Posts tagged with "Florida":

Placeholder Alt Text

Is Jacksonville, Florida’s best hope for a post-climate change megacity?

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

Increasing economic and environmental pressures have the potential to challenge the resiliency of South Florida’s low-lying urban areas in the near future. As Florida’s population continues to grow in the midst of the increasingly obvious impacts of gentrification, global climate change, and sea level rise, economic and environmental displacement are likely to make the northern city of Jacksonville a beacon of hope for a climate-ravaged state.

Why? Because Jacksonville is huge and has room to grow. The city, named after President Andrew Jackson, also first governor of Florida, is the state’s largest by population and the 12th largest in the U.S., population-wise, with 868,031 residents. Jacksonville is also the largest city in the U.S. by land area—874.3 square miles—making it almost twice the size of Los Angeles and about three times that of New York City. The city’s corresponding 1,142 people per square mile density—L.A. and New York are many times denser—means there is plenty of room to grow.

Ruth L. Steiner, professor and director at the Center for Health and the Built Environment in the department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Florida, Gainesville, said: “I think the area is amenable to accepting large amounts of new growth,” adding that though the region could likely support an influx of new residents, its schools, transportation, and land-use policies would need a healthy dose of re-thinking to be ready.

A question regarding the massive growth in southern and central Florida, however, centers around the long-term sustainability of these new population centers as the impacts of climate change and sea level rise threaten the state’s coastal communities. With sea levels predicted to rise between four inches and up to ten feet across the region, low-lying areas of the Miami region will see massive losses in real estate and untenable retrofitting costs. The simultaneous and ongoing population growth across that region will likely ultimately push residents to flee to higher, cheaper ground.

That’s where Jacksonville comes in. Though some parts of the city lie on the coast, much of the city’s land area currently sits roughly 16 feet above sea level. As of 2010, Jacksonville had 366,273 households with an 11.8 percent vacancy rate, meaning that roughly 43,220 units are currently unoccupied. The relatively high vacancy rate means lower rents and, maybe more importantly, lower economic barriers to homeownership for first-time buyers—a growing problem for Miami’s millennial residents. Jacksonville is also home to the nation’s largest urban parks system, with 80,000 acres of parkland distributed across 337 sites, which according to Steiner, “bodes well” for any future urban development. She explained, “Investment in public infrastructure like parks has a high level of pay-back in terms of raising quality-of-life.”

Steiner added that the city faces challenges in terms of its urban layout; “another dilemma is the city’s sprawled out urban form,” she said, adding that because most of the development in the city has happened since World War II, the city is organized along “a series of major arterials and mega-blocks,” a 3,400-mile long network of roads that deters pedestrian-oriented design. Jacksonville also has a bus-only transit system that, aside from a downtown monorail line, leaves much to be desired in terms of mass transit.

The city, a short drive from the University of Florida’s Gainesville campus, is, however, poised for knowledge worker growth. Not only that, but the vast majority of Florida’s recent population growth is not from an increase in births or even migration from other American states, but from a net influx of individuals moving to the state from foreign countries, with Cuban, Venezuelan, and Haitian immigrants showing up in the highest numbers. The impact of climate change on those countries is currently unknown, but it is safe to assume that those communities would continue to grow should conditions back home deteriorate.

In a not-too-far-off future, could Jacksonville provide a relief valve for the growing state? It’s likely, and if city officials can prepare accordingly, Jacksonville’s new residents might learn to love the city. “Sometimes,” Steiner added, “I think Jacksonville is a diamond in the rough.”

Placeholder Alt Text

The old mall is dead and Florida’s largest retail developments are showing what comes next

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

When Victor Gruen designed the first contemporary American malls in the mid-1950s, he changed the changed the way Americans shopped. Much to his chagrin, however, what malls would become over the next 50 years would be far from the civic social suburban spaces that he had envisioned. He would eventually distance himself from the typology.

Today, malls, as a typology, are going through major change. Whether due to a changing economy or a changing customer base, malls—as 1990s mall rats knew them—are disappearing. Instead, new configurations and old ideas are shaping the way people are shopping, and if there is one place to look at this change, it’s Florida.

Florida has weathered the last decade relatively well. Buoyed by its massive tourist industry and the ever-replenished retiring baby boomer population, malls across the state still draw crowds. Even so, these palaces of consumerism are not impervious to the changing tastes of the country. As national retailers such as Macy’s and J.C. Penney fall on hard times, the anchor stores have become literal anchors—dragging.

Although new “traditional” malls are rarely being built, shopping centers are still popping up, or being reformatted. Perhaps ironically, one of the most popular mall replacements are retail streets. Many of these have been commercial centers for decades, but so many of them declined as malls gained in popularity. Across Southern Florida, the towns and suburbs surrounding Miami have rushed to remodel and reinvigorate their “urban” shopping streets.

The next of these to be realized will be Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile. The half-mile main east-west drag through town, Coral Way, has been home to numerous mom-and-pop stores, many of which have struggled to survive. The urban design, by New York firms Cooper Robertson and Local Office Landscape Architecture, aims to replace the narrow sidewalks and copious angled street parking with a more pedestrian-friendly experience. Flexible plazas, outdoor dining spaces, enlarged planted areas, redesigned wayfinding graphics, and an improved lighting scheme will be used on and beyond the Miracle Mile. Stretching off on neighboring side streets and focusing on intersections, the plan will reframe the area as a full retail district. While the model for the project is a European shopping experience, overhead LED lighting and bright street pavers will be decidedly Florida, evoking the shapes and movement of raindrops and water ripples.

The Miracle Mile will be just one of the many revitalized shopping streets in the Miami area. It will join Palm Beach’s Sunset Drive and Worth Avenue, and Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach as alternatives to traditional malls. Yet while these more established venues are seeing new life, traditional malls are being completely rethought. New retailers and new customer expectations are being formalized as street-mall hybrids on a scale that has not been seen before.

The Miami Worldcenter will be a 27-acre mixed-use development in downtown Miami. At the heart of the $2 billion project is a “High Street retail promenade and plaza” which will include retail, dining, and entertainment along a pedestrian street. The project is so large—it will also contain 2,000 residential units and 1,700 hotel rooms—that it will connect the Central Business District and the Arts & Entertainment District, changing the way tourists and Miamians move through the downtown.

Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects is leading the master planning as well as designing three of the buildings for the project. The firm’s experience designing the extremely popular Grove and Downtown Disney projects in Southern California make it particularly suited for the project. Even so, the Worldcenter is on a much larger scale and addresses particularities of downtown Miami.

“Miami is evolving from a car-centric city to a pedestrian-oriented city,” Howard Elkus, founding principal of Elkus Manfredi said. “By focusing the energy of our project at the street level, we are able to create more vibrant streets and public spaces. Our dynamic open-space network now includes a system of parks, plazas, and car-free promenades anchored by a major urban plaza that will become the heart of Miami.”

In its original form, the Worldcenter resembled a more traditional mall, a three-level indoor shopping experience with large big-box anchors. Over the course of the design, the nature of retail had changed enough that the anchor-store model was rethought. The project quickly shifted to a more urban plan with separate blocks and pedestrian streets. Luckily for the development, a recent change in Miami’s zoning code made the project possible as an outdoor retail district. In particular, the Miami 21 zoning code, a new form based code that regulates building form standards, public space, and street standards. The code is guided by base tenets of the New Urbanism and Smart Growth movements. Both focus on pedestrian- and community-based design.

As customers demand more engaging shopping experiences with more complex programs, retail developers are not far behind with epic new shopping districts. From rehabilitated retail streets to newly built mixed-use districts, shoppers may soon be more likely to run into dapper flaneurs than escalator-riding mall rats.

Placeholder Alt Text

Miami's working-class neighborhoods organize to reject gentrification

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

Across Miami-Dade County, organizations like Miami Homes For All (MHFA), Struggle for Miami’s Affordable and Sustainable Housing (SMASH), Miami’s People Acting for Community Together (PACT), and Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami (FANM), among others, have been instrumental in launching affordability campaigns across threatened and economically distressed neighborhoods. In the process, these groups are lending a voice to many of the Miami working-class communities as the forces of gentrification and luxury development rewrite the region’s urban fabric.

Miami real estate is booming but in all the wrong ways. A recent flowering of luxury condominium development coupled with a surging population and decades’ worth of under-building have pushed rents sky-high. Miami’s growing urban core—especially the neighborhoods of Brickell, Overtown, and Wynwood—are beginning to push past their traditional neighborhood boundaries, destabilizing surrounding communities. According to the 2016 Housing Miami Together report compiled by MHFA, an advocacy group dedicated to alleviating local poverty, Miami has the nation’s highest percentage of rent-burdened households. In response, advocates are pushing for increased development of affordable housing units and for mixed-income and transit-oriented developments across the region.

MHFA held a special housing summit in 2016 that spawned the aforementioned report. The conference led to increased efforts by groups like nonprofit housing developer South Florida Community Development Coalition (SFCDC) and PACT, a direct-action organization made up of religious congregations and groups, to push the county to implement a slate of pro-affordability reforms. The groups were instrumental in getting the county to establish an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that would be used to harness additional resources for new affordable units. The county contributes 25 percent of proceeds from certain county-owned land sales to the fund, which itself dedicates 50 percent of overall resources toward the development of very low– and extremely low–income housing. MHFA also provides Section 8 project-based vouchers through the Miami-Dade County Public Housing and Community Development Department in order to embed Section 8 housing in market-rate developments.

MHFA executive director Barbara Ibarra said, “We treat homelessness as a part of the affordability crisis,” adding that her group is focused on what is referred to as a “continuum of housing” that spans from the market-rate sector to various other income-defined groups, including formerly homeless individuals. Ibarra explained that MHFA is working, broadly speaking, to expand the prevalence of mixed-income communities across the Miami-Dade County area. She added, “It’s frustrating to see luxury development going on without any forethought being put to housing for people who take care of and work in those buildings. [Developers] have not been building housing for them.”

And it shows. A big problem in the rental market due to the apartment shortage has been the rise in slumlord-controlled properties. Adrian Madriz, project leader at SMASH, an initiative within the Center for Social Change, said, “Our organization seeks to smash the slumlords that target Liberty City and Overtown. They are grossly negligent and keep buildings in woeful disrepair.” The group’s program in those neighborhoods has seized properties from area slumlords and converted them to community ownership via a community land trust. The units are ultimately renovated as affordable housing and rent-to-own properties. Madriz added, “People are being priced out of decent living conditions. They’re being forced to live in places with cheaper rents in properties that are in worse repair.”

SMASH is currently working on two housing projects and is looking to develop emergency housing solutions for residents removed from extremely dilapidated or unsafe living conditions. For the latter effort, SMASH is looking to modular, shipping container, or prefabricated building systems to increase housing availability substantially. Madriz explained that certain shipping container designs can be engineered to be stronger than typical Type-V construction, an important consideration in the hurricane-prone region.

Developers, advocates, and city agencies are also working to implement a mix of so-called “2-percent fixes” like density bonuses for inclusionary housing, relaxed parking requirements, and upzoning measures. The measures individually boost housing production slightly and when taken together can make for sizable shifts in housing affordability. Regional partners are using these measures in order to incentivize the development of more deed-restricted affordable and less expensive market-rate units.

Miami-Dade is currently redeveloping the Liberty Square public housing projects in North Miami. Seven hundred existing units will be rebuilt as a 1,500-unit mixed-income, mixed-use community by developer Related Urban Development Group. Alberto Milo Jr., principal and senior vice president, said, “There has been a void in the development of workforce housing within the City of Miami,” adding that too many projects are “being developed with either all low-income or all market-rate units, but nothing in between.” Related’s growing portfolio in the region will include increasing amounts of mixed-income housing to take advantage of new incentives aimed at increasing affordable resources via mixed-income developments. When asked about whether mixed-income developments can relieve pressure on Miami’s historic working-class neighborhoods, Milo explained that they “are essential to the long-term viability of these lower-income neighborhoods, and will give quality housing choices to many working individuals and families.”

Ibarra also supports the idea, and described expanding the inclusion of low-income housing units in transit-oriented development across the city as “very critical” to maintaining affordability.

In many ways, the emerging mixed-use and transit-oriented trends pit developers and newcomers focused on a vision for a denser, transit-accessible—and, potentially, more equitable—Miami against longtime residents increasingly being priced out of their own neighborhoods. The sentiment led the neighborhood of Little Haiti on the city’s north end to fight for official city designation as developer Cho Dragon Management and architects Arquitectonica pursue a new 15-acre “innovation district” there. The $1 billion project aims to bring a 30,000-square-foot coworking space, a sculpture garden, and a 15,000-square-foot innovation center to the neighborhood. The problem is that new developers working in the area have taken to branding their projects after the historical moniker Magic City, a designation taken from a time before the neighborhood was populated by Haitian immigrants. FANM, an organization in Little Haiti that works to empower and deliver social services to Haitian women, recently worked to get the Little Haiti neighborhood officially designated by the city. The fear among the Haitian population is that as development moves in, Little Haiti will be wiped from the map.

FANM’s efforts paid off when the city council voted to approve the designation. At the meeting, Marleine Bastien, executive director of FANM, said, “We are elated. Now no one can come and erase the name of Little Haiti. If this decision was not made today, in a few years Little Haiti would disappear.”

Placeholder Alt Text

40 years after its founding, the landmark firm Arquitectonica continues to shape Miami and beyond

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

Arquitectonica was founded in 1977 as a loose collective of designers working out of a Miami strip mall. The original five members were Bernardo Fort-Brescia, Laurinda Spear, Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Hervin Romney. Though Duany, Plater-Zyberk, and Romney eventually went off in different directions Fort-Brescia and Spear remained as Arquitectonica and created the most important Miami architecture firm in the world. They gained early fame for their Brickell Avenue high-rise, the Atlantis Condominium. The Atlantis appeared over the credits of the television show Miami Vice in the 1980s and helped create the image of glamorous style now associated with the city.

The firm is the first one in South Florida to have an ambition larger than the city itself and has built all over the country and overseas. It now has over 850 employees working in eight other cities from Paris to Shanghai and is currently building in 58 countries around the world.

A survey of the firm’s projects currently on the boards reveals an astonishing number of large skyscraper and complexes that display its ability to create stylish exterior facades and interior public spaces.

Arquitectonica has built dozens of important buildings in Miami, but one that highlights its current design philosophy is the massive Brickell City Centre just blocks away from its early residential buildings. The Centre is a massive 4.9-million-square-foot development on 9.1 acres, including an underground car park, two mid-rise office buildings, two residential towers, a hotel with residences, and 500,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space. The centerpiece of the project is a large open-air shopping mall covered with a sculptural glass canopy called the Climate Ribbon (designed in collaboration with Hugh Dutton Associés, Cardiff University, and Carnegie Mellon University) that snakes through the projects and acts a brise-soleil and flange for catching prevailing winds. Fort-Brescia was tasked with developing the uniform look of the Centre in his signature glass-and-steel manner.

Brickell City Centre sits adjacent to the city’s geographic heart and connects to key transport nodes by incorporating the Metromover light-rail station and offering easy access to all major highways. Arquitectonica is known for developing stylish interiors and even product design (lead by Spear) but in Brickell Centre they are virtually designing a new city within a city that will likely become the new heart of the region.

Placeholder Alt Text

Optimism fuels Miami's mega-developments, but a denser Miami isn't a sure thing

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

New York or Los Angeles?

These are the two contrasting models of urbanism that Raymond Fort, designer at Miami-based architecture firm Arquitectonica, cites when asked about Miami’s future. In New York, numerous walkable neighborhoods—whose density, convenience, and character are major assets—are connected by a robust public transportation system. In Los Angeles, low density and car-oriented urbanism is the norm outside the downtown core (though transit-oriented development has begun to spread in recent years). Many developers working in Miami are clearly enthusiastic about the New York model. However, that future isn’t guaranteed: The potential for car-dominated sprawl and other hybrid models still exist.

Arquitectonica is behind Brickell City Centre, a 5.4-million-square-foot complex of offices, luxury condos, a hotel, and ample retail south of Downtown Miami. Developed by Swire Group, Brickell is one of the many large, mixed-use developments in Miami that signals movement toward density. Phase one opened late last year, and phase two will entail an 80-story mixed-use tower.

Just north of downtown, there’s Miami Worldcenter, a 17-million-square-foot, 27-acre complex. It’s a joint venture by multiple developers, with Boston-based Elkus Manfredi leading the master plan and designing the center’s phase one, which is anchored by a 1-million-square-foot retail podium. Phase two is a $750 million convention center and hotel.

Development isn’t only concentrated in the urban core. About two miles north of Downtown in the Wynwood neighborhood, developer Moishe Mana and Miami-based Zyscovich Architects are poised to build a 9.72-million-square-foot, 23.5-acre development that will feature as many as 3,482 residential units, a mix of retail, office, and cultural programming, as well as an extensive public “Mana Commons” that will cut through the complex’s cluster of medium-rise towers. Dubbed Mana Wynwood, it won approvals last September. More like it may be on the way: In Little Haiti, the Eastside Ridge development will replace 500 townhouses with 7.2 million square feet of mixed-use development, and another project dubbed “Magic City(also located in Little Haiti) would see an innovation center, business incubator, housing, retail, and other art-entertainment facilities arise across a 15-acre campus.

What’s driving all of these major concentrations of development? In part, affluent young professionals across the U.S. are moving to cities seeking walkable, transit-connected neighborhoods, and developers are eager to meet that need. But there are factors unique to Miami. One is the city’s zoning: The Miami 21 code, implemented some six and half years ago, has significant parking requirements that incentivize large developments. For example, in dense high-rise areas, the code mandates 1.5 parking spaces per unit. Consequently, smaller projects struggle to meet the logistical and economic challenges of incorporating that much parking into their site. Bigger projects can more easily integrate a parking garage into their lower levels. Furthermore, if a development covers nine contiguous acres, it can qualify for a Special Area Plan, an arrangement that allows developers more flexibility in situating parking and negotiating the rules of Miami 21’s form-based code. This maximizes the development’s value. Brickell, Mana Wynwood, and the Worldcenter, as well as virtually all of Miami’s major developments, are (or have applied for) Special Area Plans.

Miami’s geography is also part of the equation. John Stuart, professor of architecture at Florida International University and executive director of its Miami Beach Urban Studios, explained how wealth from the Caribbean and Central and South America has historically flowed into Miami. “We have this gravitational pull from the south,” he said. Affluent people from Chile, Venezuela, and elsewhere come to Miami seeking “these kinds of urban experiences where they’re safe, their products are confirmed as authentic, but they’re close to their own countries….”

But the city’s geography turns from an asset to a risk when one considers the threat of extreme weather and sea-level rise. Miami Beach, which sits a mere four feet above sea level (compared to Miami’s six feet), is regularly inundated during king (high) tides and is spending nearly half a billion dollars to raise streets, install pumps, and push back the waters. Faced with such uncertainty, Stuart sees mega-developments as “just overflowing with optimism” and the belief that climate change will be remedied, ameliorated, or far enough away to not warrant significant concern in the near future.

In the shorter term, how Miami 21 and public transportation evolve may be deciding factors in shaping the city. In Wynwood, the City of Miami Planning Department is testing out a new zoning overlay that alleviates parking requirements for developments with smaller units. If Wynwood ceases to become the exception, then dense growth may not be restricted to Special Area Plan developments and the downtown urban core.

This leads to the issue of public transportation. “That’s at the core of much of what’s fragmenting the city, holding it back economically, socially, culturally,” said Stuart. “There’s very little opportunity for people who live in a neighborhood they can afford to access other neighborhoods for employment, artistic production, or other means.” Miami is in the process of funding and planning an expansion of the Metrorail, the city’s above ground heavy-rail rapid transit system. Eighty-two miles of new rail and six new lines—costing $3.6 billion—would connect the city’s burgeoning neighborhoods with each other and downtown. Complicating the situation are Uber and Lyft, whose low rates can be competitive with public transportation. Moreover, according to Fort, the prospect of driverless cars adds a new level of uncertainty to major public transportation investment.

A conversation about public transportation and mega-developments must also include the question of affordability. According to a 2016 study from the New York University Furman Center, in Miami “85 percent of recently available rental units were unaffordable to the typical renter household,” making the city the least affordable for renters among the country’s top 11 metro areas. But there are glimmers of hope: As development moves from the urban core and the waterfront to places like Wynwood, more non-luxury units may come online. Additionally, the city is already taking steps to increase affordable housing stock: A measure passed in late February would reward residential projects that feature affordable units with greater density and less required parking. However, while the downtown core and Wynwood don’t have large existing communities facing gentrification, that challenge may arise elsewhere. In other instances, density alone may deter development: Earlier this year, local opposition stopped a 1.2-million-square-foot Special Area Plan development east of Little Haiti.

For a firsthand experience, Fort recommends riding the Metrorail to survey the city—from there, you can see pockets of development (Coconut Grove, Little Havana, Brickell, Downtown) that he thinks could become medium-density nodes in a new polycentric city. He also cites neighborhoods like Edgewater, Wynwood, and the Design District that aren’t on the Metrorail but are still growing. “That’s what I think the next phase of development in Miami is,” he said, “where we look at neighborhoods and understand what’s missing” to make them mixed-use, denser, and affordable. Optimism for density, however, is just one of many factors—climate change, transportation technology, affordability, and zoning codes, to name a few—that will shape Miami in the years to come.

Placeholder Alt Text

Jorge “The Condo King” Pérez: Trump's wall is "the most idiotic thing I’ve ever seen or heard in my life."

This post is part of our years-long running Eavesdrop series (think page 6 for the architectural field). It’s your best source for gossip, insider stories, and more. Have an eavesdrop of your own? Send it to: eavesdrop[at]archpaper.com.

In a now-par-for-the-course Trumpian weaponization of identity politics, the president asked Related Group president Jorge “The Condo King” Pérez—of Argentinian descent—to help build the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The real estate tycoon, who is friends with Trump and has built a couple of buildings with him, said that he declined nicely and made a joke about which side he might end up on, according to Bloomberg. Pérez said later that “The wall is the most idiotic thing I’ve ever seen or heard in my life.”

Placeholder Alt Text

A Planet Hollywood becomes a Victorian observatory in Orlando’s Disney Springs

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

When it comes to theatrical architecture, Disney rarely disappoints. So when it came time to remodel the spherical Planet Hollywood in the Disney Springs Development, it turned to Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects to double down on the theme “Dine Amongst the Stars.”

Disney Springs is located near Disney’s collection of theme parks in Orlando, Florida. The recently expanded district is home to retail, dining, and entertainment, all modeled after a centuries-old American town that evolved along an alternate timeline to our own. The remodeled Planet Hollywood was envisioned as a stand-alone destination while still fitting into this fantastical setting.

Leveraging the existing iconic dome of the Planet Hollywood, Elkus Manfredi reimagined the building as an epic late-19th-century observatory. A new brick base, complete with arched windows and truss details, adds 5,000 square feet to the project. A tensile Teflon-coated silver fabric resurfaces the dome, referencing the metal domes of vintage observatories, and completes the thematic exterior transformation. Outdoor seating and an exterior stair, encased in a radio-tower-esque structure with another exterior bar, give guests a whole new set of dining options.

The interior of the spherical building has four levels. At the heart of the space, a mock vintage telescope rises through all three of the main dining and entertainment stories. Throughout the whole project, planetary and stellar motifs adorn everything from the custom carpet to the multimedia screens, but each floor has its own character. The main dining level is large and open, connected to the outdoor terrace overlooking Disney Springs. The second level is more intimate, with a smaller dining area and a lounge area geared toward adults. The top dining level on the fourth floor is the most intimate space in the restaurant. Guests here are closest to the dome and the projected stars on its inner surface.

While the restaurant will no longer sport the familiar 1990s Planet Hollywood branding, that does not mean that everything will be replaced. Multiple displays of Hollywood memorabilia are still part of the project’s experience.

The timing of this transformation seems only appropriate. As NASA continuously announces the finding of exoplanets in neighboring star systems, perhaps this new observatory will help Disney discover its own planet… Hollywood.

Placeholder Alt Text

Miami’s infrastructure woes run deep, but the city has its eyes set on “huge cultural change”

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

Talk of “infrastructure” may be one of the few things—if not the only thing—that comes close to uniting Democrats and Republicans at the moment. It was transit infrastructure, of course, that literally united the states of America: originally with railroads in the 19th century and later with interstates and automobiles in the 20th. Today, however, some cities’ prevailing love affairs with the car have become rather one-sided.

Polluting air and clogging roads, vehicles choke our cities. Miami ranks fifth nationally and tenth globally for congestion, as residents spend 65 hours in traffic per year on average, according to INRIX, a global traffic researcher that uses big data. Adding real injury to insult, the state’s stretch of the I-95 is America’s most deadly, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There is a financial burden to excessive traffic too. INRIX estimates that congestion costs Miami drivers $3.6 billion per year (remember that figure). Additionally, drivers pay out an average of $628,000 every day in tolls, just for the privilege of using the Miami-Dade Expressway.

Cars aren’t cheap, but what is the alternative in an auto-dependent city like Miami? Director of the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW) for Miami-Dade County Alice Bravo said that she wanted to make Miami a “car-optional community,” where people can get to “all the different regions within the county using reliable public transit that’s convenient and helps people save time.”

A plethora of schemes and projects are now occurring in and around the city, such as high-speed regional rail, local rail, bus, bicycle, and pedestrian routes, water travel, and carpooling. Miami has gone from having nothing concrete in the pipeline for years to everything happening at once, and this coincides with a development boom that is more tuned for urban living than previous waves of development.

Bravo said that the backbone of the infrastructure surge is the Brightline, a completely private, approximately $3 billion scheme by All Aboard Florida. The “higher-speed” (Note: not high-speed) rail service runs the 235-mile stretch from the Orlando airport to Downtown Miami. The new line will reduce travel between Orlando and Miami from four hours to two and a half, for about the same cost as driving.

Such a commuter-rail service may sound familiar: In the late 19th century, the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) was developed by Henry Flagler. Flagler’s railway ran from Jacksonville and was dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” The commuter rail prevailed until the 1960s when the line was used to transport freight only, which it still does to this day. Unsurprisingly, then, All Aboard Florida is a sister company of the FEC and the new tracks will be laid along the existing lines.

Designing the Miami station, as well as those in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach is Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) who are working with Miami-based Zyscovich Architects. Design principal Roger Duffy explained how the stations would work with the existing infrastructure around them: “At Fort Lauderdale, we’re looking to link up with a bus service that will connect the cruise port and the station.” The city is also pressing on with plans for a streetcar system called “The Wave” that would connect with the station as well.

Meanwhile, at West Palm Beach, the 60,000-square-foot station is located at the center of downtown and will connect with the existing trolley network as well as Tri-Rail and Amtrak. In Miami, the station inhabits a similar location. A zoning override that turned the area into a special transit district was required to build the station, and tracks here are elevated 50 feet into the air so that the 11,000-foot-long station can bridge roads and pedestrian pathways.

Like any contemporary train terminus, the station will offer a ton of retail space, with room for a food court too. Duffy, however, stressed that the station was “not like duty-free at an airport,” where you have to weave through shops to get anywhere. Amenities will also cater to the area outside the building. Space for food trucks—a hit in Florida—has been provided, while skylights where the station bridges the streets offer daylight.

The Brightline train itself was designed by the LAB at Rockwell Group—an in-house strategy and technology studio at the New York architecture and design studio. The LAB at Rockwell Group worked with All Aboard Florida to conceive the Brightline name, brand platform, visual identity, and designed the train’s interiors as well as the exterior graphics. In addition to this, one of Rockwell Group’s architectural studios designed the interior check-in areas, food and beverage areas, and lounge experiences for all four Brightline stations.

Using the Brightline project as a springboard, Bravo is embarking on a $3.6 billion (remember that number?) transport scheme. Part of “Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit,” otherwise known as the S.M.A.R.T. plan, 82 miles of track will be laid along six transportation corridors that involve local services, including the suburban Metrorail and the elevated monorail Metromover.

In addition to new tracks, existing tracks are also finding a new lease on life as a haven for pedestrians and cyclists. Known as the “Underline,” the rails-to-trails scheme, comes from James Corner Field Operations (JCFO)—the same firm who developed New York’s hugely popular High Line.

As one might guess, the scheme involves area underneath the Metrorail being turned into a landscaped oasis filled with pedestrian paths, cycle lanes, and native planting. The 10-mile stretch is planned to run from Brickell Station down to Dadeland South Station. Phase one is occurring in Brickell, where work is due for completion in 2019, set to cost netween $7 million and $9 million. “Brickell has grown explosively in the past 10 to 15 years,” said Meg Daly, president of Friends of the Underline, the group leading the project. “We really believe that this trail-cum-park will offer incredible amenities and green spaces to offset the vertical growth and increased density in the area.”

Expanding on this, Isabel Castilla of JCFO listed amenities such as a dog park, an outdoor gym, a basketball court that doubles up as a space for yoga classes and similar activities, as well as a 150-capacity bicycle garage (Miami-Dade’s first) and a bike repair station. Art will also line the trail, and amenities will be site-specific: In the University of Miami area, a beach volleyball court will be installed.

According to Irene Hegedus of the DTPW, providing safe bicycle routes is a high priority. Castilla added that the shade provided by the Metrorail is “critical” for a project where people are encouraged to “walk, run, and cycle to stations and along the path.” “Working with the existing infrastructure,” she continued, “we hope this leads to the rezoning and re-visioning of areas along the Metrorail as transit-orientated development sites and areas where, as Miami continues to grow, it hopefully grows in a denser way near transit stations rather than continuing urban sprawl that is very dependent on highways and cars.”

Bravo, too, is aware of the interwoven relationship between transit development and the densification of urban areas. Another tool she discussed to further assist Hegedus’s and her ambitions was the possibility of Uber and Lyft entering the fray of her transport plans, acting as the “first and last miles” for journeys.

Now operating in Miami (after three years of lobbying for service legalization), Uber and Lyft previously found success in other parts of Florida, notably in Pinellas Park and Altamonte Springs where rides are subsidized and saving the cities considerable money. Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz described the pilot partnership as “going very well,” but said the scheme is due to end in July.

The low-cost nature of services such as Uber and Lyft is a key to their success. Already able to outprice traditional taxi drivers, ridesharing services Uber Pool and Lyft Line are looking to compete with bus service, too. Uber has gone further than mere carpooling by introducing pickup points optimized by algorithms that essentially create Uber bus stops.

Uber is also losing money—approximately $3 billion per year. In December, economist Justin Wolfers commented that “prices will rise once they’ve succeeded at monopolizing the industry.” If he is correct, the governmental embracing of Uber and Lyft long-term will prove to be shortsighted. Evidence of what happens when alternative public transit routes become unavailable can be seen in London. During a tube strike earlier this year, Uber fares surged by 450 percent; one rider was reportedly charged $138 for a five-mile trip.

It should be noted, though, that Altamonte Springs and Pinellas Park went with car sharing due to other circumstances not going their way. The Altamonte Springs city government set aside $500,000 (of which only a fraction has been needed) for private-hire subsidies after it was denied funding for a $1.5 million pilot “FlexBus” program. At Pinellas Park, the program emerged in response to a 2014 referendum in which local voters declined to adopt a one-cent sales tax to aid transit in the area.

In Miami, however, residents appear to be more enthusiastic about public transport. The “People’s Transportation Plan,” a half-penny charter county sales surtax is helping to fund the S.M.A.R.T. project, something the public voted in favor of back in 2002.

All this, too, shouldn’t suggest that Miami is waging all-out war against the automobile. Getting around by car is being made easier by what Bravo calls “smart signals”—traffic signals that adapt to current states of congestion. Using cameras, they monitor intersections and use AI to optimize traffic flow. Miami-Dade County is investing $40 million this year for the implementation of the traffic signals along major corridors, part of a five-year, $160 million effort. Other smart-city services include 300 soon-to-be-installed wi-fi transit hotspots from CIVIQ Smartscapes.

With all the proposed infrastructural plans, varying in scale, Bravo is under no illusions about the difficulty of the task. “This is a huge cultural change,” she said. However, Bravo is optimistic about how future generations will take to the changes. “New millennials are cool about public transportation,” she added. Such unprecedented growth seldom comes around often, and the chance to invest off the back of hefty tax receipts may be fleeting. Miami’s public transit system is dire, but if it continues to ride the wave of public support and enact its plans, change in the form of mobility lies ahead.

Placeholder Alt Text

An interstate conspiracy against Florida real estate?

This post is part of our years-long running Eavesdrop series (think page 6 for the architectural field). It’s your best source for gossip, insider stories, and more. Have an eavesdrop of your own? Send it to: eavesdrop[at]archpaper.com.

A developer in Miami said that there is an interstate conspiracy against South Florida architecture. “We would sell way more real estate here if the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) would stop telling everyone that Florida was sinking!” Sources have not confirmed whether either claim is true: the conspiracy or the sinking.

Placeholder Alt Text

Weiss/Manfredi tapped to master plan Naples, Florida’s cultural campus

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

Naples, Florida-based arts organization Artis—Naples hired New York-based Weiss/Manfredi to create a master plan for its 99,000-square-foot Kimberly K. Querrey and Louis A. Simpson Cultural Campus. The plan will help the campus—home to the Naples Philharmonic, The Baker Museum (formerly the Naples Museum of Art), and a handful of other arts facilities—become more cohesive and dynamic, as well as embrace its natural surroundings.

“What we’re really focusing on are the spaces between the buildings,” said Weiss/Manfredi’s Michael Manfredi, who points out that much of the campus, even though it is located less than a mile from the Gulf of Mexico, is covered in surface parking and self-contained structures. “The light, the water… to take that atmosphere and pull it into Artis—Naples is an extraordinary opportunity,” added fellow principal Marion Weiss. “They have an opportunity to have both a cultural and public dimension.”

The master plan, set to guide development on the campus for the next two to three decades, is scheduled to be ready by summer, with work getting underway next year. The designers are set to meet with Artis—Naples officials and the local community in the coming weeks.

“We’re still at the early part of this exploration. But we know that when disciplines intersect something special happens,” said Artis—Naples CEO and President Kathleen van Bergen, hinting at closer connections among the institution’s varied cultural offerings. She added: “We want them to look at the entire property and consider everything. You don’t often get an opportunity like this in an organization’s life cycle.”

Currently that property, which hosts about 300,000 visitors per year, consists of five buildings, including two performance halls (Frances Pew Hayes Hall and Myra J. Daniels Pavilion), The Baker Museum, the Toni Stabile Education Building, and the Kohan Administration Building.

Best known for its Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Weiss/Manfredi has also master planned the Nelson-Atkins Museum Cultural Arts District, and designed the Kent State Center for Architecture and Environmental Design. On this project, the firm beat out Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Hargreaves Associates, NADAAA with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, and PWP Landscape Architecture with Allied Works Architecture.

Placeholder Alt Text

Massive $3 billion development will accelerate Tampa, Florida’s growth

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

Tampa, Florida, is one of the fastest growing cities in America. But one development in particular is set to catapult it forward more quickly than any other.

Developer Strategic Property Partners (SPP) is planning a roughly 50-acre, 9-million-square-foot, $3 billion, mixed-use project on the south side of the city’s downtown that will employ more than 15 architecture teams, designing more than 20 buildings. The first phase is slated to be complete by the end of 2020.

While the full team will be announced next month, confirmed architects include Morris Adjmi, COOKFOX, and Alfonso Architects, and landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand. Master planners include David Manfredi of Elkus Manfredi Architects, Jeff Speck of Speck & Associates, and David Dixon of Stantec.

Currently the site, edging the Hillsborough River and other local bodies of water, is a warren of oversized roads, parking lots, empty warehouses, and some lonely-feeling, but important, buildings like the Tampa Convention Center, Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay History Center, and the Florida Aquarium.

In order to create a more vibrant, urban environment, the team, said SPP CEO James Nozar, is paying careful attention to elements like walkability, architectural and programmatic variety, sustainability, landscape, and public space.

“We want it to feel authentic despite the fact that everything is going up at the same time,” said Nozar, who focused on the exceptional variety of architectural talent involved, a re-instituted street grid, and a careful balance of “depth, shadow, [and] context,” and “defining where the special moments happen and where the background fabric is.”

A dizzying amount of uses include over 2 million square feet of corporate office space, 200,000 square feet of creative and tech office space, a 320,000-square-foot facility for the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, a 400,000-square-foot medical arts building, 5,000 new residential apartment and condominium units, 750,000 square feet of new retail and cultural arts uses, a new arts pavilion, two new hotels, and the renovation of the existing Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.

The project, added Nozar, is pursuing WELL Building Certification, focusing on human health and wellness elements like fitness, light, and comfort. SPP is a joint venture between Cascade Investment LLP (Bill Gates’s investment fund) and local businessman Jeff Vinik, who owns the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team.

The city of Tampa has pledged to chip in $100 million for the site’s infrastructure, including new and updated roads, sidewalks, water, sewer, and park spaces, confirmed Bob McDonaugh, Tampa’s economic opportunity administrator. “They have very ambitious plans and we’re very supportive of them,” said McDonaugh. “It’s an interesting opportunity; instead of doing this piecemeal, it seems to make sense to do this all at once.” Pending approvals, building is set to begin next spring.

Placeholder Alt Text

Facing rising sea levels and greater insurance risk, Southern Florida braces for relocations, new flood design standards, and more

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We're publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

The moon over South Florida looked like a swollen grapefruit in November, its reflection rippling off pools of ocean water that bubbled up through storm drains, crept over seawalls, and swallowed Miami streets. It was a “supermoon,” about 17,000 miles closer to Earth than usual, according to NASA, arriving just in time to supercharge the seasonal high waters known as king tides. The water made an island out of the lifeguards’ shack on Matheson Hammock Park, swept “No Wake” signs from marina harbors onto city streets, and marooned a live octopus in a parking garage along Biscayne Bay.

On days like these, it’s obvious that much of the region now home to about 7 million people began as a network of swampy canals meandering from the Everglades to the ocean. Sometimes nature conspires to remind the city of this fact, as it did in November 2016.

Lately those reminders have become more frequent. The rate of sea-level rise has tripled over the last decade, according to a recent study from the University of Miami, bringing with it more frequent coastal flooding. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects that Miami-Dade County will see about 15 inches of sea-level rise by 2045. And because South Florida sits on porous limestone bedrock, saltwater is not just encroaching on coastal communities, but gurgling up from below.

Right now it’s a nuisance, but over the lifetime of a mortgage, flooding in South Florida could threaten tens of billions of dollars of real estate and upend development in the country’s 10th largest metropolitan area. Architects, planners, and developers are just beginning to overhaul the urban landscape, laying the groundwork for a sweeping transformation of building codes, municipal infrastructure, and design norms that could save the city from rising seas.

The crucial question is: Who will change that built environment? Will it be architects and city officials, safeguarding South Florida against the effects of climate change as the world’s living laboratory for so-called climate resiliency? Or is nature coming to reclaim Miami as a swampland?

Higher Ground

South Florida’s development boom is so lucrative it seems inevitable that it will continue. Before the city was founded in 1896, however, it wasn’t clear that the mouth of the Miami River would ever be anything more than a mosquito-infested trading post—until the industrialist Henry Flagler dragged his railroad south from Palm Beach along the highest ground he could find: a coral ridge between 12 and 25 feet above sea level. The tracks reached Biscayne Bay on April 22, 1896. Three months later Miami was incorporated.

Today, Miami is a bustling, sprawling urban landscape that has been remade to suit cars, but some planners say that the same limestone ridge Flagler used could anchor climate-friendly development.

The Urban Land Institute is drafting a plan for the Arch Creek Basin, a mostly low-lying area straddling 2,800 acres and four municipalities, as well as unincorporated Dade County, around one stretch of the railroad. Primarily poor people of color, the residents of Arch Creek face a severe threat from sea-level rise—one that could eventually force them to abandon the area.

At a charette in November, designers Gustavo Sanchez-Hugalde, Max Zabala and University of Miami professor Sonia Chao presented their idea for a flood-resistant transportation hub at Northeast 125th Street. It would be transit-oriented development, dense with mixed-use buildings and affordable housing, but also with a health clinic, back-up generators and other resources that could come in handy during a disaster.

“Think of these as not just transit but resilience stations,” said Chao.

In the long run, South Florida’s scarcity of higher ground could also make its elevated areas more valuable as waters rise. That could exacerbate gentrification in minority neighborhoods with relatively high elevations like Liberty City and Little Havana.

“It’s a matter of time until investors will head for the higher land,” said James Murley, chief resilience officer for Miami-Dade County. But climate change isn’t forcing people out of their homes just yet. Asked if climate change is a driving force for gentrification in Miami, Murley is skeptical, but others are starting to look toward the future.

“Right now we’re experiencing more of the classic gentrification that comes with a growing real estate economy,” Murley said.

While the mainland mulls long-term plans to adapt to rising seas, the coastal barrier island of Miami Beach is busy building.

Planning for High Water

Over the next five years, the municipality of Miami Beach will spend $400 to $500 million on flood defenses, installing 80 new pumps, raising roads, and strengthening seawalls across the city. So far the city has funded about $200 million of that project by more than doubling stormwater fees.

A law passed last year requires the owners of buildings larger than 7,000 square feet to pay a fee if they don’t get certified as at least LEED Gold. The builders of properties that don’t get LEED certified at all get slapped with a fee equal to 5 percent of their construction costs. That could help raise money for future infrastructure investments.

Miami Beach also requires new buildings to be at least one foot above the base flood elevation of six feet above sea level. As an additional incentive for developers, the city won’t count the raised elevation of a flood-proofed site toward the project’s height limit or floor-to-area ratio.

Miami Beach environment and sustainability director Elizabeth Wheaton said the new requirements wouldn’t stunt development.

“Developers want to build here,” Wheaton said. “They’re going to do what’s required.”

The first building completed under the new elevation requirements is Jean Nouvel’s Monad Terrace, a 59-unit luxury residential tower on the waterfront in South Beach. Nouvel built Monad Terrace’s ground floor more than 11 feet above sea level, elevating all of the building’s interior spaces and its entrance high enough to ward off flooding.

Building high is an increasingly popular choice for private residences, too. The local architect Rene Gonzalez, known for his high-end modernist houses, is building four new homes in the area that are modeled on mangroves—propped up with stilts and columns for an additional layer of privacy that also affords the owner some long-term insurance against flooding. Gonzalez designed his own home on Belle Isle the same way.

“It’s a responsibility that every architect should take on,” said Gonzalez. “Building a house up is not a luxury. It’s a necessity in our current environmental climate.”

For now, however, most of that work is clustered in tony Miami Beach. In Miami-Dade County at large, where nearly half of all residents live in poverty, there are fewer options.

Because saltwater rises up through South Florida’s porous limestone bedrock, it’s not just coastal communities that are at risk. Many of the most threatened areas lie miles inland, in suburban and often low-income areas of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties that can’t afford to elevate all their homes and streets.

“It’s unavoidable that there will be relocations,” said Anthony Abbate, an architect based in Fort Lauderdale in Broward County, just to the north of Miami-Dade. “It’s a difficult conversation but I think we’re on the verge of having it. This has to be a conversation with the people, with the public.”

Miami-Dade is in the middle of a vulnerability analysis for major infrastructure, from its airport to its water system, identifying “adaptation action areas” where city planners might best focus their efforts.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and it needs to be done in short order,” said Abbate.

Some of that work is already underway. The newest addition to the county’s hospital system will pioneer a flood-friendly approach in the recently incorporated town of Doral, just west of Miami International Airport. Designed by Perkins + Will, Jackson West hospital will devote most of its 27 acres to green space and a retention pond to store runoff not just from the built-up part of the site that will house the hospital, but from the developments surrounding the site. Construction is set to begin later this year and the hospital could open in 2020.

Risk and Reward

Perhaps before it faces up to the force of nature, however, South Florida may have to reckon with its runaway real estate market. Wayne Pathman, a land-use attorney and chair of Miami’s Sea Level Rise Committee, said the face of Miami’s climate crisis might not be a natural disaster, but a collapse of the insurance market.

“Flood insurance is going to be the tip of the spear,” Pathman said. “Unlike hurricanes, which are a single event that may not happen for years at a time, sea-level rise is a constant. Once it’s here, it’s here, and it’s never going to get better.”

Pathman said some of his clients with property in Miami Beach and North Beach are already seeing a 500 percent increase in their flood insurance premiums. For now, that’s manageable, he said, because they were probably underpriced in the first place.

“When that jumps as high as $50,000 over the next 10 years, which it will, that’s alarming,” he said.

Areas that today flood two or three times each year could see water in the streets every week, and banks may stop offering mortgages there. That could have ripple effects across the region, Pathman said, jeopardizing tourism dollars and property-tax revenue that Miami-Dade and Broward counties will need to fund new climate-resilient infrastructure.

“Those are our only two industries here in South Florida,” Pathman said. “If we don’t start dealing with the insurance risk, all the ideas we come up with for future infrastructure will be cost-prohibitive because we won’t have any money.”

Reinaldo Borges, an architect who sits on the sea-level rise committee with Pathman, said the luxury houses and museums already built to deal with higher seas show climate-resilient design can provide a return on investment.

“If you design correctly,” he said, “you shouldn’t be worried about insurance risk.”

Borges has a checklist for clients who are looking to invest in the future of Miami real estate—not just flip property for a profit. It includes elevating building mechanical systems, installing hurricane-proof windows, and planning for severe floods.

“For a building like that, all you have to do before a storm is bring your pool chairs inside,” he said.

Climate-proofing one building may be a straightforward design problem. Saving a metro region of 7 million is something else.

Borges came to Miami when he was six years old, brought from Cuba by parents who sought a better life for their children. Today he has two daughters, ages 23 and 29, and he has the same hope for them.

“When you’ve got political leadership in denial, these are challenges I’m concerned about,” said Borges. “This is a world-class city, but people are starting to ask if this is the place they really want to invest.”