Rival Dutch, Danish Green Designs Converge On Miami Beach

The sunny shores of Miami Beach may not seem like a typical battle ground for dour Scandinavian rivals. However, one 52-acre plot of sandy soil is currently the prize of two competing design firms from Northern Europe that are seeking to add some green to one of the uglier chunks of asphalt and concrete in this tony Florida town.

The existing Miami Beach Convention Center, built in 1957, is functional but both unwelcoming and unloved. Recently, the city decided to plan for a billion-dollar overhaul that would tie the hulking structure in with the surrounding streets and reduce its carbon footprint. The decision will come down to two huge renovations proposals from Denmark’s Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and from Rem Koolhaas’ Dutch design group OMA.

BIG's proposal would include a large green roof and tie the center into the urban landscape with pedestrian plazas. Image via BIG.

BIG’s proposal would include a large green roof and tie the center into the urban landscape with pedestrian plazas. Image via BIG.

In the BIG proposal, to be called Miami Beach Square, the most noteworthy redesign element will be the roof of the building. Surrounding the site, BIG plans to add a border of green roof vegetation to absorb stormwater and add a park-like element to the structure. This green roof outline would frame the central part of the roof, which would act as a canvas to display a rotating series of art projects.

A view of BIG's sloping green roof, which would showcase a rotating display of public art. Image via BIG.

A view of BIG’s sloping green roof, which would showcase a rotating display of public art. Image via BIG.

Also ringing the convention center would be a series of mixed-use buildings, including a hotel, apartments, restaurants, shops, and a rooftop pool and lounge area. At each of the corners of the rectangular building, the floor plans will gently rise, as if pulled up by invisible strings, revealing lobbies and entrances that open out to green pedestrian plazas. The glazed exterior of the center will also include opaque panels to provide selective shading in some areas.

BIG — which calls the current convention center “a dead black hole of asphalt in the heart of one the most beautiful and lively cities in America”— worked with the firms West 8, Fentress, John Portman & Associates and Portman CMC to create a more walkable solution. The team designed a ring of parks and plazas around Miami Beach Square to form a more direct connection between some of Miami Beach’s best-known landmarks, including the historic Art Deco Jackie Gleason Theatre, City Hall and a new museum for Latin American culture.

The OMA proposal also includes a green roof and rotates the main entrance 90 degree to the south. Image via OMA.

OMA’s ACE proposal also includes a green roof and rotates the main entrance 90 degree to the south. Image via OMA.

The Dutch entry,  South Beach ACE, for “Arts, Culture and Entertainment,” was submitted by a team consisting of OMA, along with developers Tishman and UIA, architects TVSdesign and landscape architects MVVA and Raymond Jungles. The plan proposes a slightly more radical renovation that would place an 800-room hotel with a broad, curved facade above the convention center and rotate the entrance 90 degrees to the south.

Some of the planned green pedestrian plazas surrounding the OMA proposal. Image via OMA.

Some of the planned green pedestrian plazas surrounding Dutch ACE proposal. Image via OMA.

By re-orienting the entrance, the ACE team will place more emphasis on the large public square between the convention center and the Jackie Gleason Theatre, making a portion of the city’s 17th Street more pedestrian friendly. Other buildings that will be integrated with the site will include, the Carl Fisher Clubhouse, City Hall and the 17th Street Garage.

As with the BIG proposal, the ACE plan also calls for a green roof over the convention center. On the north side of the expanded convention center, the ACE designers also included a network of tree-shaded parks and a grassy hill that would cover the garages and truck loading areas. These urban green spaces would be accessible by the public seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Both proposals will be on display at the Miami Beach City Hall through June 21.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.