By Arva Moore Parks
Because of citizen outrage, the iconic Babylon Apartments, 240 S.E. 14th Street at the intersection of Brickell Bay Drive has, at least temporarily, avoided the wrecking ball. Following a vote by the city’s Planning Board that denied upzoning for the site, the Historic and Environmental Preservation Board voted on April 5th to ask preservation staff to prepare a preliminary designation report on its possible inclusion as a City of Miami historic property. The report will be presented to the board in May. In the meantime, demolition has been stopped. Although many erroneously believe that a building must be 50 years old to be considered, according to the city’s preservation ordinance, if a structure has “unusual merit” it can quality regardless of age. Clearly the Babylon meets that criteria.
Miami Herald architectural critic Andres Viglucci summed up its importance in his March 8, 2016 In Depth article in the Miami Herald. Their [Arquitectonica’s] first building was…so startling that is set a new bar for urban architectural pizzazz in Miami, promptly won a major prize and set the unknown Arquitectonica on a path to become a global design force.” Beth Dunlop, who authored two books on Arquitectonica, was also quoted as saying: “It’s such a shame. It’s not how you create a memorable city.”
In 1978, Architectonica and the Babylon won a prestigious national prize from Progressive Architecture. Three years later, the same magazine did a cover article on the firm highlighting the Babylon and the firm’s second building the Atlantis which was also awarded a PA prize.
Today, Arquitectonica is internationally acclaimed for its work. It has offices in several major American cities as well as in Europe, Latin America, Asia and in the Middle East. Its headquarters, however, remain in Miami, the city of its birth. Because of Miami’s singular role in its development, it is imperative that the Babylon be saved and landmarked. Andres Duany, who, along with his wife Liz-Plater Zyberk was part of the firm when the Babylon was designed, is quoted in the Viglucci article as saying: “Arquitectonica is the most important firm in Miami, in the Caribbean, possibly in the southeastern United States in the last 50 years…. If they were to demolish this building [the Babylon] it would be an act of cultural barbarism.”
Dade Heritage Trust has come out in favor of saving the Babylon and supports its historic designation. Tearing down the Babylon would be like tearing down an early Frank Lloyd Wright building in Illinois. It is hoped that that citizens join Dade Heritage Trust and stand up and fight for this important piece of our architectural history and encourage Miami leaders to make sure the Babylon survives.