Arts and Humanities Architecture

Living with Climate Change

UM architecture students are researching how to modify residences to incorporate sustainability and deal with climate change.
Differing in shape and size and occupied by residents as divergent as the neighborhoods in which they are located, two single-family homes share a commonality for how a group of University of Miami architecture students would modify them: adding edible gardens, rooftop water collection systems, retention ponds, and other sustainable features.

With the changes, the homes—one a Little Havana property where a 90-year-old woman lives, the other an Overtown residence occupied by a New Jersey couple—would be able to survive the six-foot sea level rise some geologists predict will occur in Miami over the next 100 years.

“One of the things we realized during our design process was that not only could we come up with solutions that would allow our home to withstand water encroachment, but that we could do so without making drastic changes,” said Maria Eduarda Oliveira, a second-year student in UM’s School of Architecture who was part of a three-member team that developed a modification plan for the Little Havana residence located only a few blocks from the Miami River.

Her team’s design, which also proposes elevating the structure, won first place in the competition “Miami Resiliency: Adapting Residences for Climate Change.” Students were assigned to either the Little Havana or Overtown site, with winners selected in each category.

“We found Little Havana very interesting because it is a neighborhood where, despite the lack of shaded streets, people walk and bike to places nearby, be it a corner stop or a coffee shop,” said Oliveira. “There’s a life on the street that is more lively than most places in Miami.” As such, her team expanded its project to the neighborhood surrounding the home, proposing more public spaces with trees, pergolas, and different paving types.

When Jessica Stefanick and her team visited the Little Havana home for a site inspection, they found its 90-year-old resident, Carmen, outside, and seized upon the opportunity to interview the woman, learning that she lives in the house with her son and three dogs. Carmen told the students she wanted to lower her utility bills. Among the solutions Stefanick’s group came up with: raising Carmen’s house almost three feet, replacing its roof with a more energy efficient one equipped with solar panels, and installing a cistern (a container used for collecting and storing rainwater) atop a shed.

The project taught Stefanick that every aspect must be considered during sustainable design. “Even the tiniest details like color and material affect how well something works,” she said. “I hope to take the knowledge I gained from this competition and use it to its full potential in my future career as an architect.”
For the nearby Overtown property, architecture students Jiajing Cao and Isabel Sarmiento, who won first place for their design, devised a plan to install bioswales—landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from stormwater runoff—near the home.

Their project and the research they conducted for it hit close to home for Cao, who is from Shenzhen, China, a city addressing its own vulnerability to the effects of sea level rise. “It’s left a lasting impression one me,” Cao said of her work on the project.

She and Sarmiento began taking a keen interest in sustainable building after completing professor Joanna Lombard’s Architecture and the Environment course, a class taught in conjunction with UM’s Abess Center Ecosystem Science and Policy that examines the built and natural environment and the impact that each has on the other. “We study the living-building challenge,” said Lombard, “and because the students are designers, they’re not just memorizing concepts but actually applying what they’ve learned.”

Fifth-year architecture students Jonas Doggard, Laura Greenberg, Lora Shea, and Isaac Stein came up with the idea for the Miami Resiliency competition after attending the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in San Francisco last year and being swept into the growing debate on the impact of sea level rise and what architects could do to adapt existing buildings in response to climate change.

Noting that the students’ designs could be applied on a wider scale, Doggard described their solutions as “proactive approaches” to dealing with the impending peril of sea level rise, especially at a time when most efforts aimed at addressing the problem are done in response to disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

The School of Architecture, the High Waterline Project – Miami, USGBC, and the Miami chapter of the American Institute of Architects sponsored the competition. Winning teams were announced at a public discussion on sea level rise held November 13 in UM’s Korach Gallery, where an audience of about 150 people listened to architects, urban designers, politicians, and community activists talk about building smarter.

Katy Sorenson, a former Miami-Dade County commissioner who now leads the University of Miami Good Government Initiative, moderated the forum, leading it off by observing a moment of silence for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, which slammed into the Philippines on November 8, killing more than 2,300 people and leaving half a million homeless.

Robert C. Jones Jr. can be reached at 305-284-1615.