Planning for a carbon-neutral future with Miami Beach’s crunch chapter


Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time, with scientists and researchers all over the world working non-stop to help us get a better handle on the situation. Seeing that the City of Miami Beach is one of the most climate-vulnerable cities in the world, it’s no surprise that some of those scientists and researchers can be found in Miami, doing amazing work.

One such researcher is Thomas Spiegelhalter, a professor from FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture + The Arts (CARTA). Thomas is also the Principal Investigator for the research being done in Miami under the umbrella of Climate Resilient Urban Nexus Choices (CRUNCH). CRUNCH is a three-year research program sponsored by the European Union, Horizon 2020 and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Among other things, CRUNCH focuses on interdisciplinary research, studying a variety of projected climate scenarios between the years 2018 and 2100, in different locations across the globe.

Over the coming decades, the city of Miami Beach is set to face the challenges of sea-level rise, combined with yearly threats of hurricanes, king tides, and tropical rain downpours that can dump as much as five inches of water on the city in one afternoon. One of the goals of CRUNCH is to support local decision and policymakers by doing in-depth reviews of large clusters of research evidence and data on climate change, which is then translated into a series of key findings upon which practical action can be planned.

In its Miami chapter, CRUNCH’s scientific team has partnered with FIU, working closely not only with students from CARTA, but also from the as part of their overall efforts.

“This research allowed me to further my eminence in sustainable and resilient architecture and its importance in the race to mitigate climate change,” said Darren Ockert, who worked for CRUNCH as a Graduate Research Assistant. “The experience afforded by being part of this research, together with my previous experience, I believe, helped my election by the Miami Shores Village Council onto their new Sustainability & Resiliency Committee. Being part of this advisory committee allows me to use my experience to give back to my community.”

One of their initiatives consists in the development of an Integrated Design Support System (IDDS) tool for citizens, stakeholders and planners of the City of South Miami and Miami Beach.  The beta app includes scenario modeling capabilities, taking all sorts of variables into account, all based on scientific evidence and data. Involved in these efforts, we find people like Levented Juhász, a research associate from FIU’s Geographic Information Systems Center. Also, Srikanth Namuduri, a former senior data scientist for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning from the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. Not to mention, numerous research assistants, as well as other consultants and partners.

Another exciting initiative is using the data reviewed to put together hubs called Urban Living Labs (ULL), where new design models for urban living are created by architecture students with views to providing possible solutions to the problems that lie ahead. These projects represent a series of generative design studies using cutting-edge software to generate multiscale conceptual proposals for resilient, self-sufficient, carbon-neutral, and sea-level rise adaptive green-blue infrastructures for the Miami Greater Islands in 2100.

The work Thomas and his team did in this last respect has borne fruit in a new series of publications. The books are based on data-driven research results that have been applied in five interdisciplinary graduate design and master studio projects from Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019 to Spring 2020.

The first book of the series is CRUNCH DESIGN RESEARCH VOLUME 1 (Food-Water-Energy Nexus) – URBAN HYBRIDS (Franco Angeli Edizioni, Milano, 2020)). It was edited by PI Thomas Spiegelhalter and then graduate student Darren Ockert, and features contributions by various students and studio critics, which can be found in this link. The following two volumes will be published in the next few months, with Volume 3 including selected CRUNCH design studio work by Alfredo Andia, Claudia Busch, Albert Elias and Claudio Salazar, all faculty from It will also feature selected designs from international critics in Europe, Central America and the US.

All three design research books of the CRUNCH Urban Living Lab (ULL) at the Miami Beach Urban Studios are part of the International Franco Angeli’s “Edizioni “ publication series in multiple languages. The publication series will be a companion piece to scheduled public exhibitions of research work and design projects, scenario movies, animations, and 3D-printed models. From March 2020 on, all planned global exhibitions—among them at MBUS Washington Gallery and Venice Biennale—have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak until the next year, 2021.

For more information on CRUNCH please click here.

To learn more about Prof. Thomas Spiegelhalter, please click here.

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