The City of Miami possesses a wealth of historic fabric including simple homes exhibiting vernacular architectural styles and elaborate, high style buildings full of detail and flourish.
Art Deco (1929-1940)
The Art Deco style first arrived in America after the Paris Exposition of 1925, where it was promoted as a fusion of the decorative arts and industry and technology. Art Deco was a relaxed precursor of the International style. The style features applied decoration based on organic forms and geometric patterns, executed in the latest construction materials and methods. Forms are angular, and facades often stepped back, especially in taller buildings. Decorative elements range from industrial to Egyptian, Mayan, and American Indian themes. Building forms and decoration generally have a vertical orientation. In South Florida, nautical and tropical motifs, such as palm trees, flamingos, pelicans, the moon, and the ocean, are reflected in bas-relief stucco panels, etched glass, and murals. The related "Moderne" style evolved from Art Deco.
Bahamian or Conch (1890-1920s)
Found mostly in the Overtown area of Miami and in the Charles Avenue area of Coconut Grove, this vernacular architecture was typically the work of shipbuilders-turned-carpenters from the Bahamas and Key West. These "conch" houses feature a one-and-one-half or two-story rectangular mass, with broad gabled or low, hipped roofs. They are usually of balloon frame construction, rather than the original cross-braced system of heavy timbers based on shipbuilding techniques. Buildings are raised off the ground on wood posts or masonry piers, allowing air circulation underneath the house. Exterior surfaces are of horizontal weatherboards and windows are double-hung sash type. The most prominent feature of these buildings is the balustraded front porch, sometimes wrapping around the sides on both stories.
Bungalows were one of the most popular residential styles in the nation during the first three decades of the twentieth century. These modest, comfortable houses were built primarily from mail-order house plans. South Florida bungalows are often one or one-and-one-half story wood frame houses with porch railing walls and oolitic limestone chimneys. Bungalows suit the local climate, with broadly pitched gable roofs with wide, overhanging eaves, deep porches, large sash windows, and dormer windows or louvered attic vents. Horizontal weatherboards and wood shingles are the most common exterior surfacing materials. Porch supports are often tapered masonry piers topped by wood posts. The most commonly found bungalow type in the Miami area has a gable roof, its ridge perpendicular to the street, and an off-center gabled front porch.
Frame Vernacular (1840's-present)
Frame Vernacular refers to a simple wood frame building, which is the product of the builder's experience, available resources, and response to the environment. These buildings are typically rectangular, of balloon frame construction, and rest on piers. They are one or two stories in height, with one-story front porches, and gabled or hipped roofs with overhanging eaves. Horizontal weatherboard and drop siding are the most common exterior wall materials. Some early buildings feature vertical board and batten siding or wood shingles, while asbestos shingles are common to post-1930s construction or as resurfacing for older buildings. Wood double-hung sash windows are typical, although many have been replaced by aluminum awning windows and jalousies. Ornamentation is sparse, and includes shingles, cornerboards, porch columns, brackets, rafter tails, vents in the gable ends, and oolitic limestone detailing.
Masonry Vernacular (1840s-present)
Three main types of masonry construction date to the early days of Miami-Dade County: hollow clay tile, concrete block, and oolitic limestone. Hollow clay tile, lighter than concrete block, was used up to the 1920s in large construction projects. Concrete blocks were easily manufactured from local materials. Rusticated concrete blocks, molded to resemble rough-cut stone, were popular prior to 1920 and are still seen in Little Havana. Oolitic limestone is the most typical masonry building material in South Florida and is unique. Quarried in south Miami-Dade County since the mid-nineteenth century, it consists of small rock particles and is used in rubble form. Coral-like keystone from the Florida Keys was popular during the 1930s and 1940s. Masonry Vernacular style commercial buildings, generally two stories in height, feature simple rectilinear plans, parapets and arcades.
Mediterranean Revival (1917-1930s)
The Mediterranean Revival style defined Miami during the Boom of the 1920s. The style reflects the architectural influences of the Mediterranean coast: Italian, Byzantine, Moorish themes from southern Spain, and French. Applied Spanish baroque decoration is generously used around openings, balconies, and cornices. Parapets, twisted columns, pediments, and other classical details also are frequently used. Arches are often featured. The most common materials are stucco walls, red tile roofs, wrought iron grilles and railings, wood brackets and balconies, and oolitic limestone, ceramic tile and terra cotta for ornament. Patios, courtyards, balconies, and loggias replace the front porch. Fenestration is usually the casement type. With its elaborate detailing, Mediterranean Revival architecture works best in large buildings.
Miami Modern (1945-1965)
The prosperity of post-World War II America is reflected in the inventive designs of the Miami Modern style. The Miami Modern style evolved from Art Deco and Streamline Moderne designs, reflecting greater modern functional simplicity. Although the style was used on various types of buildings, it is typified by futuristic-looking hotel and motels. Characteristics include the use of geometric patterns, kidney and oval shapes, curves, stylized sculpture, cast concrete decorative panels and stonework depicting marine and nautical themes, particularly at the entrances. Overhanging roof plates and projecting floor slabs with paired or clustered supporting pipe columns, as well as open-air verandas and symmetrical staircases are also typical design features.
The simple Mission-style buildings were inspired by the early Spanish mission churches in California. Exterior walls are usually covered with stucco, although oolitic limestone is also used. The most distinctive features of the style are tiled roofs and arches. Roofs are commonly low in pitch or flat, featuring curvilinear parapets or pent roof sections. The same parapet lines are often repeated over the front porch. Parapets may be topped with simple stucco molding, or with a single row of sloping Mission tiles. Cylindrical tiles, or scuppers, drain rainwater. Windows may be sash or casement type. Arches are typical on the facade and common on other openings. The front porch sometimes extends over the carport or garage entrance to one side of the main building mass. Applied decoration is kept to a minimum.
Neo-Classical (1893-c. 1940)
The Neo-Classical style is an eclectic revival of Georgian, Adam, early Classical Revival, and Greek Revival architectural styles. Interest in classical models was inspired by the World's Columbian Exposition, which was held in Chicago in 1893. The style is based mostly on the Greek, rather than Roman, architectural orders. Because of this, windows and doorways are commonly spanned by lintels rather than by arches. Another hallmark of the Neo-Classical style is a full-height entry porch on the principal facade supported by classical columns in the Ionic or Corinthian orders. The arrangement of windows is commonly symmetrical about a central door. Other features of the style may include monumental proportions, large (sometimes triple-hung) sash windows, pilasters, attic stories or parapets, and simple rooflines.
Streamline and Depression Moderne (1930-1942)
Streamline Moderne, which depicted the laws of aerodynamics in architecture, reflected the growth of speed and travel in the 1930s. Building forms evoke automobiles, trains, ocean liners, and airplanes. Massing reflects abstract, simplified forms with rounded corners devoid of much applied decoration. Horizontal compositions, bands of windows, racing stripes, and flat roofs are featured, as well as new materials such as vitrolite, glass block, chrome, stainless steel, terrazzo, and neon. Features of these buildings typical to the Miami area are "eyebrow" ledges over the windows, front porches, nautical motifs like porthole windows, and bas-relief panels depicting tropical scenes. Streamline Moderne buildings commissioned by the Public Works Administration (Depression Moderne) reflect a greater use of conservative and classical elements.