5 Best Buildings

We asked six people who know a bit about these things to list the five best buildings in the city. Some of their choices might appear obvious – one building made all but one of the lists – while others will surprise you.



Published date: 

Jul. 6, 2014

abbate.jpgAnthony Abbate, professor, Florida Atlantic University School of Architecture

Broward County Main Library, designed by Robert Gatje of the notable modernist firm of Marcel Breuer and Associates, is one of the few internationally recognized buildings in Florida. The library is an example of “passive” design for climate, with deep sunscreens on the east, west and south façades that protect the interior from the sun.  It is the only example left in Fort Lauderdale of a multi-story application of native “oolitic limestone” and the interior atrium concept served as a model for other metropolitan libraries across the U.S.

Sears Town, designed by Robert Law Weed and opened in 1955, is the best example I can find of a commercial shopping center designed for South Florida. Weed inverted the usual parking lot and strip center relationship, placing the parking at the center and surrounding it with shops protected by generous cantilever that provides continuous and uninterrupted protection from the sun and rain.  The overhang actually includes flip-down soffit panels that were designed to protect the storefronts from hurricanes!

2nd Presbyterian Church, designed by the Philadelphia firm of Harold Eugene Wagoner, is a preeminent example of midcentury subtropical design. The west facade features a stained glass and masonry screen wall that was featured on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post (April 24, 1961). 

Sea Tower, designed by the Miami firm of Polevitzky-Johnson. This 11-story co-op apartment tower tropicalizes the international modernist style. An excellent example of a larger scale building designed for the barrier island site and neighborhood. 

Dan C. Duckham house and studio, designed and built in phases during the early 1960s, is an example of a modern architect’s experimental prototyping for residential construction.  Duckham was a proponent of economical building that is of the place, following the modernist – and specifically the Wrightian – concept of “organic” architecture that reflected on the indigenous land and place, as well as time and humanity. In South Florida this translates to the use of unadorned and unfinished concrete blocks, cypress wood and glass arranged to take full advantage of natural ventilation, vegetation, water and views.

clearwater.jpgBonnie Clearwater, director of NSU Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale

NSU Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale is a sterling example of modernist architecture. With its sweeping spiral staircase, soaring sky-lit atrium and spacious galleries, it is ranked as one of Edward Larrabee Barnes’ masterworks.

Broward County Main Library The facade of this building represents the best of “Brutalist architecture,” which once again is in vogue due to the structures of Herzog and de Meuron.

Kennedy Homes This residential complex by Margi Nothard is proof that experimental architecture can transform a community by providing elegant and accommodating affordable housing.

Girls’ Club Margi Nothard’s inventive use of materials makes this small gallery one of the most versatile sites for the display of contemporary art.

Stranahan House This historic landmark is a reminder of the city’s roots and contributes to the “authentic” flavor of Fort Lauderdale as it continues to evolve.

Tuthill.jpgRobert Tuthill, architect

Pier 66 Tower Built at a time when other cities were constructing tall towers, or needles, for a sense of identity. The tower, with its unassuming scale and delicate grace, stands proudly as a landmark with its pointed balconies and radial roof recalling the rays of the sun.

Sea Tower One of the strongest features of this building is its stair tower – the scissor stair “punches” through the curved wall forming abstract waves. The exterior walkways are linked by white precast forms that have the look of floating sea grass as it washes trellised light on the west facade. The east side of the building curves toward the ocean as if it’s trying to hold it. 

Keenan Building/Citibank Building The ’60s brought us plenty of Jetsons-style buildings, but few have been renovated in such a way that the spirit lives on. At the intersection of Federal and Oakland, I always admire the tile mosaic on the east wall, with its artful rendering of the South Florida lifestyle. The curved glass wall reflects the sky and surrounding palm trees, giving the illusion that the building is located in the middle of a tropical oasis. 

City Parking Garage Designed in the city center not as a separate monolith but as a porous framework that is woven into its surroundings. Traffic runs through it, around it and in it. It is open on all ends, allowing sun, air and view to exist together. The subtle grey fluted block blends visually with the street and thus doesn’t compete with the architecture of the neighboring buildings. 

Saint Anthony Church Unlike assembly buildings that dominate their settings, Saint Anthony Church is a sweet building that blends into its neighborhood in a gentle way. The façade is an understated mix of washed stucco, coral and terracotta tile. The deep-set windows and doors have only limited amounts of coral treatment and a sparkle of stained glass as punctuation. Proportion and balance create the building’s elegance; the iconic bell tower is the only element that breaks from the otherwise simple “house-like” form.
nothard_oconnor.jpgMargi Nothard, founding director and designer of Glavovic Studio, and
Terence O’Connor, senior architect and vice president of Glavovic Studio

Broward County Main Library, 1984, is an exceptional pivotal public space central to the north-south spine of downtown, connecting the New River, Museum of Art and City Hall (north of Broward Boulevard). It includes a wonderful experience of landscape, in upper and lower terraces carved into vertical spaces for circulation and contemplation, natural light and exceptional public art including an Ivan Chermayeff on the southwest corner and Solar Time Plane by Dale Eldred on the north side.  

Birch Tower is iconic. Designed by Charles McKirahan (everything he did is brilliant) and built in 1960, it integrates compelling architecture, color, beach living and Florida modernism.

Girls’ Club, renovated in 2007 by Glavovic Studio, is a personal favorite for its innovative approach, use of materials, simplicity, extraordinary program bringing arts programming to the community and adaptive use of a building with sustainable local materials. 

Bill Bigoney House, designed by Bill Bigoney. This 1969 “Tree House” is a sanctuary for learning, living and exploring the environment and architecture through the lens of a genius. Florida living – watching kestrels, green herons and manatees through glass floors, experiencing natural materials and daily inspiration.

Kennedy Homes, 2013, designed by Glavovic Studio. Innovative, ambitious, affordable housing project, LEED for Homes Gold, gateway to Fort Lauderdale, it creates a new concept for living with nature and for downtown transit-oriented housing for everyone.  It also includes art, artists, signage, wayfinding and exceptional landscape design and community spaces.  

Kaizer.jpgKaizer Talib, architect

Public or Institutional Building
Broward County Main Library This building was developed during the late-modern Brutalist period and is well-placed with a large plaza, water pool and fountains. There is also a solar-activated sculpture by Dale Eldred. The building has a dramatic atrium with a painted metal wall sculpture by Yaacov Agam and, on the exterior, a tile mural by Ivan Chermayeff. The concrete structure includes Florida limestone inlays. Currently its plazas mercifully provide spaces of relief for the homeless and the destitute in the heart of the city.  

Arts and Science – Recreational Building
Museum of Discovery and Science Architect Verner Johnson. Built in 1992, the building is educational to both the young and old with its interactive exhibits. The shaded entrance courtyard has a large mechanical clock running on gravity. An array of photovoltaic panels recently installed along the façade create a notable green and sustainable energy feature appropriate for a science museum.  

Historic Building
Stranahan House This historic home was built in 1901 for pioneer settlers Frank and Ivy Stranahan. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places. Part of its unique design is the original Florida and tropical style. The use of local, small-scale construction methods and materials can be seen everywhere. The verandas provide shade while the interior spaces and floor-to-roof ventilation accommodate the subtropical climate.

Condominium Building – Housing
Las Olas River House The sculptured towers are like tall lighted candles visible from the north and south and along the riverfront. The graceful setting along the New River recognizes the public spaces surrounding it, while the condominium itself provides graceful living and an active urban lifestyle.

Single-Family Residence
450 Victoria Terrace Architect: Kaizer Talib/Urbanform Design Group Inc. Built in 2007, this house has been written up in Dreaming Green: Eco-Fabulous Homes Designed to Inspire as one of the first green and sustainable design homes. It is passively designed to save energy in our subtropical climate, utilizing several green design principles. The rooftop photovoltaic panels generate electricity and the solar hot water panel provides for all hot water needs. Some other features such as the use of water-cooled compressors for cooling, induction cooktop, energy-saving kitchen appliances and use of carefully selected green material make it exemplary for energy conservation living.