Rising sea levels bring challenges, opportunities to South Florida

Architecture East Facades+ News Sustainability Urbanism
Miami's low altitude and high water table make it vulnerable to rising sea levels. (Ed Webster / Flickr)

Miami’s low altitude and high water table make it vulnerable to rising sea levels. (Ed Webster / Flickr)

When it comes to the urban impacts of climate change, said FIU College of Architecture’s Marilys Nepomechie, Miami is “the canary in the coal mine.”

The AEC industry has been forced to adapt after each hurricane, such as 2005's Hurricane Wilma. (Brent Ozar / Flickr)

The AEC industry has been forced to adapt after destructive storm, such as 2005’s Hurricane Wilma. (Brent Ozar / Flickr)

In addition to the perennial threat of hurricanes and the challenge of managing a hot, humid environment, AEC industry professionals must grapple with South Florida’s increasing vulnerability in the face of rising sea levels. “As water levels go up globally, places like Miami are affected,” explained Nepomechie. “This has implications for infrastructure, as well as our assumptions as to where public life happens in the city—at street level.”

But for Nepomechie and fellow architect and FIU College of Architecture associate dean John Stuart, Miami’s position on the front lines of environmental change presents a set of opportunities as well as challenges. Continually updated in the wake of devastating storms like 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, the region’s building codes—especially with respect to glazing—have made it “a model in terms of hurricane preparedness,” said Nepomechie. “While these are uniquely Miami’s for now, we have an opportunity to solve problems that will be in other places soon,” added Stuart, citing high-wind storms and high humidity as two areas in which South Florida is innovating. While for years architects, landscape architects, and engineers have looked to the Netherlands for answers to flood management, said Nepomechie, “Miami has the opportunity to be to the 21st century what the Netherlands has been to the century before.”

Nepomechie and Stuart, who will co-chair a panel on “Responding to the Environment: Sea Level” at September’s Facades+ Miami conference, are looking forward to an in-depth discussion of designing for resilience with panelists Marcia Tobin (AECOM) and Enrique Norten (TEN Arquitectos). “What’s exciting about Marcia is that she’s trained as a landscape architect and environmentalist,” said Nepochie. “Performance agendas ask architects, landscape architects, and a range of engineering disciplines [to work together]. Miami is a place where we have wonderful examples of these solutions.” Norton, meanwhile, represents the challenge of translating architectural solutions designed for other climates to the Miami context. “Enrique brings an interest in building at the quality he’s able to achieve elsewhere,” said Stuart. “He’s had to rethink building skins to maintain the [standard] he’s accustomed to.”

To hear more from Nepomechie, Stuart, Tobin, Norten, and other movers and shakers in high performance envelope design, register today for Facades+ Miami.

The Netherlands has long been a global model of proactive flood management. (Steven Vance / Flickr)

The Netherlands has long been a global model of proactive flood management. (Steven Vance / Flickr)

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