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Feature Article
A Proud Symbol of Latin Modernism

Miami is famous for many things, including Latin culture, the art deco district of South Beach, lavish mansions on the bay, yachts, Versace and more, but many people are still overlooking one of the city's greatest attributes: the many examples of 1960s modern architecture in this fine city.

Among the finest examples of blending art with architecture is the home of Bacardi USA, Inc. in Miami, Florida: offices and museum, built by the Bacardi family, famous for Bacardi rum and other accomplishments. The museum covers corporate and family history from 1862 through today.

Bacardi has long supported modern design; their most noteworthy buildings are two in Mexico and Bermuda, buildings they proudly commissioned Mies van der Rohe to design in international modern style. The Bermuda building was originally intended for Bacardi's first headquarters in Santiago, Cuba, but Castro's revolution forced alteration of that plan.

Bacardi's Miami site, on the 102' x 183' tract at the northwest corner of Biscayne Boulevard and 21st street, is home to two amazing and all-original structures: an 8-story tower and a smaller square building in the plaza.

The tower dates from 1963, housing the Bacardi Museum, about 2600 square feet of office space, and a top floor dining room with panoramic views. The architect was Enrique Gutierrez of Sacmag International in Puerto Rico, and the builder was Frank J. Rooney, Inc. of Miami. The staff is proud that the interior retains original design elements specified by designers Adella P. Estrada and Alberto Fernando Pla. The black leather Barcelona chairs chosen by Estrada in 1973 are still in place, as is the reception area wall tapestry designed by Pla. Original custom rugs were woven in Puerto Rico by V'Soske of New York.

The tower is built of reinforced concrete, overlayed with two huge 'azulejos', or ceramic tile murals done in the traditional Spanish colors of blue and white, by Francisco Brennand of Recife, Brazil. Born July 11, 1927, Brennand is an accomplished painter-ceramicist, whose other works include murals at the School of Itanhaem at Sao Paulo, a 32-meter mural of the Battle of Guararapes for the Banco da Lavoura de Minas Gerais, and the interior of a ballroom for the Sao Domingos Hotel in Recife. The Bacardi tower murals are made of 28,000 hand-painted, glazed, baked, 6" x 6" tiles surrounded by a marble border. Brennand felt strongly that painters and architects should work together to give buildings an artistic unity. In fact, Brennand stresses the word "overlay" rather than "decorate", to underscore his belief in the combined unity of the final work.

In addition to the murals, other tower surfaces include white-veined marble tiles and exposed concrete showing the effects of 1" x 4" tongue-and-groove planks used for the form to give a vertical striped effect. The east and west facades are made of thermopane, smoke-tinted glass with anodized aluminum mullions. Interestingly, the underground garage was built to the specifications of a swimming pool to keep the subterranean area dry despite the high water table in Miami's porous coral soil. This area holds 65 automobiles and is covered by an outdoor plaza. Imagine a swimming pool which keeps the water out, rather than in!

In 1973, Bacardi added the fascinating square building in the plaza. The square building, raised 47 feet off the ground around a central core, features four massive walls, comprised of chunks of 1" thick hammered glass mural tapestries, designed to withstand hurricane force winds.

These glass tapestries were designed and manufactured in France by S.E.A.R. under the direction of Gabriel and Jacques Loire of Chartres, after an original painting by German artist Johannes M. Dietz. The architect of the building was Ignacio Carrera-Justiz of Coral Gables, FL. Abstract modern style on all four sides, this unusual building has two floors which cantilever out 24 feet on each side of the central core. Each floor is hung from the roof by 28 tensor rods, supported at the center by the concrete-reinforced central core. The load on each tensor is transferred to the roof in which a crisscross system of post tension beams carry the load from the tensor rods through the central core, plaza and garage, to the foundation. The two floors of this building serve as finance and accounting offices. The meticulously manicured landscaping covers the whole width of a city block, creating a postcard view from any angle.

Light bounces from the colorful surfaces by day, and by night they emit multi-colored streams of light from the backlighted interior.

When in Miami, be sure to drop in for a tour!

The Bacardi Museum is located at
2100 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami, Florida.
Open for public tours. Tel # 305-573-8511

Questions? Comments?
E-Mail me at dalchicago@aol.com

Sources: Bacardi USA Inc., and Florida Contractor & Builder, April 1976.
First two photos by Bacardi, last one by Joe Kunkel.
(c) 2000, Joe Kunkel & Jetset - Designs for Modern Living. All Rights Reserved.