By Maya Bell

Siting Soccer

By Maya Bell
UM architecture students design Miami’s fantasy soccer stadium and learn about reality.

To electrify the crowd in an intimate Major League Soccer stadium on downtown Miami’s Biscayne Bay, one design team envisioned a continuous line of hollowed spheres along the roofline that would contain the roar of 20,000 fans.

“It will feel like a stadium of 70,000,” Sabrina Valerio explained Monday as the lights went down on a rather unusual Studio Final Review in the School of Architecture’s Stanley and Jewell Glasgow Lecture Hall.

That’s where ten very poised fifth-year architecture students presented what for many of them will be their final studio projects to a jury of architects and a rapt audience that included two Miami-Dade County commissioners and the director of the Miami-Dade Sports Commission. 

Though designing a waterfront stadium for a potential new MSL soccer team behind the AmericanAirlines Arena was entirely a theoretical exercise, the studio projects attracted considerable outside attention because the idea originated with Alessandro Butini, a London-based businessman who, along with a competing group led by soccer icon David Beckham, is trying to bring MLS to Miami in real life. 

When Butini, hoping to engage the community, proposed that the University of Miami’s School of Architecture take on the MLS stadium as an exercise, lecturers Jorge Trelles and Rick Lopez jumped at the opportunity to offer the project to seniors this semester. And, as Acting Dean Denis Hector noted in introducing the unusual guests in the audience, Trelles and Lopez “seemed to have outdone themselves.’’

In addition to Valerio and teammate Amanda Bonvecchio’s sphere-rimmed design inspired by the ancient circular amphitheater in Epidaurus, Greece, the jury and visitors were suitably impressed by the other four proposals. 

They included Dennis Szaplaj and Taylor Nunes-Agins’ translucent fish bowl, which extended NE 10 Street to the water’s edge; Fausto Rivas’ PuntoPlaza, which is reminiscent of the zig-zagged concrete contours of the Miami Marine Stadium; Paul Genovesi’s Biscayne Bowl, which incorporates elements of the open-ended Orange Bowl and extends a hill from the park into the stadium; and, last but not least, the Arrecife of Miami, which was inspired by the texture of a coral reef. It was designed by a team consisting of Joel Casimir, Carlos Rodriguez, Lily Valdes and Francela Veliz.

“In all cases, the projects are successful and believable,” observed one juror, Adib Cure, assistant professor in practice.

Assuming the role of consultant throughout the projects, Butini shared his knowledge of MLS requirements with the students and, along with Trelles and Lopez, a vision for a stadium linking Miami’s Bayfront Park to Museum Park, home of the new Perez Art Museum Miami, which opened just last week. 

But adding another veneer of reality to the theoretical exercise, Butini and the practicing architects who teach the design studio abruptly changed the site of the proposed stadium to resolve access issues raised by the Miami Heat. Just five weeks before the student projects were due, they moved the stadium from a small, narrow parcel behind the AmericanAirlines Arena to a slightly larger adjacent site just to the north.

As Trelles noted, “The students freaked out, but this is what happens in real life.” 

Amazed that the last-minute change was barely mentioned in their presentations, Jean-Francois Lejeune, professor and director of graduate studies, encouraged the students to mention their professional flexibility in their portfolios.

Asked to explain how she and Valerio adjusted, Bonvecchio’s answer showed they had heeded the inherent lesson. “We didn’t have an option,” she shrugged, “so you have to roll with the punches.” 

Maya Bell can be reached at 305-284-7972.