In 1982, the Art Deco district of Miami Beach—with its splashes of soft pastels on the narrow strip of land just over a causeway from downtown—were in danger of being overrun. As Miami Beach was being developed, the charming buildings (mostly built between 1923 and 1943), with their nautical details (portholes, railings), glass blocks, and chrome, were falling into the literal and figurative shadows of the huge hotels and apartment buildings being erected along South Beach's wide avenues. That year, a photo of Art Deco landmark Friedman's Bakery by architectural photographer Steven Brooke appeared on the cover of influential magazine Progressive Architecture. It sparked national recognition of the buildings, which are now a protected architectural district.
"My fascination with Deco, Streamline, and Modernist design began in my childhood in Detroit," Brooke says. "I was also captivated by the architecture portrayed on science fiction book covers. Those futuristic buildings embraced technology and symbolized limitless progress and optimism." On his first trip to Miami Beach, in 1968, Brooke found those buildings existed in real life, albeit in various states of disrepair. Brooke was inspired, and so began a lifelong passion: he is now a professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture, where he teaches classes in architectural photography, and has photographed over 40 books on architecture and design, 10 of which he also wrote.
The Miami Beach Architectural District, as it's officially known, boasts one of the most beautiful collections of Art Deco buildings anywhere in the world, and, even as global architecture forces such as Herzog & de Meuron have designed buildings in the area, the Deco buildings continue to be Miami Beach's main architectural draw. Art or no art. Beach or no… well, the beach is always lovely, actually. "Critics of Modernism often claimed that the Modernist doctrine was incapable of creating genuinely humane urbanism," says Brooke. "Contrary to this notion, the Miami Beach Deco District is the largest collection of such buildings, and as a group form a wonderfully and humanely scaled urban environment."
Brooke has a host of fun facts about the area up his erudite sleeves, including this one: the buildings weren't always their lovely pastel colors. In the 1970s, "when efforts to revive the district began, colorist Leonard Horowitz chose sophisticated new color schemes for the buildings based on 1930s World's Fair colors," Brooke says. "The new colors were as much a draw as the architecture itself, providing, for example the backdrop for programs such as Miami Vice."
Here, Brooke shares some of his favorite buildings in the area, accompanied by his award-winning photography.