drinking, is a favorite on his Miami tours. “There are seven homes left on stilts. They’re high up above Biscayne Bay. It’s gorgeous and tranquil. A Miami institution going into its 85th year, it’s a great getaway. Quite a view.”
Also offering quite a view is playful and colorful obstinate lighthouse by internationally admired artist Tobias Rehberger. Discover it in South Pointe Park, Miami Beach, adjacent to Biscayne Bay, where it “greets all the visitors that pass through Government Cut by boat,” says Dennis Leyva, Miami Beach Art in Public Places Coordinator. “The sculpture is a 21st Century interpretation of a lighthouse. Its striking presence enhances the waterfront.”
Vizcaya is yet another artcentric gem enhancing the waterfront. Stirling Calder, father of celebrated modernist sculptor Alexander Calder, was commissioned to design statuary resembling a barge for its breakwater. It’s a magnificent, oh so Miami creation. “As seen from the waters, Vizcaya emerges out of a dense forest and is unaffected by the urban development that has ensued since its creation one hundred years ago. This view preserves the lost-in-time effect that was part of the original design intent,” observes Vizcaya Museum & Gardens curator Gina Wouters. “Both a functional breakwater and the estate’s grandest folly, the Stone Barge is surrounded by the waters of Biscayne Bay. Entirely carved out of native coral stone, the mythical sea creatures and oversized grotesques that adorn the structure were designed by A. Stirling Calder in 1916.”
The folly’s flamboyant spirit resurfaced in 1962, when architect Hilario Candela designed Miami Marine Stadium. For three decades until closing, it was a beloved venue. Now, despite years of neglect, this Miami icon shines with more promise. In 2012, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated it a National Treasure. It’s the city’s “most iconic building, a space that represents everything our city is,” explains Rosa Lowinger, architectural conservator. “It’s on the waterfront—actually in the water itself—designed by a Cuban American architect in the modernist style, and expressing everything our city was for years: a boat racing capital, a concert venue, etc. For the past 20 years, it has been abandoned, but young people have taken it up and created a new sort of cultural space—unscripted, uncurated and entirely cutting edge. The restoration of this building will generate a public space that will be Miami’s only version of the High Line—a true waterfront cultural and athletic venue—where you can actually access the water and enjoy the spirit that makes our city what it is.”
Miami’s a young city. No wonder historic roots dating back a century or less are evolving, reinventing the city’s remarkable waterfront