The American Institute of Architects' (AIA) 2010 National Convention kicks off June 10 in Miami, and architects from around the country will gather to explore the latest issues in design, learn new business strategies, and network with peers. Among the many events planned during the convention are a variety of local tours, including visits to several of Miami's historic residential districts and other architecturally significant homes and neighborhoods.

But for those who might be interested in deviating from the program, residential architect sought out some recommendations for self-guided touring from a local expert. Who better to suggest places of architectural note in Miami than one of the co-authors of the AIA Miami's soon-to-be-released MiamiArchitecture: An AIA Guide Featuring Downtown, the Beaches, and Coconut Grove (University of Florida Press)?

Allan Shulman, FAIA, LEED AP, principal of local firm Shulman + Associates, wrote the AIA Miami's new guide book (scheduled for release June 13) with co-authors Randall C. Robinson Jr., co-author of MiMo: Miami Modern Revealed and former executive director of the North Beach Development Council, and James F. Donnelly, chairman of the City of Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board and contributor to Tourist Nation

"Architecture is really a crucial part of the identity of what we understand to be Miami," Shulman says. "It's kind of our signature art form here."

Examples of great single-family architecture abound in Miami, according to Shulman, including one-off projects that are explorations of architectural ideas and themes.

His top recommendations for architecturally interesting residential neighborhoods are VenetianIslands, Coconut Grove, and Coral Gables. He notes Coral Gables in particular as one of the best examples of a garden city suburb in the United States.

Shulman's other top places to visit for worthy residential and non-residential architecture are:

  • SouthBeach, for its "fantastic mix" of 1920s, 1930s, and post-World War II architecture. "It's literally a multifamily city," Shulman says. Each building has a very cohesive sense of its own identity.
  • Mid-Beach, for its post-war condominiums. "It's the assemblage of the buildings that are interesting. There are stretches where they line up almost perfectly, making almost an ensemble of buildings," he says.
  • NorthBeach, for its examples of post-war garden apartments and patio buildings.
  • Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, the 1916 estate on Biscayne Bay built by James Deering. Its main house, 10 acres of gardens, native forest, and soon-to-be-restored village draw visitors 364 days of the year. "It's an incredible house, one that's contributed a lot to the construction of the city," Shulman says. "The workforce and artisans brought down to work on that house were sort of the foundations of the city. It's a great house to see, very innovatively programmed."
  • MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historic District, formerly the primary highway entrance to Miami. This newly created historic district contains 115 buildings, 65 of which are classified as historically significant. Visitors will see examples of the city's Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco, and Miami Modern (MiMo) architectural styles.
  • Biscayne Boulevard, for its many new developments. Shulman says this mixed residential and commercial district is experiencing a revival, with several new high-rise buildings, the new Miami Art Museum, and the Miami Science Museum.
  • Downtown Miami, Brickell Avenue, and the Miami River, for a glimpse at recent developments that are contributing to a densification of the neighborhoods, mainly through high-rise buildings.
  • Miami Marine Stadium, which recently was designated a historic site after a long battle over its preservation. On the verge of renovation, Shulman calls it "a very good example of concrete architecture."
  • Midtown Miami, a new neighborhood south of the Design District built on the site of a former rail yard. "It's one of the few examples in the urbanized eastern section of Miami where you have a completely new urban development from the ground up," Shulman observes. Development is still under way.
  • Design District, which Shulman describes as an "intimately scaled old main street," home to a number of architectural firms, designers, and purveyors to the design profession, as well as galleries and several good restaurants.
  • Lincoln Road, to explore the new developments recently completed and currently under way, including a new parking garage by Herzog & de Meuron; the New World Symphony Campus by Frank Gehry, currently on the boards; and the civic/convention center and Lincoln Theater, which are soon to be renovated. "It's an exciting moment not just for commercial and residential architecture, but also for civic architecture," Shulman says.

A drive through Miami's neighborhoods will illuminate the way that generations of the city's architects were intrigued by the idea of creating tropical homes, Shulman explains. "There was a kind of strategy that connects all the different styles in Miami, of trying to open the houses as much as possible to the outdoors. There was a wish among architects to create a very specific style of house for Miami and Florida, and it makes looking at the homes particularly interesting," Shulman says.

Click here for more information on Miami's neighborhoods.