Miami Tower: Thoughts upon the production of contemporary architecture

Wrriten by: Fabiano Continanza | October 25, 2017

You can read this article in: Español | English

When I’ve started working on Miami Tower, I’ve been told that has to be “spectacular.” What this means, what this is expressing and how a project can be spectacular has been something that I’ve discovered in the past two months.

Architecture used to be a public statement, dignified and civic. Nowadays the private sector has erased ideology over almost the entire world. Architecture now seems to be an obligation for extravagance and spectacular shapes, and this is representing an inevitable crisis.

Architects are no longer producing something mutually reinforcing, but it is a counterproductive accumulation, to the point where each new addition makes the sum even more negative.

Not only the work of star architects is mutually canceling, and legitimately questioned, but there is also an increasingly, competent unknown architects whose work is barely distinguishable from the work of what star architects are doing. The cumulative effect is inevitably the death of the icon, partly due to ridicule, partly to overdose, partly to simply perpetual holiness.

Architectural repertoire today lives in a moment of extreme preoccupation about forms, but such forms act only in its own terms, and for its own sake rather than being to be an expression of something.

Seems there is an intensification on performing forms that are not necessarily connected to anything in particular, and in which we have exceptional abilities to create random forms; almost any form.

This aspect makes me think that probably we can’t collectively sustain –in the end– an environment of total randomness. We need some kind of relationship between form and others values.

We can find through history compelling and beautiful examples of Architecture. What is touching about this, it’s that everyone knows immediately what they are and also what they express. They are clearly a collective, public statement and clearly it is also a notion about the values of a particular society.

Gradually, that kind of statement has become harder to create. In the past twenty-five years, we have witnessed a massive shift from the public sector to the private sector. This had an incredible effect on Architecture when the architect typically expressed the value of the public sector in his work. Now architects are mainly expressing the value of the private sector.

On the other hand, I feel we are in an interesting moment where we are to embark on a new phase. As we are living in a society where communication is intensifying and ramifying, and the way any project should be is very much connected and sensitive to the surrounding because it needs to interact and connect with the life process. We need to become simultaneous and be aware of each other, because we can’t collectively afford to be isolated anymore: life will pass you by and you will be unproductive, disconnected and irrelevant.

Developing the project for Miami has been a great opportunity for questioning deeply all the above aspects.


Being unable to express a particular value of our society, we have been focusing on performance rather than on forms and shapes. We choose the aspect of performance because is one of the main paradigm of our society. We’ve engaged in performance in different levels, from typology to business model avoiding functionality.

We had to establish a distinction between performance and functionality as I found functionality extremely boring whereas performance is about what role does the building play and what scene does really trigger what is stimulating, what is creating.

A project has always a potential. We can create good architecture if we are able to exploit its potential. It is in our ability as architects on how we can exploit those characteristics that are inherited in every project.

For instance, we may decide to design a building that has the potential to open up to part of the city, to make it public and lively, or we can make it hermetic and it would be a lost and a waste of money.

Architecturally it is not if we like it, not because that is very personal but rather if it is good or not, it’s not personal.

In the process of this project we have been less and less interested in creating something just because it is nice or attractive or spectacular. Actually, we don’t know if this project is great or just good, or really great or mediocre. At SMA we don’t work in this kind of terms, we just like to work with great intensity and I try to really understand what we do and why we do something.

During the process of this project and many conversations with Fernando Sordo Madaleno and Javier Sordo Madaleno, I realized that the word “neutrality” is perhaps an interesting word to think about in conjunction with the “spectacular” concept, as there is always some kind of neutrality in a project itself.

As we went through the production of CPO Tower, we could have argued that the project it might be not so spectacular in its appearance, but only in the way it organizes space, time, people, function, etc.

Suddenly emerged that it is intended to create active users, rather than passive spectators –like Bernini with his scenographic views.

The CPO Tower has a didactic internal nature, which it’s against straight opticality, and I consider this project as a movement toward neutrality intended, as we can’t go beyond, or we can’t go more and more crazy out there.

The projection of great ambition and aspiration of SMA in this project produced a very obvious and yet an incredibly difficult situation, because there’s a conflict between the imposing expectation and the limited range of the appearance due to the narrowing of spectacular.

This road is still going…

In closing, I’d like to thank you for this opportunity as I found writing is very important not only for me, but also for SMA because we could actually describe the kind of architecture we want to produce before we actually produce it. Through writing, we can create some kind of space and then can occupy it.



Fabiano Continanza is one of the Project Leaders in Sordo Madaleno Arquitectos. He has a significant work as a researcher and computer-based designer, focusing on the relationship between architecture and new design tools.

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