Creating Eco-Friendly Digs for the Everglades

By UM News

Creating Eco-Friendly Digs for the Everglades

By UM News
Architecture students are creating a prototype for eco-friendly digs at Everglades National Park.

 Its floor will be made of bamboo and recycled plastics. The pitched roof, supported by heat-treated pinewood railings, is being fashioned from a durable hand-sewn fabric, which will give the structure a tent-like appearance. And the entire abode will be off the grid, with design features for solar-powered appliances.

While the 200-square-foot eco-tent being built by a group of University of Miami architecture students may look out of place on UM’s Coral Gables campus, it will be a dwelling with a purpose.

When completed, it will serve as the prototype for 40 other structures that will eventually be erected at the southern end of Everglades National Park, giving campers a place to live during their stay in the River of Grass.

“There’ll be nothing like it there,” said Rocco Ceo, professor and director of undergraduate studies at the School of Architecture, who is supervising the students on the project.

Composed of fifth-year seniors and graduate students, the team began working on the eco-tent not long after an Everglades National Park official called the school looking for an architect. “They wanted someone to work on some of their projects,” Ceo recalled. “I told them about our Design/Build Studio and suggested partnering with them.”

The park, which lost its landmark Flamingo Lodge to Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2008, put up the $16,000 grant to fund the prototype.

In all, 11 of Ceo’s Design/Build students are constructing the full-scale model. They work three days a week in an open-air workspace behind one of the school’s Marion Manley-designed buildings, using table and circular saws, sanders, and good old-fashioned elbow grease.

The construction phase comes after an intense planning stage during which students gleaned ideas from other similar structures, coming up with a sustainable design that allows breezes to enter from any direction. They drew sketches, created 3D computer images, and built a scale model of their creation. They also designed the two double beds, table, and four chairs that will eventually go inside.

Now that the construction period is well underway, the students are glad to finally roll up their sleeves to turn concept into concrete reality.

On a recent Monday afternoon, architecture student Catherine O’Sullivan used a drill press to bore holes into a stack of aluminum fixtures that will help support the roof of the structure. “It’s a completely different dynamic from any other studio setting because we get to see our work at full scale,” she said, explaining that other projects on which they work typically end at the model stage.

“Everything has to line up,” said architecture student Meagan Sippel, taking a break from working on the deck and flooring. “There’s very little room for error.”

Students hope to finish the prototype by mid-May. Once completed, it will be taken apart and loaded onto a truck for Everglades National Park, where it will be reassembled and tested by park officials. If it passes muster, an outside company will build 40 more such eco-tents, all modeled after the prototype designed and built by UM students.

The 14-foot-long by 14-foot wide semi-permanent structures will be used by campers from late November through April, and disassembled for the Atlantic hurricane season, with only their wooden foundations remaining.

Park officials hope the new eco-tents will attract visitors and campers to the park’s Flamingo region, which lies some 36 miles south of the park entrance and was hit hard by a one-two punch of storms four years ago. “There aren’t many structures like it in the United States,” said Jose Baerga, Everglades National Park architect.

“It’s one of the better projects I’ve worked on because of its purity and strength in design,” said Jim Adamson, the Billy E. Miller Design/Build Visiting Critic at the School of Architecture, who is helping the students build the eco-tent. “It’s both functional and beautiful, a combination that’s hard to get.”