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‘Miami Pearl’ Wins Miami Marine Stadium Floating Stage Competition

With preservation help from AIA Miami, designs from around the world re-imagine a disused and crumbling Modernist icon

By Charles Linn, FAIA

On May 2, DawnTown, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing innovative architecture, announced the winners of a competition for the design of a new floating stage. It would be used for performances at the city’s iconic Modernist Marine Stadium, built in 1963.

“We gave the designers a simple program–design a floating stage–with basic functional guidelines, and the caveat that it must be transportable,” says Joachim Perez, executive director of DawnTown. “The proposals we received were unique, and showed off the creativity of the designers. There were ideas we never would have thought of.”

The entrants were as multicultural and international as Miami itself, with 95 submissions coming in from as far away as Brisbane, Australia and Chiang Mai, Thailand. Prize money ranged from $5,000 for first place to $250 for fifth place. Placing first was AbingoWu Studio of Lincoln, Neb. Pink Cloud DK Design Group, of Copenhagen, earned second place, and the third place winner was authored by NBWW of Coral Gables, Fla. Biuro Architektoniczne SCOLIOSIS of Wroclaw, Poland, and Roco.Co of Toronto, came in fourth and fifth place, respectively.

Eyes on the (floating) prize

DawnTown’s floating stage competition is part of an ongoing effort to keep Miamians excited about the stadium’s future. Jiong Wu, one of top prize-winner AbingoWu Studio’s principals, is an architecture graduate student who will enter the University of California at Berkeley this fall. She and her teammate Gengxin Ou, a graduate student at the University of Nebraska, recently arrived in the United States, and they didn’t know much about Miami when they entered the competition. “We noticed the competition on the Internet, [and] we decided it was very interesting for us because it is related to water and the technology of architecture,” Wu says. “We have not been to Miami before, but we think it is very dynamic. We saw this TV series Miami Vice and we thought, ‘This will be a good contest for us.’”

Their entry, “Miami Pearl,” plays upon two themes: the urban context of the city and the site itself. “This is a great chance to have several iterations based on a typology of the stage,” Wu says. The team’s solution uses 40-meter-diameter, floating steel and fabric geodesic spheres, which could be reconfigured for a variety of program types. The structure becomes buoyant by fitting air-filled plastic bags into the triangular geodesic dome frame sections. Each sphere could be used as a stage to be viewed on shore, as well as a floating, self-contained theater-in-the-round, and can hold nearly 1000 seats. When illuminated from within, the fabric-shelled spheres would glow like pearls floating in the turquoise water of Biscayne Bay.

Like many of the finalists, the Miami Pearl is extremely flexible. It can be towed to other parts of the bay or even other coastal cities, and it’s simple, modular structural system means that it can be configured for a variety of programs and events. Its designers envision movies being projected onto its façade from shore, a partially submerged half-sphere that’s ideal for observing water events in the bay, and traditional theater-in-the-round arraignments.

A strong sense of geometric, sculptural abstraction is something else the winning entry shares with the other finalists. In addition to the “Miami Pearl,” the other entries include a helium-filled floating disk canopy, a hexagonal volume that unfolds into a skateboarding park, self-propelled funicular stage canopies, and a steel and Plexiglas cube that uses pumps to propel water over its edges, creating a liquid façade.

Sea breezes and sails

Miami Marine Stadium’s spectacular structural system consists of eight bays of exuberant hyperbolic paraboloids that cantilever over the seats. Unlike other stadiums, this one’s “playing field”—designed for speed boat racing—is a one-mile by quarter-mile man-made lake dredged out of Biscayne Bay. A 28-year-old named Hilario Candela designed the structure and went on to become president of Spillis Candela & Partners, and an AIA Fellow.

“I have always been in love with the setting right next to the water, which was a significant and daily presence in our lives when I was growing up in Havana,” says Candela, who is now president of C-Group Furnishings. “The influence was not only the relationship between the building, the water, and the city, but I marveled at how when the sea and the land come together, they almost kiss each other. When a light breeze comes over the sea and creates beautiful ripples, the geometry and shape they express are very consistent with sails. These were very much in my mind.”


After it became clear that speedboat racing alone would not sustain the stadium’s operations, the venue became a location for concerts, rallies, Easter sunrise services, and occasionally movie sets. “I think if a building can change to meet the demands of the people who use it, it is the mark of a good design,” says Candela.

Despite its popularity, years of deferred maintenance took their toll. After Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, the City of Miami received a $1 million FEMA grant to demolish it. But, the city’s own insurance company found that there was no hurricane-related damage, and blocked the wrecking balls. Miami returned the FEMA money and shuttered the stadium.

Although the facility has continued to deteriorate (becoming a massive canvas for graffiti artists), locals still view it with reverence. Lourdes Solera, AIA, vice president of McHarry Associates and past president of AIA Miami, says, “The building is an iconic piece of Miami. I always loved the building. Even in its present state, I think the graffiti is beautiful.”

In 2008, the Dade Heritage Trust and AIA Miami, among others, formed the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium to spearhead its preservation. The November 2009 election of Mayor Tomas Regalado gave the organization’s work a boost when he made restoration of the stadium a key part of his agenda. A study funded by the World Monuments Fund, which placed the stadium on its 2010 watch list, found that it would cost $5.5 to $8.5 million to restore, depending on how much preservation work was done. In April 2010, the Miami-Dade County Commission approved the use of $3 million from its historic preservation bond fund for use on the stadium. Further studies are underway.

The role played by AIA Miami, both as a member of the stadium’s Friends organization and as a sponsor of the floating stage competition, exemplifies the sort of leadership positions members can take in their communities. “We architects talk to each other about the meaning of architecture so well, but we have to realize that we don’t get the word out enough to the larger community sometimes, particularly the larger business community,” says Solera, who helped raise money for the competition. “We have to emphasize the importance of the Miami Marine Stadium as an important building itself, but also talk about its history and culture to thousands of people here in Miami as well.”

“I think it’s unbelievable that we had entrants from all over the world,” says Candela. “And I think it proves people have an obsession about Miami.”


First prize--The Miami Pearl designed by AbingoWu Studio (Jiong Wu and Gengxin Ou). Image courtesy of AbingoWu Studio.


Second prize--Inflatable Revitalization of Miami Marine Stadium designed by Pink Cloud DK Design Group (Eric Tan and Leon Lai). Image courtesy of Pink Cloud DK Design Group.


Third prize--Waterbox designed by NBWW (Igor Reyes). Image courtesy of NBWW.


Fourth prize--Miami Floating Stage designed by Biuro Architektoniczne SCOLIOSIS. (Wojciech Motylski, Marcin Husarz, and Jan Jerzmański). Image courtesy of Biuro Architektoniczne SCOLIOSIS.


Fifth prize--Hull? Sail? Whirlwind? designed by Roco.Co (Chris Carrasquilla and Shamier Panchal). Image courtesy of Roco.Co.


Recent Related:

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

Supporters of Miami Marine Stadium Raise $50,000 for Restoration Study

Miami Marine Stadium Wins Historic Designation

Designing Emergency Shelters Before Disaster Strikes

Three Finalists Chosen in Burnham Memorial Design Competition

Urban Re:Vision Competition Brings Urban Farming and Net-Zero Energy to Texas


DawnTown Miami Floating Stage Competition Jury:

Hilario Candela, FAIA, president of C-Group Furnishings

Artist Michele Oka Doner

Jorge Hernandez, of Jorge Hernandez Architect

Walter Meyer, principal of Local Office Landscape

Frank Sanchis, U.S. program director for the World Monuments Fund

Larry Scarpa, FAIA, principal of Brooks + Scarpa

Do you know the Architect’s Knowledge Resource?

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