“It had to be, in my mind, the centerpiece of Miami.”—Donald MacDonald
Miami’s Overtown neighborhood was once known as “Harlem of the South,” a cultural destination for African Americans throughout the first half of the 20th century. But in what’s become a frustratingly similar narrative played out in dozens of other minority neighborhoods like Northgate and Lake Street during the 1950s and ’60s, the music stopped in Overtown when the interstate came through. I-395 created “a blighted, disconnected no-man’s land of oppressively low overpasses and closely spaced columns,” according to The Miami Herald, banishing sunlight from the center of a community whose clubs hosted the likes of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Nat King Cole.
Now, the entire region is undergoing a massive reconstruction of 395 and portions of other intersecting highways, while Overtown is enjoying a renaissance of increased investment and development. The newly built 395 will still flow above it, but the deck is being lifted from fourteen feet to sixty feet, the height of a five-story building; its lanes will flow over two spans instead of one; and the number of support columns is being reduced by three quarters—all of which will send much more sunlight down into the neighborhood. Donald MacDonald’s firm was chosen from a large field of competition to design this new section, to be capped at the nearby edge of Biscayne Bay with six massive arches intended to resemble a giant fountain.
The Fountain Bridge, seen in this rendering heading west from Biscayne Bay, is flanked by notable architecture.
Cesar Pelli’s design for the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts stands to its right, while at left (not shown) is
Zaha Hadid’s One Thousand Museum residential tower.
Starting with the Spanish influences across the city, MacDonald found inspiration for the design from the multi-tiered cascades of water at an iconic fountain in Malaga, Spain. The international airline flight patterns centered over Miami—often referred to as the center of the Americas—were further sources of inspiration. MacDonald also wanted to invoke the shooting sprays from the city’s fireboats during times of celebration. “It had to be, in my mind, the centerpiece of Miami,” MacDonald says. The bridge will feature rhythmic “splashes” of LED light along the arches and down the support cables, channeling the feel of a real fountain. “It’s hard to do bridges that are far out of the mode,” MacDonald says, but he pointed to major architectural works flanking this project such as a strikingly bold residential tower by the late Zaha Hadid. “I felt that in Miami, if Zaha Hadid could do that building, I could do something beyond.”
The project is expected to be completed in 2024. Along with it, another firm is designing fifty-five acres of green space underneath the highway. The new “Underdeck” will be the largest urban park in the city of Miami—and an attempt to reinforce the community connections that are already underway with an influx of business, residential, and retail development. “The city’s hoping this park could be a transition area where that could happen,” MacDonald says.
A fifty-five-acre urban park, the biggest in the city of Miami, is being planned underneath the Fountain Bridge portion of a rebuilt Interstate 395.
Though the new construction and the accompanying park have brought mixed reactions from longtime residents, MacDonald is hoping his Fountain Bridge design will introduce a new perspective to the area—that of a crown atop an important historical section of Miami, rather than a pass-through that covers it up. The new theme, Birkhauser says, is that bridges serve people, not cars: “It’s about healing these wounds that infrastructure has created.”