26 June 2015

Preservation, Art and the Miami Marine Stadium

A little neglected since it was closed after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key – you see it en route from Miami to Key Biscayne – is feeling some love lately, along with a push to reopen it. 

But before the doers do, the talkers talk. So first come the politicians, the committees, and everyone who feels s/he has something to say. In some cases, people actually do bring something to the table.

The background: The architect Hilario Candela, a 28-year-old then-recent immigrant from Cuba, designed a stadium with 6,566 seats which became a Modernist icon because of its cantilevered, fold-plate roof and its construction of lightweight, poured-in-place concrete. At 326 feet in length, it was the longest span of cantilevered concrete in the world when it was constructed as the first purpose-built venue for powerboat racing in the United States. Opening on 23 December 1963, the building cost amounted to $1 million.

Champion Spark Plug Regatta at the Marine Stadium, 1975

Besides a plethora of world-class powerboat races, the Marine Stadium hosted many cultural events and concerts including Queen, The Beach Boys, Steppenwolf, Dave Brubeck, Miami Philharmonic, Ray Charles – as well as a legendary and raucous 1985 Jimmy Buffett gig.

After Andrew though, the city declared the stadium unsafe for human consumption, never mind that an engineering study demonstrated it was sound and undamaged. Since lock-up, the stadium has become a haven for graffiti artists, taggers and also vandals.

Then, in 2008, a group named “Friends of Miami Marine Stadium” (or FMMS) was formed, with the plan to restore and re-open the venue. 

Seen sideways, the 1963 cantilevered construction is mind-blowing

FMMS, with Hilario Candela on board, successfully secured historic designation by Miami’s Historic Preservation and Environmental Board. In 2009, it was recognised as an architectural masterpiece by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and named to the Trust’s 11 Most Endangered List, followed in 2010 by the Worlds Monuments Fund (WMF) to include the stadium on its own Watch List.

All those efforts finally got things moving.

Miami-Dade County Commissioners in 2010 decided to allocate $3m to the stadium’s historical preservation and reopen it as a venue for water sports and major concerts; the City Commission also included it in the Virginia Key Master Plan.

Lately, that has been a bit of a bone of contention for the Village of Key Biscayne though, especially the (quite logical) idea to hold the annual Miami Boat Show at the venue. But it is not called the Miami Marine Stadium for nothing.

In 2012, the Miami City Commission approved the first step in the creation of a partnership between FMMS, Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority and the Miami City Commission to restore the Marine Stadium. In 2014, the stadium received a $180,000 grant from the Getty Foundation to examine concrete restoration issues at hand.

And that subject was the focus of an interesting podium discussion at the Miami AIA chapter a few weeks ago. 

Marine Stadium discussion at the Miami AIA

Participants included – among others – Mr. Candela himself, elegant, humble and eloquent; Jorge Hernandez, architect and Co-Founder of FMMS; John Fidler, a very cool Brit specialising in preservation technology; Rosa Lowinger, conservator and  preservation specialist, and Luis Berros, a Miami-based street artist active at the stadium.

There was a lot of back-and-forth of course. Ms. Lowinger stated that after 30+ years of use by street artists, up to 200 layers of paint can be found on some locations at the stadium, and rightfully so posed the question if this is now art or vandalism? And: when is the (art) as significant as the site itself?

Marine Stadium graffiti

Leaving the key question dangling in the air for now, Mr. Fidler dove into technical aspects of battling graffiti; very interesting. Speaking with great knowledge, he gave examples of graffiti in the UK and how to address the impacts especially of multiple attacks. He concluded: "The significance of a place is the sum of its historical values".

After a major Miami real estate investor emphatically stressed the importance of “curating” the graffiti and preserving the site as a “living breathing massive sketch book” – perhaps to establish herself as a patron saint of all things art? – the street artist Luis Berros spoke.

What he said made me want to buy him a beer.

Mr. Berros’ perspective was clear: as a street artist, he knows the life span of street art is limited – it could be there for two weeks, or even only two to three days. 

He explained that artists use the stadium area for training in techniques and use of material, so he did not see any problem with a clean-up. 

And the question on how to prevent graffiti after a stadium restoration didn’t stump him either: protect the stadium, install surveillance, create designated areas nearby for artists and taggers to work, and the graffiti on the stadium itself will stop.

When a member of the audience pointedly asked why to curate street art which by nature is time-limited, a panelist agreed that the stadium design came first before the street art.
Mr. Berros, the street artist, expressed it best when he said to Mr. Candela, the stadium architect: “You are the original artist”.


And where do you stand?


Photos: FMMS, Spillis Candela, TCKaiser, unknown

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