Arquitectonica’s Iconic First Building, the Babylon, is Being Demolished Now

Spaghetti western star Francisco Martinez-Celeiro, also known as George Martin, has gotten his way. One of Miami-based firm Arquitectonica’s first buildings, the Babylon, built in 1982, is being demolished by Mr. Celeiro, its longtime owner. The Biscayne Times says demolition is expected to be completed by July, but just walk past it, and the Babylon, an icon of postmodernist architecture in Miami, is already a sad sight.

The building lost its fight for preservation more than a year ago, and Mr. Celeiro plans to replace it with a vertiginous, and quite narrow, tower.

As I wrote in the Architect’s Newspaper, with its bright red ziggurat form, the six-story structure is an icon of subtropical postmodernist architecture in Miami’s Brickell neighborhood and one of the signature buildings of the city’s 1980s Miami Vice era. The Babylon also earned Arquitectonica its first international award, a Progressive Architecture Citation Award, only a few years after the firm’s founding in 1977.

Sketch via Arquitectonica.

Arquitectonica designed the Babylon in 1979, the same time as the much larger Palace Condominium on the other end of Brickell Bay Drive (although the Babylon wasn’t built until 1982). “It was one of our first buildings, our first building that’s not a house, and it hasn’t been kept up that well over the years,” Arquitectonica principal Bernardo Fort-Brescia told a group of University of Miami students.

Although Arquitectonica has remained mostly mum on the issue of the building’s demolition, architect Andrés Duany, a former principal at Arquitectonica and founder of Duany Plater-Zyberk, was much more outspoken. “Arquitectonica is the most important firm in Miami, probably in the Caribbean, possibly in the southeastern United States, in the last 50 years—since Morris Lapidus,” Duany told the Miami Herald. “If they were to demolish this building, it would be an act of cultural barbarism. Completely beneath the artistic reputation that Miami thinks it has. And it would betray that we are nothing but a bunch of swamp-dwelling barbarians. Still.”

And now it’s a goner. Maybe Duany is right about Miami?

Babylon under demolition.

Feature image of the Babylon in better days, via Flickr/Phillip Pessar.

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7 thoughts on “Arquitectonica’s Iconic First Building, the Babylon, is Being Demolished Now

  1. Kristian Toimil

    Such a beautiful building, and hugely influential in my own appreciation of architecture (despite being a born-and-raised Miamian, I first came across this building in a book!), but I gotta say, last few years have been so downhill. Such massive skyscrapers filling the lots nearby, it really does feel terribly out-of-place. What makes a building brilliant is how it utilizes its space. The length of the Babylon is wasted starting at stark white nothingness on either side. It’s a shame, but c’est la vie

  2. mybakerycom

    Toimil, the newer buildings did not take into consideration the context of where they were built and what came before. You are blaming the elder when it is the younger who are insensitive. What is a waste is your blasé attitude towards city identifying buildings, especially claiming to be a born and raised Miamian.

    1. Kristian Toimil

      There has to be a happy medium. Miami’s most precious asset is waterfront. Brickell is Miami’s petit-Manhattan. It makes the most sense to utilize the very limited and desired space by going way-up. When the Babylon was built, there wasn’t much surrounding it. Almost forty years later (which for a city founded in 1896, is eons), the area has objectively and obviously changed for the better. But now the Babylon is out-of-place. Sad, but what are we to do? Even if its owner kept it in pristine condition, the problem of its diminished aesthetic value would remain.

      There is a difference between the Babylon and – say – Dr. Jackson’s house. For one, Dr. Jackson’s house is operated as a non-profit and is a living monument to the pioneers of Miami; Babylon is a small condo that now – forty years on – doesn’t properly utilize its space – and it isn’t the only example of Arquitectonica’s work, let alone the only example of the work in Brickell (their ceaselessly iconic “Palace” is just down the crescent-shaped street). But very importantly, Dr. Jackson’s house fits the urban landscape perfectly. It cozily occupies the corner of Brickell Bay Dr and SE 12th Terrace; the Babylon just barely juts out of the skyscraper canyon it currently occupies.

      1. mybakerycom

        “..there wasn’t much surrounding it.” You’ve confirmed your lack of historical knowledge. Brickell was comprised of waterfront mansions. It was not petit Manhattan, it was Miami’s Palm Beach.

        https://miami-history.com/brickells-millionaire-row-homewood/

        There is no difference between Dr. Jackson’s house and the Babylon. What is the same is the mistake of erasing the past occurring again. You and those who think like you, forget your errors and commit them over and over.

        The area has not objectively nor obviously changed for the better. That is your subjective thought based on your limited experience with the world. By your own rational, Dr. Jackson’s house does not fit the urban landscape perfectly, it would be an under utilized building. I’m sorry you contradict yourself, and I’m sure your intention is good, but your thesis should be better developed.

      2. Kristian Toimil

        I meant to say in the direct vicinity of the Babylon. The properties directly north and south of the Babylon did not tower above the building as it does today. I’m aware of Brickell’s previous history; frankly the Manhattan reference still stands. Manhattan was once populated with glorious brownstones that defined the Gilded Age. Many still exist, but eventually many were torn down to make way for buildings that better utilized the space by scraping the sky (i.e., skyscrapers).

        I’ll happily scrap the “change for the better” comment as there is no way to prove one-way-or-the-other that Brickell has benefited from the architectural change the same way that I nor anyone can prove that Manhattan has benefited from Manhattanization. But I also believe that I don’t have to have travelled the world (farthest I’ve gone in my architectural exploration is the Americas and Europe) to know that a rectangular building that no longer offers the views it once had and whose only semblance just juts out of the property is no longer the architectural statement it once was. If they were to enclose the Babylon in a sarcophagus, would you still want to preserve it?

        This reminds me of the evolving episode (perhaps Sean can fill-us-in about the latest) of the First Church of Christ Scientist on Biscayne Blvd & NE 19th St. There were horrifying renderings of a proposed tower next to the church that quite literally towered directly-above the church. I thought to myself “1) They better not approve that monstrosity and 2) if there were to, then you might as well destroy the church because at that point, what is the purpose of preserving the building? You’ve almost completely covered the church, thus rendering it’s aethestic value moot. Funny enough, I came across an old comment of mine of the article that you’d possibly appreciated (https://miami.curbed.com/2015/1/30/9997404/condo-tower-could-go-above-first-church-of-christ-scientist).

        I’m as NIMBY as they come, and I oppose development left-and-right (or better said, north-and-south), but you also have to be reasonable.

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