The author with architects Hilario Candela, and Richard Heisenbottle.
Blog Post

A Visit to Miami Marine Stadium

The author with architects Hilario Candela, and Richard Heisenbottle.

I have always been fascinated by the Miami Marine Stadium, a structure designed by Cuban architect Hilario Candela, and a 2010 World Monuments Watch site. The building was erected in 1964, and even though it was originally dedicated to powerboat racing, it became an important cultural catalyst in Miami—not only hosting races, but also music concerts, water-skiing events, and other cultural programs. 

In 1992, when Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida, a new and unexpected phase of neglect began at the stadium, based on the damage caused to the structure by the hurricane. This resulted in more than twenty-five years of closure of the once-iconic structure that remains standing today. 

In May 2018, Don Worth, who has been an instrumental figure on the preservation of Miami Marine Stadium, arranged a site visit for me, and I had the opportunity to walk through the stadium accompanied by Hilario Candela, original architect of the structure, and Richard Heisenbottle, the architect in charge of projecting a new life for Miami Marine Stadium. Once there, one realizes that the building, while officially closed to the public, has not remained inactive, but rather unofficially (and illegally) re-appropriated by different local groups. The structure has attracted graffiti artists, who with greater or lesser artistic value have added an interesting layer of urban art, as well as parkour practitioners and skateboarders, who have taken advantage of the geometrical forms of the architecture as their own recreational playground. These two informal activities gave a new and unexpected life to the building while it waited for local authorities to restore it and give it a new purpose.

After a walk around the surroundings of the stadium, Candela and Heisenbottle invited us to walk through the building. As we entered, we were impressed by the triangular structures that support the grandstand and the cantilever roof, and by the colorful graffiti that covers the concrete. This made us notice the good state of the reinforced concrete structure, which after years of no maintenance, still performs efficiently and is in relatively good condition.  From there, we took one of the ramps and quickly emerged into the main space. In my opinion, this is the most theatrical moment the building offers, with the city of Miami and its bay in the horizon framed by the cantilevered roof of the stadium and the painted seats of the grandstand.

The work needed to restore the building became more identifiable as we continued our visit. I imagine some of the necessary work may include new seats and handrails, removing most of the graffiti that may be damaging the building structurally, and treating the reinforcements that are now exposed and rusted. Despite this, the stadium stands robustly and with no evidence of structural instability.

Afterwards, Candela and Heisenbottle gave us a top to bottom tour, underneath the grandstand, and to all the interstitial spaces in between, as they shared their vision for the future of the building. They meticulously explained what the next steps would be to restore the structure and to plan the new use of every space in the building.  Their plan to use the interstitial spaces as areas for social interaction, where people could sit down, talk, have a snack and spend time socializing, especially resonated with me.

In my opinion, the vision for the future of Miami Marine Stadium will have to be dynamic and forward-looking to serve the people who use it. At the same time, the structure must have a dialogue with its past—maybe by conserving some of the best quality graffiti. Beyond the building, the challenge will be to look at the area surrounding the stadium, to ensure that enough public spaces are provided for the site to perform as a cultural catalyst where people can gather in and around the structure. I believe the future plan should offer an opportunity to transform the site, avoiding the physical encroachment of the building, and to create alternative modes of social action in the public spaces around it. I think this approach best considers the importance of the architecture and the needs of the people of Miami.

Thanks Don, Richard, and Hilario for all the phenomenal work you have done!