Floridians have been finding ways to get above high water for thousands of years, going back to the “tree islands” that helped Seminole and Calusa tribes stay dry in the Everglades. But rising seas could soon force wholesale changes in the way our cities and towns operate. At Florida International University, this reality has prompted an inter-disciplinary architecture studio where students are experimenting with designs for climate change.
For their final presentations, students were asked to re-imagine the low-lying Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, “To create something that would be resilient for about 100 years,” says instructor Claudio Salazar.
That timeframe could leave the existing concert stage and concession stand underwater, along with much of South Florida. So students began by looking at how much dry land will be left on Virginia Key as the waves reach higher and higher. Alvaro Membreno’s slides showed two feet, then three feet of sea-level rise gradually submerging buildings and dunes near the shore. At six feet, “Mangroves and open water ends up being the [whole] island,” Membreno explained, “and that’s kind of the reality we have to design with.”
Another plan called for using fill to raise the land where new buildings would sit, prompting tough questions from the jury: “One thing I immediately wonder is where do you get the dirt from?” asked architect Mikael Kaul.
Other question marks followed talk of access roads, storm surges and a fresh water supply. As climate change takes shape, there will be lots to account for.