Only a year after Miami-based Arquitectonica’s first realized project, the Babylon Apartments, won historic designation, Miami city commissioners have overturned its landmark status to pave the way for demolition.
The apartment block’s bright red facade and stepped, ziggurat-inspired shape made the Babylon instantly iconic when it opened in 1982. Located in Miami’s Brickell neighborhood, the five-story building is now dwarfed by the condo towers that surround it. Designed in response to the long, narrow plot it sits on, the Babylon’s stepped form is extruded back through the lot.
Although the 2016 designation of the Babylon by Miami’s historic preservation board was unanimous, it was pushed through against the wishes of the building’s owner, Francisco Martinez Celeiro. Citing an engineering survey, Martinez Celeiro claims that the Babylon is past the point of repair and needs to be torn down.
The latest ruling, passed on January 26, is a response to Martinez Celeiro’s appeal of the original landmarking decision.
Commissioners tore into the Babylon at the hearing and ultimately voted 4-1 to strip the building of its protection status. Commissioner Joe Carollo linked the building to Miami’s legacy of drug dealing and trafficking in the 1980’s, now immortalized in pop culture through Scarface and Miami Vice.
“This is the real history of the Babylon,” said Carollo. “This is a place built on the cheap by a guy who was so high he didn’t know if he was coming or going most of the time. I’m amazed that we’re talking about this 35 years later. I’m amazed we have spent too much time glorifying one of the worst buildings in an era many of us would like to forget.”
While the preservation board originally cited the Babylon’s “extraordinary merit” in inciting new development throughout downtown Miami, despite the building being less than 50 years old. Martinez Celeiro’s lawyers and architectural consultants disagree, saying the building leaks and is irreparable, having been built cheaply, and that the design pales in comparison to Arquitectonica’s later works.
The reversal follows a two-year-long battle between Brickell residents, architects, and preservationists and Martinez Celeiro. After the latest decision, Martinez Celeiro is now free to build a condo tower on the site and has been lobbying the city to upzone the parcel to allow the construction of a 48-story tower.
The demolition would come right on the heels of Arquitectonica’s 40th anniversary. The studio’s use of bold colors and blocky forms won its buildings cameos on shows such as Miami Vice, where they helped further Miami’s image as a glamorous, modern city and propelled Arquitectonica’s expansion into an international firm.