When I read the headline “Miami Beach Advisory Board backs Portman-CMC plan to overhaul convention center” I thought the competition was over. The competition is taking place in the middle of Miami Beach, a town about to spend a lot of time and a lot of money to redevelop its convention center. But before breaking ground (or breaking apart the sea of asphalt that surrounds the current convention center) Miami Beach has to pick a plan, and they only have two to choose from. These plans are from OMA and BIG.
Happily, the contest isn’t over. The headline is from an article about what an advisory board is suggesting, and later this month a planning board will meet and make its own suggestion. The decision of each board may carry some political clout, and offer some consolation to the firm/developer team that is not given the contract (“but the planning board liked our plan better!”) but neither board is vested with the responsibility to actually make the decision. That’s the job of the city commissioners, and they’ll likely pick a plan during a meeting scheduled for July 17th.
Until the commissioners mull over the plans we can mull over them ourselves. Thanks to the folks at ArchDaily, we can even enjoy the architects talking about the projects in their own words. I was first struck by how similar the two plans are. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising since both firms are on the same urban site, working to address the same wishes from the city, and Bjarke (the head of BIG) used to work for Rem (the head of OMA). An an example, both firms offer the same strategy to add a hotel to the convention center: by sticking it on the roof at one end of the convention center and tapering its edges so it seems less obtrusive. What’s more, both teams then treat the rest of the convention center’s roof as a giant canvas; each giving hotel guests a nice graphic pattern to see out of their windows instead of just a giant waterproof membrane. This idea is so similar in the two proposals that I suspect it was given to the architects instead of each firm arriving at the same idea, independently.
But there are differences. How did the Miami Beach Advisory Board differentiate the two plans to when making their recommendation? They looked at the new ballrooms. The advisory board liked that the spaces were detached from the main convention center in BIG’s plan, versus OMA’s plan that had the ballrooms integrated. But in the article about the board’s decision, the architects aren’t even named, just called “world-famous architects.” Instead, the projects are described in terms of who the developer is, which might have something to do with why this critique of both plans in the Miami Herald sounds suspicious of the very idea of developer involvement in large public projects.
Even if you think the architects are only acting as an interface between public dollars and private developers, it’s an important interface with real consequences. Architects can still make architecture, and the biggest difference isn’t whether or not the ballroom is attached or detached, but what the two projects feel like. Sure, they may look alike for now, we’re only given a scant number of renderings for a sprawling 52-acre site, but even two things that look alike can feel very different; like holding a wooden cube painted white in one hand and a metal cube painted white in the other. These plans are painted with the details that the city and the developers want, but to figure out what each is made of we’ll have to have more material to weigh in on.