The Atlantis Harks Back to 1980s Miami
by tom austin
The Atlantis Condominium on Brickell Avenue
Arquitectonica was a brash young design firm in 1982, the year its Atlantis building opened on Brickell Avenue and seized the worlds of high architecture and low pop culture. Even before the building went up, the design won a Progressive Architecture award in 1980, with juror Frank Gehry praising its “surrealistic quality” and Helmut Jahn noting its knack for beating out larger buildings “devoid of character.” At the same time, The Atlantis Condominium made the opening credits of Miami Vice and won the hearts, minds, and wallets of every local Tony Montana wannabe in the Scarface ’80s. The sky court, adorned with a whirlpool and a palm tree, was one big visual rush—ideal for romps, bumps, and commanding views of, as Tony would have it, the world.
Like people, buildings enter the zeitgeist when they do something new and different. This year, The Atlantis was named one of Florida’s top 100 buildings by the Florida Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and, along with the skyline of Ocean Drive, has been immortalized in the theme park LEGOLAND Florida.
Unlike the usual vast slab of condo facing the water, the 20-story Atlantis is situated perpendicular to Biscayne Bay. The building is 300 feet long but only 37 feet wide, with apartments spanning the entire width and allowing for cross-ventilation. In the middle of The Atlantis, just for the sheer hell of it, is a precise 37-foot-by-37-foot cube-shaped hole, the sky court; its red spiral staircase is perfectly counter-pointed by a yellow wall.
Color made The Atlantis pop, particularly in an era when Miami’s skyline didn’t look like a phallic rummage sale. The south side of The Atlantis has a glass wall accented by blue masonry grid-work that also shields the sun; the north face has gray reflective glass accented, like some demented postmodern wedding cake, by four yellow triangular balconies. At Biscayne Bay, the end of the building has a rounded face for 180-degree views, embracing the water. On the Brickell Avenue side, a red rooftop masonry triangle adds another geometric equation to all the postmodern building blocks. A nod to the Bauhaus itch for bright primary color, Miami Beach Lapidus-ian modernism, and 1980s postmodernism, The Atlantis brought everything together in one perfect aesthetic hootenanny.
In the 1980s, the success of The Atlantis ensured Arquitectonica’s dominance of Brickell Avenue. The firm also created The Imperial and The Palace Condominiums and The Babylon Apartments, and is still the definitive Miami condo name. Arquitectonica is now helmed by two remaining founding partners, the husband-and-wife team Bernardo Fort-Brescia and Laurinda Spear. (Three other founding partners—Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater- Zyberk, and Hervin Romney—left in 1980 to pursue other projects and found their own firms.) These days, Arquitectonica is profoundly global and dominates Miami itself, though the elegance of The Atlantis occasionally eludes its recent efforts. But The Atlantis is still fresh, still an Arquitectonica moment that defines the best of Miami.
photograph courtesy of arquitectonica