A narchitecture tour of Miami.

The architectural cognoscenti have long hailed Miami for its treasure trove of Modernist and Art Deco buildings. But like Los Angeles, Tijuana and the outskirts of Cali, Colombia, the city is also home to a flourishing, lesser-known school of 20th century architecture known as “narchitecture”—buildings that look as if they were commissioned by drug dealers. (For the record: it is my esteemed colleague, Rosa Lowinger, who baptized this important, if unheralded, movement.)

Narchitecture is the pit bull of architecture. It grabs you by the (eye) balls and doesn’t let go, marrying a bevy of Mediterranean styles—neo-Classical, Spanish Revival and Fascist—with the vernacular American school known as Contemporary McMansion. The structures are big, overly-decorous and unabashedly gaudy, and, in their placement, show a complete disregard for their environment. The style veers heavily towards the monumental and its decorative motifs include Spanish tile, Roman-style arches and lots and lots of Italianate columns. It is an architecture that says, “Look at me. But don’t ask what I do.”

If you’re in town for Art Basel, don’t miss an opportunity to get on a boat and see Miami’s many fine examples of residential narchitecture.

Herewith, a visual tour (click on the photos to view them large):

Big Narchitecture
Make it big: What narco would be caught dead in a simple, five-room cottage? In narchitecture, size definitely matters.

You can never have too many columns.
Narchitecture takes facets of Classical architecture and pumps up the volume. Why let just one Corinthian column do the job when you can have clusters of four?

When Deco goes Narchitecture.
Just because a building wasn’t narchitectural to begin with doesn’t mean it can’t be made to look that way through abundant and ebullient renovation. The building above retains its classic Deco silhouette, but add a couple thousand feet of Italianate balustrades, a smattering of Ionic columns, and a zingy coat of margarine-yellow paint…and presto! narchitecture is achieved.

Narchitecture decorative elements.
Bling it on: Ornamentation is essential to narchitecture, be it Classical Roman-style statuary, lithe women in thong bikinis or a very large, brightly-painted Cigarette boat that can reach speeds well beyond anything owned by the Coast Guard.

Narchitecture is watching you.
Anything with a watchtower is narchitecture. It doesn’t matter if it was built by Frank Gehry.

Narchiture meets Arabian Nights.
What is it? We think it’s narchitecture, but we’re not sure.

By C-Monster. With reporting by San Suzie, our far-flung correspondent.


  1. Mike Glier

    Hi, Nice to meet you today over lunch. Thanks for adding narchitecture to the lexicon of art. The house in the last photo was featured in CSI Miami as the house of a drug lord, a fact that confirms and canonizes this new style.

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  4. Gary Brewer

    Funny until you really consider what caused this The home-buying public, rich or poor, want traditional houses yet the architectural establishment couldn’t care less and pursue their one-of-a-kind modernist inventions that never trickle down or up Reading between the smarmy lines of your article I see a hate -the- rich attitude coupled with disdain of those who long for traditional houses Big doesn’t have to be tastless-take a trip over to Vizcaya to see execution. Easy to be critical…more meaningful to find ways to improve…

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  6. John

    I am doing an MFA in exhibit design and I have to design an exhibit based on the word “garish.” I brought up narchitecture to my fellows class mates and teacher and they all LOVED the concept, so I emailed them this article. Thanks for the delightful new word/concept.

  7. San-suzie

    John, we are available to lecture in your architecture program on narchitecture, tracing the Greek, Roman, and Colombian elements of the style, and its morphological relation to Bramante, Bernini, and Al Capone.

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  13. Rat Fink

    Having ridden past these for about 10 years from Downtown Miami I can say they are to be held in some high esteem, I guess. I never saw people using the yards, patios or boats. I saw a lot of Cuban house-keepers getting off and heading into Star Island. I could only wonder at the glittering messes they had to clean up. With a telescope I did witness a photo shoot one night from a 25th floor condo at the Beach. The girls were nearly naked and I was nearly aroused.