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Responding to climate change in Miami

This month’s blog is written by Francesca Bufano, Architectural Assistant at Hickman & Smith Architects and Leicester School of Architecture graduate and masters student.

Miami 2018 – An architectural tour

As of September 2017 I have been studying part time at the Leicester School of Architecture while working in practice with Hickman & Smith Architects. I had worked the previous year for the company during my Part 1 Placement Year and enjoyed my time working closely with the company directors. Their guidance and support gave me the confidence to study my Masters of Architecture as a part-time course, allowing me to develop both academically and professionally.

In alignment with my Task 1 Design Studio brief, I had the fortune of attending an academic-led trip to Miami, Florida this January. The aim of the visit was to consider how architectural sites, both historic and contemporary, address issues of climate change, rising sea levels and flooding. Miami has been identified as a high-risk city for flooding in the western world due to rising sea levels. The city recently instated a building code that requires new structures to be elevated at least six feet above sea level, with hopes to alleviate future flooding issues.

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The Art Deco District of Miami Beach is particularly at risk from the effects of climate change. This area of the city is considered to be of national significance, with over 800 buildings built between the 1920’s and 30’s in this characteristic style. The beaches are lined with boutique hotels featuring examples of the Art Deco style such as exotic flora and fauna motifs, geometric fountains or statues, and pastel shaded exteriors. The style is impressive, but is an example of architecture that doesn’t address climate concerns.

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The trip also granted us the opportunity to visit the works of significant contemporary architects including the Perez Art Museum by Herzog & de Meuron. This museum is elevated off the ground and above storm surge level to account for its proximity to the water’s edge. The vertical gardens hanging form the canopy above create a microclimate on the veranda. This reduces the extreme temperature difference between outside and inside in the hot weather.

We also visited the construction site of One Thousand Museum, designed by renowned architectural firm Zaha Hadid Architects. The building is 62 storeys tall and will contain luxury apartments. The building will prove to be one of the world’s most complex and technologically advanced construction projects featuring a unique glass fibre reinforced concrete exoskeleton.

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Other buildings of note on our trip included 1111 Lincoln Road, also by Herzog & de Meuron. The building is a mixed-use scheme and features residences, retail spaces and parking. The design features elevated slabs that provide a stunning view of the city.

We also visited Faena House by Foster and Partners, located in the Art Deco quarter of Miami beach with beautiful views of the coast. This 17-storey apartment block reflects the local character by incorporating the curves that feature in the Art Deco Style. The white curves are terraces that wrap around the living spaces and blur the boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces.

Of course, the Florida sunshine was a welcome change from the winter skies I’d left behind in Leicester, but the lasting impression from my trip is my new appreciation for the effects of real challenges like climate change and how architecture can, and must, respond to these challenges.