The Moderns: Mid-Century Architecture

Redefining the City Beautiful (1960-1980)

In a city long defined by historical building styles that collectively came to be known as Mediterranean Revival, the mid-century arrival in Coral Gables of a sleek new style called Modernism elicited shock … and then awe. The new style was radical and confounding at first, but Modernism also conveyed a design aesthetic based on order and functionality — a sense of calm after the storm of WWII. Coral Gables architects took stock, then a deep breath, and basically said “Let’s do this!” The exemplary buildings shown here prove that they were ready, willing, and more than able to walk the walk. 

Beauty Evolves

At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Sullivan had presented his groundbreaking “skyscraper” concept, followed in 1919 by the founding of the seminal Bauhaus School by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany. Change was clearly in the air when, in 1932, Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock launched “Modern Architecture: International Exhibition” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, thereby affirming Modernism as a distinct design and cultural movement. Three extant 20th-century architectural icons serve to illustrate Modernism’s enduring appeal: the United Nations building (New York, 1947-1961), the Guggenheim Museum (New York, 1959), and the Sydney Opera House (Australia, 1959-1973). 

From the 1960s to the 1980s, architects in Coral Gables rose to the occasion by adapting the “form follows function” Modernist principles to the exigencies of tropical suburban life. See some of their surviving works here to get a better understanding of how we’ve traveled from then to now. In the end, perhaps our architectural evolution was not so much a conundrum as a continuum.

Mark Your Calendars

The Docomomo-US 2024 National Symposium Miami will take place in Coral Gables from May 29 to June 1, 2024 and will highlight Postwar-to-Postmodern architecture of South Florida. The City of Coral Gables and the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables are proud sponsors of this event, along with the University of Miami School of Architecture, among others. For more information, please visit docomomo-us.org/events/national-symposium.

2100 PONCE DE LEON BOULEVARD (1981/2015)

Horizontal banding within overall verticaity defines this corporate hi-rise. Note the signature interplay between concrete and glass components deployed by the original architect, Alberto J. Socol.

201 ALHAMBRA (1973/1977) AND 255 ALHAMBRA (1974/2022)

Modernism

These two adjacent and similar buildings designed by O.K. Houstoun typified the aesthetic of 1970s corporate modernism, although both structures have subsequently been contemporized.

2331 PONCE DE LEON BOULEVARD (1984)

The innovative Luminaire Showroom was designed by Roney Mateu, who also designed the Marlins Stadium and the Palley Pavilion at the University of Miami Lowe Art Museum.

550 BILTMORE WAY (1986)

Modernism

A Gables showstopper with historical references to Aztec architecture, this office building is notable for its step-down, pyramidal shape. It was designed in an ‘80s postmodern style by architects Glenn Pratt, O.K. Houstoun, and Thomas A. Spain.

2199 PONCE DE LEON BOULEVARD (1980)

Architect Alberto J. Socol’s Florida buildings also include Miami’s James L. Knight Center, the School of Architecture at the University of Florida and, in Coral Gables, this quintessentially modern office building.

525 SOUTH DIXIE HIGHWAY (1960)

Modernism

Coral Gables Fire Station 2 was designed by O.K. Houstoun (who also designed 550 Biltmore Way and Denny’s on Miracle Mile) with eye-popping design elements like fire-engine red doors.

150 ALHAMBRA (1984)

Modernism

The strong concrete and glass horizontal bands and interlocking geometric forms give this building the archetypal look of 1980s corporate design. architect: Alberto J. Socol.


Story written by Karelia Martinez Carbonell, the president of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables, and Bruce Fitzgerald. Photos courtesy of Karelia Martinez Carbonell.