Bauhaus Beauty at The University of Miami
by Tom Austin
The Albert Pick Music Library, designed by Robert Little in 1957
|University of Miami’s School of Architecture is housed in one of the Le Corbusier-styled “flats” constructed on campus in 1947|
|Inside the Albert Pick Music Library|
|Codesigner Marion Manley’s Memorial Classroom Building|
Miami is an odd place on many levels, and the University of Miami campus is profoundly odd, far removed from the ivy-draped clichés of more time-wizened colleges. UM is the Thoroughly Modernist Millie of American universities, and in fact, the campus was codesigned by one remarkable woman. Marion Manley, who worked with architect Robert Law Weed on the UM campus, was the first female architect in this city and a true Miami girl—her own smart, ecologically sound house in Coconut Grove still stands.
Manley cocreated the first American campus given over to greenfield Bauhaus architecture, asymmetrical sited buildings placed within verdant space, situated along free-form blocks removed from parking areas. In the 1940s, long before green buildings became de rigueur, Manley surpassed most contemporary stabs at green-is-good architecture.
George Merrick, the founder of Coral Gables, had envisioned a UM campus filled with epic Spanish Renaissance structures, but the 1926 hurricane and real estate bust derailed that grand vision. Manley wasn’t feeling Merrick’s traditional neighborhood planning anyway: She’d briefly studied at MIT in Cambridge, close to Harvard’s Bauhaus revolution, led by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer.
After the war, the GI Bill brought students bearing government-subsidized tuition checks, and 27 low-rise Le Corbusier-style “flats” were erected in 1947. Built without air-conditioning, they have cantilevered “eyebrows”—meant to modulate the Miami light—over large windows for ventilation; originally, the lower floors were entirely open breezeways. To reclaim its Bauhaus heritage, the UM School of Architecture painted the buildings white with trim (door frames and such) done in such Bauhaus primary colors as yellow, red, and blue. The flats are pure charm, the best part of the UM campus.
Some of the remaining units house UM’s firstrate School of Architecture. Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, the internationally recognized new urbanist, serves as dean; the faculty includes her husband, Andres Duany, as well as Vincent Scully, Leon Krier, and Allan T. Shulman. Responsible for such projects as the Soho Beach House, Shulman compiled the book Miami Modern Metropolis: Paradise and Paradox in Midcentury Architecture and Planning, which was also a show at the Bass Museum of Art. His colleague, Jean Francois-Lejeune—the Belgian architect, historian, and director of Graduate Studies at the University of Miami School of Architecture—contributed an essay, “City Without Memory: Planning the Spectacle of Greater Miami,” which traced Miami modernist history through such gems as Le Corbusier’s journal during a 1950 visit to Miami (“Enough to make one utterly sick from so much artifice”).
Two other members of the UM School of Architecture faculty, Catherine Lynn and Carie Penabad, have written a sharp book about Manley, entitled Marion Manley: Miami’s First Woman Architect. In 1948, Architectural Forum hailed the University of Miami as the “only completely new, completely contemporary educational plant in the country,” and parts of the campus are still rocking: The Albert Pick Music Library, designed by Robert Little in 1957, looks like a spaceship in launch mode. And Manley and her team’s Memorial Classroom Building is a masterpiece, from the open-air hallways to the walls of Tennessee sandstone.
Manley was always overshadowed by Robert Law Weed, and in their book on Manley, Lynn and Penabad quote from Voice of the River, Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s autobiography, which lays it all out: “To hear him talk—and he talked a great deal—you’d think he was the primordial architect of the university. It wasn’t true.”
photograph by steven brodie studios (university of miami); darren trentacosta (albert pick music library exterior)