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Structure and Sculpture Under Construction: Hilario Candela’s, FAIA, Miami Marine Stadium

Completed in 1964 after city leaders in Miami worried about boat racers running their boats into floating coconuts at their current racetrack, Miami Marine Stadium is a Midcentury Modernist icon no one has been able forget about. Its angular, cantilevered wedges of concrete project out defiantly into Biscayne Bay with a swagger that’s completely of its age. Designed by the young Cuban-American architect Hilario Candela, FAIA, it was a sculpture of liquid stone set next to an ocean set churning from bullet-shaped boats. For decades, the stadium was home to boat races, concerts, and architecture enthusiasts.

But in 1992, Hurricane Andrew hastened its decline, making it unoccupied and unused. Repair and redevelopment plans have floated about since then, but the recent emphasis on preserving Modernist architecture has made it a darling of this nascent movement. A broad coalition of civic groups (spearheaded by the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium) have started a public dialogue on the merits of redeveloping the stadium. Last year, the stadium was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. Just this July, the Miami City Commission endorsed a plan to redevelop the entire Virginia Key area, including the stadium. And in the months to come, the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium will be working with AIA Miami to sponsor a floating stage design competition.

The stadium uses a Brutalist palette of materials, but was a surprisingly delicate engineering marvel at the time. (Large portions of the massive roof slab are only three inches thick.) Peel back each of these layers, and the structure and engineering required to make the building work is nearly as rich an experience as the finished project itself. While under construction, its collection of sun, sand, water, and concrete is expressed nearly scalessly, and certainly otherworldly. It has the permanence of a piece of infrastructure, but the freewheeling sculptural presence of art. This is the world hinted at by the Bramson Archives, a collection of photographs maintained by Seth Bramson, an author and historian on Florida’s local and transportation history. Bramson received the photographs from the estate of a construction worker who helped build Miami Marine Stadium. As with much Modernist architecture, the logic of the building is revealed in the act of building, and hopefully so is the logic of preserving and saving it.



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