Today marks the 95th birthday of modern architect, IM Pei. Pei left his native China to study in the United States, but was not in tune with the Beaux-Arts teachings happening at the time; at one point he considered whether it would be better to practice engineering. Rebelling against his classical training, Pei found inspiration with the leaders of the modern architecture movement, such as LeCorbusier, Walter Gropius, and Marcel Breuer. Eventually, he began his own firm and in the span of over four decades he has produced some of the most iconic structures in the world: The John F. Kennedy Library, The Louvre Pyramid, The East Building of the National Gallery of Art, The Bank of China Tower, The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and the Museum of Islamic Art.
We single out IM Pei today not just because of his prominence in the field, but also because of how he helped define the Miami skyline. It has been known by many names, but the former CenTrust and Bank of America Tower goes by a simpler moniker these days; one that describes it best: The Miami Tower. The Miami Tower stood long before The Four Season’s Hotel (currently the tallest building in Miami), The Icon, The Viceroy, and the AIA Florida nominated Espirito Santo Plaza reshaped Brickell to what it is today. The Miami Tower stood long before 50 Biscayne, The Vizcayne, and Ten Museum Park were erected to create a wall of skyscrapers along Biscayne Boulevard. Never has it been the tallest building in Miami, nor the first skyscraper constructed, The Miami Tower has nevertheless been the most visible even as it sits far from the boulevard and bay. Take a night flight out of Miami International Airport, and no building will be easier to spot than the one designed by IM Pei. Watch a helicopter fly over on one of the shows or movies filmed here, and you’ll see it instantly.
The building’s interior is just as interesting, playing host to some unique features. It has an auditorium, a sports club, the distinction of having Miami’s metromover transit system run right through it, and a sky lobby that gives off fantastic views of the city. The decadent interiors are clad in a green and white marble, which is very much of the time period when the building was constructed (the 1980′s). The building does its very best at calling attention to downtown and the city itself. Many of the current skyscrapers are marvels of engineering and construction, but do not have the same appeal. Perhaps it is because the new towers today are too busy boasting their LEED rating, or the amount of steel and glass used in their creation, while The Miami Tower established an architectural and urban identity for Miami.
It is a guarantee that many more skyscrapers will be built in downtown, each one trying to outdo the next. However, I doubt they will supplant the tower from its rightful place. Miami is well known for being nocturnally active and having the famous,vibrant nightlife. What better building to have as a symbol of this city than the one that shines brightest at night? Happy birthday IM Pei, and Thank You, because in a city where many “big shot” architects have done some of their worst projects, you did one of your best.