The Architecture of Cities: Miami

If you don’t listen to the music you can’t see

When you march into Miami everything begins with the “O’s”, castanets, brass and percussions.

Boris Pasternak would not have written Dr. Zhivago if he was living in Miami.

The first time I saw Miami was at the Pantages Movie Theater in Hollywood California. I imagined I was James Bond in the movie Goldfinger. The 007 dove into Hotel Fontainebleau pool. I was for those seconds, James Bond and Sean Connery. Years later I entered the Miami I now know as the city of “O’s” and more.

When you enter Miami from the sea, the air, or across the plain landscape, you must hear the music:

The “O’s” are Tito, Paquito, Barretto, Chucho, Arturo, Gato and more. The sounds blaring the brass, castanets and percussions are the soul of the city. They are not merely the “Mambo Kings”, “Fania All-Stars” or passages from Oscar Hijuelos: They are the sounds of nations who migrated to a place some call heaven.

A greater diversity of communities reign in Los Angeles and New York. But sounds from the atlas’s  Africa, South America and the Caribbean Islands reign in Miami.

In Miami I have felt God’s wrath in Celsius and Fahrenheit. Some may use the expression “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” to explain the scary truth: Miami as Buster Poindexter may sing is Hot Hot Hot.

I try and hide in the unbearably hot shadows. The spectral of heat induced colors reminds of the bright Alabama Gee’s Bend quilt colors.

There is no escape and no refuge until I allow my imagination to travel down the rabbit hole. If I can hear the music, I can dance with my “O’s”.  My toes will wear castanets. My soul will hear the music’s passion. If you don’t listen to the music, you can’t see.

Now that I am emotionally thoroughly invested in the Latin sounds, I can make my way to the “A’s”.

Grimshaw science building.

Architects and Architecture have transformed Miami from a town that whispers among the shadows of Art Deco and other less modern designs to a hotbed of visual ideas. Miami is shocked with blinding white and glistening glass. A hunter might see splashes of red or yellow among the new developments. I just feel the trumpets brass filling the air with bright whites.

Zaha Hadid unfinished at the time but still striking.

The famous: Gehry, Hadid, Calatrava, Herzog and De Meuron, Grimshaw, Koolhaas, Foster and Bjarke have gifted the city a ton of new designs: Sort of a point and counterpoint with the likes of Morris Lapidus and more.

While on a commission I am compelled to have my camera engage the past, present and future. I grab the eyes of the new age architects. I grab the eyes of the of architects from another age. The camera wants to remember the city as you might remember your paternal/maternal past: The way you envision your offspring to spring forward.

The heat sears my skin. I must be one of those “Mad Dogs”. I need to record my own history as I record the history of cities: I shoot until I drop.

There are only so many calendar years in a persons’ life span. If I can make believe that I can see Miami while I can hear the “O’s” and the soft sounds of Sade, I might make a bit of magic in this city.

Frank Gehry detail.

All photographs by Richard Schulman.

Richard Schulman is a photographer and writer. His books include Portraits of the New Architecture and Oxymoron & Pleonasmus. He lives in New York City.