Seeking Resilient Urbanism in South Florida

With nearly 20 million residents, Florida is one of the country’s fastest growing states.

Its ubiquitous suburban landscape is enabled by the continued manipulation of a dynamic estuarine environment and a pervasive real-estate-driven housing pattern. Thirty-five miles of levees and 2,000 hydraulic pumping stations drain 860 acres of water per day, resulting in the ‘world’s largest wet subdivision’ with $101 billion worth of property projected to be below sea level by 2030. The overall structure that defines Florida’s cities emerges from the combination of hard infrastructural lines, developer driven master plans, reductive normative zoning, and rigid form-based codes. These conventional tools have proven marginally effective in dealing with the increased vulnerability caused by Florida’s inherently dynamic ecological forces and constantly fluctuating environment. This renders traditional static “object-based codification,” which has defined much of contemporary urban design, inadequate and in urgent need of innovation.

By recognizing that it is exactly in the process of design and physical planning that we may be the most operative and strategic agents, this Urban Design Studio puts front and center the agency and efficacy of urban designer’s tools as they deal with issues of 21st century urbanism. It starts by rendering the exclusivity of building cities on dry ground insufficient, and accepts a state of constant hydrological flux - that is neither wet nor dry but always shifting - as the starting point of a novel and contextual “process-based” language for the future of Floridian urbanism.

Student teams designed projects that covered many scales ranging from large-scale landscape infrastructural systems to the design of housing prototypes of varying densities. The teams worked to develop a systemically driven approach that takes the hydrological extremes and ecological resonance of the context as the foundations of their formal proposition. Through the design process, students then devised a set of unique resiliency zoning, codes, land uses, programs, and typologies that are precise, yet dynamic, flexible, and responsive. These new codes and designs were collected in a compendium of urban design guidelines to be handed to the practicum’s clients as they reconsider their policy documents. By incorporating the indeterminacy of the shifting broader environmental systems, with the pervasiveness and exactitude of planning code, we establish an opportunity for the instrumentality of policy to be a part of the design process and a progeny of it.