From OMA and BIG to Small

1 mbcc aerial from sw copyright oma

Aerial view of design by ACE / OMA

A once ambitious plan to renovate and expand the Miami Beach Convention Center has recently fallen victim to regime change and a new, less extensive rebuilding plan. The original plan, which resulted in a price tag escalating to $1.1 billion, was discarded after the election of the new mayor, Philip Levine, who, since taking office this year, has asked for a new start to the project and issued an RfQ in that regard. As a result of this change in the City’s strategy, the winner of the original competition, led by South Beach ACE with Rem Koolhaas and OMA has threatened legal action against the City of Miami Beach for breach of contract.


Coming to a decision on the original competition, won by OMA early last summer over the Danish firm BIG, led by Bjarke Ingels, was hardly a clear-cut matter. Initially, the Miami Herald reported the Portman Team with BIG as the winner. Just a few days later, OMA was announced as the winner. Was this sort of confusion a portent of bad tidings for the future for this project? After the selection of OMA—and this was before the election of the new mayor—sticker shock apparently set in, and downsizing was now on the table. When the new mayor took over, the competition results were scuttled, which has led to the present situation: a new start for a much less ambitious project was announced with a new RfQ. The result: there is a looming court case between ACE/OMA and the City.

The Project

Developing the site of the present Miami Beach Convention Center into something it is not is a difficult challenge. This is mainly because it is three blocks from the beach. Lincoln Road, for example, derives its popularity as a shopping and restaurant destination, not only because it is a block from the beach, but is easily accessible from major hotels off Collins Avenue. This set of circumstances is what designers from OMA and BIG were faced with in their redo of the present Convention Center and its environs.

When BIG suggested the demolition of the Gleason Theater to make room for a hotel, this elicited a public outcry. To retain the Gleason, BIG’s solution was to relocate the hotel on top of the Convention Center, an idea already in the ACE/OMA proposal. BIG also proposed locating the large ballroom as a separate structure across a planned plaza from the main convention building. This led some in Miami to wonder if a plaza would work in the Miami Beach environment when conventions were not in session, some pointing out that plazas traditionally have never worked as pedestrian attractions in Miami Beach.

By locating the ballroom in the main convention center structure, OMA did manage to generate more park space. But here, some critics maintained that their scheme lacked the high-density character demanded by such an urban site. In essence, both proposals endeavored to provide the project with an ensemble, which, aside from convention center business, would act as an urban generator for activity. Given the location and peculiar set of circumstances, this would have seemed to be an almost insurmountable task, even at $1.1 billion. A giant farmer’s market might have been what the site needs.

Entry by OMA:

6 mbcc hotel entry copyright oma

2 mbcc convention center entry copyright oma  4 mbcc 17th st view copyright oma

7 plaza view mbcc copyright oma  9 18th st mbcc copyright oma

10 view up pennsylvania ave mbcc copyright oma  13 south concourse mbcc copyright oma

f1 exhibit hall plan mbcc copyright oma  f4 60k ballroom plan mbcc copyright oma

masterplan mbcc copyright oma


Entry by BIG:

mbs image by big - botanical garden hover

mbs image by big - botanical ballroom  mbs image by big - convention canvas - rooftop bar

mbs image by big - convention center square entry  mbs image by big - east residential units

mbs image by big - gleason theater and hotel  mbs image by big - landscape blocks

mbs image by big - meeting room prefunction  mbs image by big - miami beach square - arrival

mbs image by big - northwest entry - cc drive  mbs diagram by big 05

mbs modelshot by big 01