Architecture Students Work to Preserve Miami Beach Amid Rising Sea Levels

Renderings of 1540 Meridian Ave (Courtesy of Antonio Miragaya)

Cristina Gonzalez/Entertainment Director 

The threat of unprecedented sea level rise is not one that is unknown to residents of South Florida, especially those living in the low lying coastal City of Miami Beach. 

With projections of up to 56 inches of sea level rise by the year 2070, a question that is often posed by historians and architects is how will the city’s infrastructure be conserved. 

That is a question that FIU Architecture students are working to answer in a new advanced design studio course titled “Historic Preservation, Sea Level Rise, and Inspirational Resiliency Visions for Miami Beach in 2070.” 

Not only are we revamping an existing building, but we are ensuring the livelihood of the people of Miami.”

Antonio Miragaya, senior in Design 10 studio course.

Students will be looking at the city through an innovative lens, using current projections of sea level rise and data to visualize what the city will look like in 50 years. 

“They will have the skills to paint a new picture, with those sea levels in mind, about what that future will look like,” said John Stuart, instructor and executive director of FIU’s Miami Beach Urban Studios.

For Antonio Miragaya, a senior in Stuart’s Design 10 class, the course has introduced him to a project architects are often tasked with: revamping an existing building to fit the future needs of a client.

“Not only are we revamping an existing building, but we are ensuring the livelihood of the people of Miami,” said Miragaya. “The reality of the situation is that sea levels are rising, and we can either sit here and do nothing about it, or, as is the focus of this class, we can be proactive and prepare for the inevitable.”

In recent years, Miami Beach has started to feel the effects of sea level rise, leading to increases in urban flooding and storm surge. 

While the city has implemented a number of measures to tackle these challenges, according to Aris Papadopoulos, distinguished expert in resilience at FIU’s Extreme Events Institute, a long-term plan is still needed.

“I lived in Miami Beach for 13 years and I saw the problems and situation and I realized that Miami Beach is trying to do something about it,” he said. “But I also realized that they’re lacking in a long-term vision of where they want to be and what they want the city to become in the future.” 

Papadopoulos who has over 35 years of experience in the construction industry and who serves on the board of the UN Alliance for Disaster Resilient Societies, said that his career was what led him to start asking why our homes, buildings and communities are so vulnerable in the first place. 

“Being in the industry I saw some things that both disturbed me and motivated me to inform the public on what they really should be looking at when they’re looking at a home to buy, to rent, or to upgrade,” he said. 

This is why Papadopoulos, Stuart and city commissioner Mark Samuelian, collaborated to create the Inspirational Resilience Vision Campaign for the city.

The idea began as an International competition which invited participants to create and submit their own visions for what the city will look like. 

“We proposed a process that will involve a combination of community engagement and input but also invites thinking from all over the world,” he said. 

The international press has written a lot about the future of the city, most of it from an alarmist view, according to Papadopoulos.

“The importance of Miami Beach doing this itself is that they can manage their own vision and image,” he said. “They can provide the world with some examples of what an inspirational, positive future city looks like. Not a doomsday scenario.” 

As to what a resilient Miami Beach looks like, Papadopoulos has his own ideas, which includes the possibility of floating communities and natural landscaping such as mangroves, reducing the impact of sea level rise. 

While the plans for the competition are still in the works, Stuart is using his new course as a trial run. 

Although the renderings developed in Stuart’s course will be focused on the Miami Beach community, the hope is that other coastal areas will be able to use these models as well.

“If you go right up the coast or even inland to Hialeah, to Coral Gables, even to Sweetwater, they have many of those same issues,” said Stuart.

Stuart said that after the course is complete students will be able to professionally consult city officials who are facing the same risks from climate change. 

“They’ll have the expertise to know for example, how high the water levels are in the area they’re looking at and when they will be expected to reach certain levels,” he said. 

During the first half of the course, students select and study the history of a particular building, focusing on the Flamingo Park Historic District, from Meridian Avenue to Lincoln Road and Española Way.

“We do a deeper dive than anybody has ever done on these buildings because we feel in order to know the future you really have to know the past.”

FIU Miami Beach Urban Studios’ Professor John Stuart

Miragaya chosen building was 1540 Meridian Ave which was designed in 1974.

Breakdown of Miragaya’s chosen building. (Courtesy of Miragaya)

“My building was one of the few which had previous buildings prior to mine,” Miragaya said. What is currently 1540 Meridian, actually used to be 1542 and 1544 Meridian Ave. “

“The most important here are the Coral Stone Cladding which is a rustic architectural style, as well as the decorated parapet and stucco cladding band which establish it as a brutalistic building,” said Miragaya.

Students recently presented the histories of their chosen buildings to a panel of city officials and architectural historians including Daniel Ciraldo, head of the Miami Design Preservation League.

Students used sites such as Ancestry.com.and Newspapers.com to do their research.

“We do a deeper dive than anybody has ever done on these buildings because we feel in order to know the future you really have to know the past,” said Stuart. 

Students who are in their final year of the architecture program and wish to enroll in the course may contact their academic advisor for more information.

Currently, the course is only being offered during the fall semester.

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