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FIU’s Marilys Nepomechie and Gensler join forces to help combat rising sea levels in coastal cities

Rising seas have left coastal cities facing a harsh reality – new city design strategies may need to be implemented to combat the effects of climate change and the challenges of sea-level rise.  

Marilys Nepomechie, associate dean for faculty and program development and professor of architecture in the College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts, collaborated with Gensler, a global design and architecture firm, to discuss the challenges coastal cities are facing due to climate change in Gensler’s podcast Earth Week 2020: How cities can design for rising tides.  

In low-lying coastal urban areas like our own, rising sea levels will affect every aspect of the built environment,” says Nepomechie. “Gradually, existing structures will need to be adapted and new construction will need to respond, from the outset to the conditions we foresee in the future. New codes will need to be written, debated and enacted in order to guide the necessary changes in building, zoning and land use that will result in a truly resilient 21st century Miami.”  

Nepomechie first became involved with the issue of sea-level rise about a decade ago when Dr. Gail Hollander, a colleague from the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) invited her to work on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that was studying how climate change was creating vulnerabilities in the Miami-Dade urban regionCentered on sea-level rise, a series of projects, design studios and transdisciplinary studies grew out of the grant.  The work, representing research across the university, culminated in an exhibition at the Coral Gables Museum titled MIAMI 2100: Envisioning a resilient second century. 

FIU first collaborated with Gensler in 2018 when architecture alumna and Gensler associate, Ana Benatuil (’13), reached out to Nepomechie to co-teach a year-long architecture thesis seminar and studio for the 2018-2019 academic year. In the fall term, the thesis class focused on researching coastal climate challenges in major cities across the country and developing a framework for local partnerships to scale the development of responsive design strategies. 

Over the course of the academic year, students had a unique opportunity to work on resilience studies with Gensler offices in London, San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Washington D.C., Houston and Tampa. They also presented their projects to the professionals at the Gensler Miami offices and shared their work online with Gensler office staff around the world. 

FIU and Gensler created an exhibition and a series of public programs around the work produced in the masters project studioHoused at the Miami Center for Architecture + Design in Downtown Miami, the exhibit showcased the students’ projects and galvanized discussion about codifying preparations for climate resilience in the built environment. 

“I believe it’s critical for our studentsfuture architects and designers, to understand the challenges posed by rising sea levels,” adds Nepomechie. “In Miami and around the globe, our collective ability to manage water and respond to changing environmental conditions will determine the patterns of our lives, the shape of our buildings, and the structure of our cities for years to come. Current and future architects must be prepared to understand and address these complexities with creativity and technical skill. 

From new proposed zoning codes that encompassed the possibility of building on the water to the formation of hybrid buildings that would be able to float and move as the city changes, FIU architecture students developed innovative, visionary strategies in the thesis year to help Miami adapt to rising sea levels 

Even with rising sea levels, Nepomechie believes Miami can remain a compelling, exciting, inspiring and beautiful place to live if we act with foresight, creativity and courage.  

“The design professions are ideally positioned to envision and realize solutions to the challenges that lie ahead,” adds Nepomechie. “And FIU students and faculty are working with a broad range of industry partners, with our communitieand with our local, regional and national leadership, to ensure that we can inform the creation of a vital, resilient city. 

Gensler’s Design Exchange podcasts are available anywhere you stream podcasts.  

The research project Nepomechie, FIU architecture students and Gensler collaborated on is also available to download.  

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