March 21 2013

Three S’s to a Sustainable Structure in South Florida

The housing industry is rekindling in Florida, giving us the opportunity to re-evaluate our approach to modern housing. Recent technology has brought numerous advances; however, the wisdom and building techniques that once created resilient and sustainable architecture have been lost. South Florida’s unique housing market began after Henry Flagler’s FEC Railway extended to South Florida, and eventually Key West in 1912, rose during the ‘20s land boom, and followed a series of boom and bust cycles that have persisted to our present day. With high humidity in the sunny hurricane alley, early Florida pioneers refined traditional building techniques for the foreign subtropic climate. As we enter a new cycle of construction, we should take a moment to assess our current situation and study a few of these lost traditions:

Skinny House. Designing buildings with narrow wings is ideal for cross-ventilation. A sustainable alternative to air-conditioning, natural ventilation maintains human comfort while controlling the negative effects of high humidity levels. Thin and simple massing is also more economical – leaving more in the budget for custom details inside and out.

Skinny Miami Bungalow allows for cross-ventilation

Shade the Entrance. Integrating porches, verandas, and galleries cool the breeze while shielding the house from direct sunlight. Traditionally these outdoor spaces were comfortable alternatives to interior rooms for socializing. In order to be useful for socializing and acclimatization, they should be designed deep enough to feature seating areas.

Miami Mediterranean Revival Front Porch provides comfortable outdoor space

Shutters for Storms. Shutters are NOT aesthetics, but vital protection from South Florida’s main natural disaster: hurricanes. Therefore, they should be usable – not screwed into the wall, but installed with hinges and dogs.

Miami Shutter gives protection from hurricanes, intense sunlight, etc

Other architectural components used for passive cooling in South Florida’s climate include courtyards, crawlspaces, attics, et cetera. Unfortunately, many of these elements are regarded purely as aesthetics due to the reliance on modern amenities like air-conditioning, pumps, and more. As designers in a new cycle of construction, we should embrace these often forgotten principles that have stood the test of time.

What other passive architectural traditions should be re-evaluated in your region?

Credits: Photographs by Jennifer Garcia. Data linked to sources.

Jennifer Garcia

Born and raised in the Midwest, Jennifer García now enjoys the energy and quality of life that Miami has to offer. Professionally, she uses traditional architecture and principles of the New Urbanism as a Town Planner at Dover, Kohl & Partners. Based on careful research, she designs each project within the context of the local architectural language, distinct culture, and regional settlement patterns. She proudly holds a Master of Architecture from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Traveling has taught her to immerse herself into each place’s history, culture, traditions, and how they contribute to the range of urbanism and local vernacular. She also enjoys blogging as a local transit advocate for Transit Miami. Her daily bicycle commutes reinforce her belief in nurturing a living urbanism with livable streets.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 21st, 2013 at 9:36 am and is filed under Architecture, Energy, Environmental Design, Housing, Jennifer Garcia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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One Response to “Three S’s to a Sustainable Structure in South Florida”

  1. Successful Storefronts in South Florida | The GRID | Global Site Plans Says:

    [...] storefront guidelines are not new, but often forgotten principles that have already stood the test of time. By following these design recommendations, mixed-use buildings can help make any Main Street into [...]

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