Architects Delve Into How To Address Sea Level Rise

"A salty future requires a salty urbanism," said architect Jeffrey Huber yesterday, summarizing the urgency of planning and designing so that coastal communities can adapt to the unstoppable rise in sea level and climate change.

Huber, principal and director of Urban Planning and Design at Brooks + Scarpa, with offices in Florida, was one of the keynote speakers of the first day of the convention of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIAPR), which culminates today at the La Concha hotel.

"By 2050, it is said that 80% of the built environment is not going to exist," said the professor at the Florida Atlantic University School of Architecture.


Therefore, he stressed that the most relevant number in urban planning is six, for the number of feet that will increase sea level.

He indicated that this implies that in the United States alone it is projected that by then there will be 1.9 million residences under water, with a loss of $ 882 billion.

Of that total, 934,000 homes are located in Florida and it is expected that much of "the entire iconic coast" of this state, such as Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach and the keys, will be under water.

Within that framework, Huber presented findings and recommendations of his Salty Urbanism design and research project, which provides a strategy guide to address the reality of sea level rise.

One of the options presented was "withdraw from the most vulnerable areas and return them to nature in the form of wetlands, mangroves." This can be complemented with amphibious or floating architecture, as well as with shelters to help species that will be in danger as the sea level rises and they lose access to their habitat and food source, as happens with osprey birds.

"The biggest challenge is how we are going to deal with pollutants and toxins from the built environment when we leave these structures," said Huber, who has won about 75 awards with this work.

On the other hand, Huber rejected that the resilient construction with the capacity to adapt to the climatic challenges must necessarily be more expensive than usual. “It doesn't have to cost more. The biggest cost is initial: the design, ”he said. However, once the effort and budget is dedicated to that phase, he assured that projects designed for resilience and integration with the natural environment can cost 20% less than a standard development.

To a large extent, he said that this responds to “we are trying to get nature to do a lot of work for us. And that doesn't cost as long as we just have to think about the landscape. ”

As an example, he said that a tree planted in the right place absorbs so much water that it can avoid a flood and is a very cheap measure, which only requires waiting time to reach its maximum benefit.

"One of the big challenges is how we think of our cities as sponges," he said. This challenge applies both to the absorption of rainwater, which will increasingly be necessary to recharge aquifers in case of drought, as well as to mitigate floods and the effect of high tides and storm surge.

Huber said the solutions are not necessarily to reinvent the wheel, but to revisit the urban planning of yesteryear.

“Our grandparents knew better how to build sustainably,” he said when comparing a current urbanization, without vegetation or surfaces so that the water percolates with a historic neighborhood with shade trees, space to walk and train tracks for an integrated mass transport.

For his part, the architect Fernando Abruña, a pioneer in green design in Puerto Rico, presented a conceptual design of how Cataño's seafront could be transformed to promote economic development and ecotourism in a way that suits the reality of the tides and the rise in sea level. The project called Eco Portal seeks to “generate healthy environments for humans and for nature without necessarily building something”. He explained that it includes an open-air amphitheater that leaves the pyramid and open roundabouts that allow the passage of water in case of storm surge. Instead of building an observation tower in the Ciénaga las Cucharillas, which would impact the surroundings, a booth with “drones” was proposed to allow observation from the air. These devices could be connected to a transmission portal for the enjoyment of people in any place.

“It is to promote more activities than construction. The basic discourse, the mantra is that you know that you have a project that addresses the climate crisis correctly not when you have nothing else to add to it, but when you have nothing else to take away, ”said Abruña.