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Examining the Many Promises of SkyRise Miami

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Lawsuits, litigants and the usual Miami antics aside, architect William Hamilton Arthur IV architecturally examine the design for SkyRise Miami, the latest proposed icon to be seated between the port of Miami and Bayside Marketplace..

SkyRise Miami is an iconic, entertainment-themed tower designed by Miami architectural magnate Arquitectonica. Unlike other "Supertall " proposals such as Miapolis, and Verticus (projects which aimed to reach the 300m [984ft] Supertall height), the aspirations for SkyRise Miami have yet to be extinguished.

Having an unique form, the overall massing of SkyRise Miami is described as a Hairpin, paperclip or money clip— consisting of one large folded plane moving skyward to a height of 990ft then folding back down to the earth and jutting out to a proportion likened to a ski slope. Originally, the tower was titled and promoted as Solar Universe, incorporating energy-recovering elements such as photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, a hydroelectric plant and even a biomass (gasification) generator. As stated in its Class II permit application to the City of Miami Planning and Urban Design Review Boards in 2009, the energy produced by Solar Universe was said to be sufficient enough to power itself and the surrounding area. The project was even referred to in its application material to be a "power plant", although the wind turbines used to obtain that goal have since been removed.

New promotions for SkyRise Miami no longer show the wind turbines that were originally positioned between the large folding plane— a concept that would direct prevailing winds through the narrowed space to achieve uniform direction and higher speeds. Paradoxically, the same space is now proposed for SkyPlunge, a bungee apparatus where higher winds and confined space are the two most limiting factors. What prompted the removal of the wind turbines is relatively unknown. It is possible they would be too noisy, however, no studies of the tower's auditory effects were published prior the Class II permit approval at the City of Miami.

The design of SkyRise Miami is said to be a pursuit of Vitruvius' ideal that "form follows function," a phrase which was reiterated in the project's design application. In contradiction to that phrase, existed the positioning of the photovoltaic panels originally proposed for the tower's south facade. The contradiction is that this facade inverts for most of its length, angling these panels obtusely— that is away from, the Crepuscular rays of the sun. Standard practice implies that these panels be aligned perpendicularly to the sun's rays, to best receive them.

At the base of SkyRise Miami is a multi-story glass plinth. It too is contradictory because this space utilizes a floor-to-ceiling glass envelope to enclose a fully air-conditioned space. The envelope appears pushed to the exterior edges of the structure, resulting in little or no shading on the east or west sides. The envelope neither appears to be protected from the heated ground surface. This practice is associated with dissimilarity heated materials and higher energy costs since exposed glazing has a tendency to allow the sun's longwave radiation (in the form of heat) enter the air-conditioned space.
The south portion of this proposed plinth appears to be well-shaded. Atop the south side would be stadium-like seating bounded above with the large hovering plane to create an outdoor proscenium. This space would be innovative in forming Miami's second waterfront stadium, however the first, Historic Miami Marine Stadium at Virginia Key would remain abandoned.

As a result of initial plan review by two infamously separate departments at the city— the Urban Development Review Board and the Planning Department, SkyRise Miami was awarded a Class II Special Permit approval, waiving all City of Miami Design Standards and Guidelines.

The primary design standard measured against SkyRise Miami is a progressive, form-based code called Miami 21. The code promotes a holistic approach, incorporating the best-known ideals of "Zoning, Economic Development, Historic Preservation, Parks, Open Spaces, Arts, Culture, and Transportation". The code encourages the best-known ideals of community and requires buildings have a distinctive character based on the neighborhood in which it is located. Miami 21 does not have provisions for a project such as SkyRise Miami, whose own promotional literature implies that it does not fit within the city's adopted paradigm. SkyRise Miami describes itself as an "all-in-one" attraction, a single element functioning independently of its surroundings.

SkyRise Miami's developer, Jeff Berkowitz stated "It's going to be an iconic symbol like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, like the Sydney Opera House or the Golden Gate Bridge, and people are going to identify Miami with this tower and this tower with Miami." A statement that will likely be true if SkyRise Miami is built, but perhaps not with the same precedence and extraordinarily innovative forms employed by the 3 projects Mr. Berkowitz cited. For example, the Eiffel Tower was a temporary structure immortalized only after it successfully demonstrated a new use for puddling iron. The achievement was so pivotal the tower remains named after its engineer, A. Gustave Eiffel.

Following the premise that icons do not always need to be innovative— Miami's current iconic image is most likely the warmish glow created by the Colony, the Boulevard and the Starlight Hotels, comfortably-positioned in Miami Beach at twilight. This image is iconic because it is well-known, unique and evokes feelings of excitement among its international audiences. The image is meaningful because those of us who are native Miamians know the tribulations the city overcame to make that image exist. The image is loved because the form and arrangement of the buildings are distinctly protected by historic registries and even promoted by the adopted Miami 21 code— these are bona fide iconic qualities.

The proposal for SkyRise Miami has yet to demonstrate these qualities. The proposal for its tower neither represents the city's of adopted ideals. Without innovative forms or unprecedented construction methods, SkyRise Miami is not similar to the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House or Golden Gate Bridge icons that it has been promoted with. The proposal for SkyRise Miami has solely earned the designation of a tower, which will undoubtedly overshadow Miami's otherwise sophisticating skyline. Without the merits of innovation it was originally promoted with, perhaps the architecture of SkyRise Miami too has some unusual Miami antics at play.—William Hamilton Arthur IV

· SkyRise Miami coverage [Curbed Miami]
· SkyRise Miami []