Sebastian Calonge: Ida España 2022

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Pictured: Sebastian Calonge. Photograph taken by Ricardo Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) /
CC by 4.0

Meet the Author

Sebastian Calonge is a second-year student of the Honors College at Florida International University working toward a Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing. Born and raised in Miami, he enjoys travel, photography, and design. This upcoming summer, he will be traveling to Spain as part of the Honors College Study Abroad program. Given his Spanish background, specifically from Pais Vasco which is located in the northern part of Spain, he is hoping to further immerse himself in the culture, language, and life of the beautiful country.

Architectura De La Patria

From the dawn of history, mankind has sought to find solutions for its commonly encountered problems. Whether it be through the creation of language, clothing, or transportation, obstacles have never been a deterrent for innovation opportunities particularly in the arts. “Architecture is the triumph of human imagination over materials, methods, and men to put man into possession of his own earth”, says Frank Lloyd Wright, from the Architectural Forum, May 1930. The invention of architecture defies the concept of art and transcends the understanding of art in one’s daily life. As this explosion of mathematics, science, and art conquers Italy in the Renaissance era, other nations begin to analyze and value its importance. In this age of rebirth, mastery in architecture is the ultimate profession. Located relatively near Italy, Spain adopted many of its practices to begin constructing their own religious, government, and cultural masterpieces. With the ever-rising integration of church and state, the country fixated many of its financial resources toward religious glorification. As a result, Europe encountered the birth of Spanish architecture and the extension of Spanish influence across the world.

Photo by https://www.alhambra.org/en/. CC by 2.0

To understand the origins of Spanish design and architecture, it would be inaccurate to merely view Italy as an inspiration and to claim that the Europeans were solely responsible for the beauty that is the architecture of Spain. From around 700 A.D. to 1492, the Muslims controlled the southern hemisphere of Iberian Peninsula and heavily influenced the architecture and culture of the country, specifically Andalucia. Many well-known Islamic leaders such as Muhammad I and Yusuf I were instrumental contributors to the era of Nasrid architecture in Spain, Muhammad I being the founder of Alhambra. Due to this period of Islamic rule of Granada, Spainiards have a great obligation to thank the Muslims for their significant contributions such as The Great Mosque of Córdoba (The Cathedral of Córdoba), The Aljafería Palace, Ermita “Mezquita” del Cristo de la Luz, and Madinat al-Zahra. 

Photo Credit: SBA73 via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 2.0

With the fabrication of magnificent cathedrals and palaces, Spain quickly rose to the top as an architecturally astounding spot with wonders such as The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. It should be no surprise, then, that these incredible architects implemented their own styles upon their arrival in the Americas. In his conquest of Florida in 1513, Juan Ponce de León began this true exchange of culture, art, and religion whereas Columbus was more responsible for the exchange of foods and diseases in his Columbian Exchange. Under control of the Spanish monarchy from the 16th to 18th century, Florida was heavily influenced by the existing architecture in Spain. A prime example of this influence is demonstrated in the City of Coral Gables. 

Photo Credit: Left by City of Coral Gables, Right by Deborah Boza Valledor

Established in 1925 by George E. Merrick, a wealthy real estate developer, Coral Gables practically mimics a traditional Spanish city. In the public setting, the city contains various elements that are clear architectural contributions from Spain. Firstly, the streets of the city are named after several towns located throughout Spain: Majorca Avenue, Alhambra Circle, Marabella Avenue, Valencia Avenue, and Sevilla Avenue. Secondly, many of the public structures are directly inspired by architectural features throughout Spain. Public parks such as Salvador Park, Matheson Hammock, and the Country Club Prado Parkway all incorporate decorative elements of public spaces in Spain whether it be through layout, design details, or inclusion of nature. Overall, this city captures the essence of España in the Americas as it is a physical representation of the heavy influence the Spanish had when building the New World. 

Photograph provided by Professor J.W. Bailly / CC by 2.0

A classic example that collates the similar architectural features between Miami and Spain is the Freedom Tower, the Biltmore Hotel, and La Giralda Tower. Built in the early 1920’s the Freedom Tower and Biltmore Hotel both have a striking resemblance with La Giralda Tower located in Sevilla, Spain. Previously a mosque, the Cathedral of Sevilla speaks true to the history of Spanish architecture as it embodies the Islamic past of Spain. The three buildings all contain a resembling tower structure in the center which incorporates the rule of thirds through the placement of windows and columns. Additionally, they share common structure features in the lower facade area. Through their Mediterranean revival style, the Miami buildings channel the historic remnants of their past. When interviewing Amanda Marie Arrizabalaga, Associate Architect at Yellow House Architects, PLLC., she stated, “Good architecture speaks for itself, tells a story about the place it is located, and gives clues to the ways the people there live.” Coral Gables does not only tell a story, but it delineates its Spanish, Moorish roots.

Photo by Archdiocese of Miami (ADOM) / CC by 2.0

Aside from the manner in which this sector of Miami mirrors Spain, it too creates and fosters a life where residents and visitors imitate a European lifestyle. Arrizabalaga explained the impact that growing up in Coral Gables, and South Florida, had in her own design style. “Going to elementary school at Saint Theresa Catholic School, a Mediterranean revival building from Coral Gables’ inception in 1925, shaped my taste and lifestyle.” Those who interact with these spaces throughout the city almost always elaborate on the impact the architecture has in their own lives as the majority of the population have some form of Spanish background. Given that Miami is a primarily Cuban community, and many of their ancestors come from Spain, seeing the embodiment of their past is a particularly unique experience.

From wooden ceilings and ironwork to terracotta tiles and terrazzo flooring, numerous Spanish architectural artifacts have withstood the past centuries of immigration in and out of South Florida. Currently known as a cultural melting pot, Miami is home to a wide genre of nationalities who have all significantly contributed to the mixture of foods, languages, and cultural festivities. It is then when one can begin to question how the migration of other cultures and design styles have not had a profound impact upon the city compared to those of Spain and how they have remained over all these years. Arrizabalaga claims:

“Spanish architecture and urbanism survived due to its innate permanence. The built environment survives generations and can be learned from, interpreted, and improved upon even when its architects are long gone. The colonizers brought their local architectural style wherever they went, because it was all they knew and it made them feel at home in these unfamiliar places. The coral house of Christopher Columbus still stands in the center of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic as do the shaker style houses of the English settlers in the northeast.”

This sense of familiarity that was created upon Spanish colonization withstood because of its ability to interact and bring purpose to those who inhabited the area. Working simultaneously, colonizers and architecture manufactured a space for permanence. In their minds, this was an extension of the Motherland and its eminent beauty. By having this frame of mind in which España is the source of greatness and all that is imperial, the idea of this great empire was the foundation for an era of prosperity and new life in the Americas. 

Photo by The Miami Herald / CC by 2.0

Other examples of public architecture in Miami that contain striking affinity to that of Spain include the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and the Coral Gables City Hall. As Merrick undertook the project of designing this city, along with Phineas Paist and Denman Fink, he envisioned the very definition of Mediterranean Revival. With plans to develop a municipality that fused Spanish, Moorish, and Italian architecture, he needed the civic center to properly demonstrate this ideal, and so he did. Vizcaya, on the other hand, was a more advanced, complex project taken on by the infamous American industrialist, James Deering. The Mediterranean-inspired villa took approximately eight years to build and is stapled as one of the most historic structures in Miami. Built in the early 20th century, Deering was inspired by the Spanish settlers who arrived on Biscayne Bay during the 1500’s and found his idea for the villa known today. Aside from its Mediterranean elements, Deering implements a characteristic similar to that of various palaces in Europe which is the grand entrance. Guests travel along a far-stretched road enclosed by parallel fountains which create an exceptional experience to arrive at the main entrance of the villa. This kind of grand entrance is also seen at the Prado entrance where visitors can walk down pergola structures wrapped in bougainvilleas, a typical flower of Spain. Both Vizcaya and the City Hall illustrate the fusion of Spanish architecture and Miami culture. 

However, Spain was not the only European country to impact architecture in South Florida. Also located in Coral Gables, the Venetian Pool is comparable to many structures in Venice, Italy. Just like the Italian city, the recreational pool hosts an arched bridge above the body of water. For this reason, it is re-emphasized that Spanish architecture is not the sole creation of the Spaniards. Many other countries, including Italy and Morocco, heavily contributed to the perception of Spanish architecture. The preservation of these country’s designs is what allowed Spain to build their own style of architecture to share with the rest of the world.

As the City of Miami, as well as the state of Florida, are modernized, it is crucial to preserve and protect these public architectural structures for the importance they carry in their respective community. Architecture is not solely the design and mathematical details of a building, rather a bridge for the exchange of culture, conversation, and diversity. The design that an architect creates determines the types of experiences that will be held in the particular space. If an area is poorly designed and constructed, it will influence the kind of people who enter the space and the kind of exchange that will occur between individuals. To optimize the provided room, an architect must recognize the purpose of the project and the objective goal that is to be reached. Arrizabalaga elaborates:

“Urban design, in particular, shapes the way people live and interact with one another. In cities around the world where people live in tiny apartments, public spaces allow for them to unite and give life to the community. For example, Spanish culture has a tight knit sense of community and it is all due to the plaza atmosphere where children play soccer while their parents grab a drink with some friends.”

Photo Credit: Left- The Plaza Mayor in Madrid | © Madrid Destino Cultura Turismo y Negocio. Right- The Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Photo credit: Fantasía II via photopin (license)

The plazas that exist all throughout Spain are exemplary cases of successful architectural design and planning as they account for the objective of its people which is to meet and enjoy one another’s company in a space relatively close to home. Although lacking these traditional plaza spaces, Florida’s environment similarly allows for this social encounter through its outdoor architecture. Many buildings incorporate breezeways, patio areas, and open halls to provide a feeling of the Spanish lifestyle. These spaces are exquisitely designed, therefore attracting the public and encouraging them to converse and have a sense of home away from home. 

The direct inspiration, resemblance, and embodiment of Spanish architecture in the Americas is indisputable. Among the copious individuals who shaped the state of Florida, as well as the City of Miami, the main similarity was their inert desire to follow the astonishing architecture of Spain. Whether it be George Merrick in his creation of “The City Beautiful” or James Deering and his fabrication of the Villa Vizcaya, these Americans sought to implement the Spanish lifestyle through their architectural plans. Without a doubt, Spanish architecture influenced the creation of Miami, Florida. It is because of this architectural influence that people experience Miami in the way that they do. From the parks to the hotels, almost all architectural elements can be traced back to some sort of Spanish or Islamic structure. The intention behind creating these spaces exemplifies the mannerism of a true architect as architecture is the practice of producing a design which encompasses all aspects of its location and critically considers those around it. Spain, and the countries that contributed to its development, will continue to live within the City of Miami for generations to come and directly affect the people who interact with its surroundings in the future. 

Works Cited

Bailly, John William. “Vizcaya Walking Tour.” Bailly Lectures, 1 Sept. 2021, https://baillylectures.com/miami/vizcaya-walking-tour/.

Craven, Jackie. “Is Architecture an Idea or a Thing?” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 19 Aug. 2019, https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-architecture-178087.

EvoGov.com. “Nationally Recognized Historical Landmarks.” City of Coral Gables – Nationally Recognized Historical Landmarks, https://www.coralgables.com/departments/HistoricalResourcesCulturalArts/nationally-recognized-historical-landmarks.

“Imagining the Mediterranean in Historic Coral Gables.” Home | Historic Coral Gables, https://historiccoralgables.ccs.miami.edu/.

“Islamic Architecture in Spain.” City Tours Spain, https://www.citytoursspain.com/en/articles/islamic-architecture-in-spain.

“Spanish Influence on Miami’s Architecture.” Miamivibes, https://www.miamivibesmag.com/spanish-influence-on-miamis-architecture.

Author: sebastiancalonge

Sebastian Calonge is a second-year student of the Honors College at Florida International University working toward a Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing. Born and raised in Miami, he enjoys travel, photography, and design. This upcoming summer, he will be traveling to Spain as part of the Honors College Study Abroad program. Given his Spanish background, specifically from Pais Vasco which is located in the northern part of Spain, he is hoping to further immerse himself in the culture, language, and life of the beautiful country.

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