Coral Gables

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UM students design award-winning homes to withstand a rising sea

With teammate Isabel Sarmiento standing to her right, Jiajing Cao explains to a symposium attendee some of the adaptations she and Sarmiento proposed to a single-family home in Overtown.
With teammate Isabel Sarmiento standing to her right, Jiajing Cao explains to a symposium attendee some of the adaptations she and Sarmiento proposed to a single-family home in Overtown.
University of Miami

By Christina Mayo Special to The Miami Herald

To discover some solutions to the impending seawater rise in South Florida, aspiring architects at the University of Miami went into the field to study “living buildings” in Little Havana and Overtown.

The proposals they made for homes won honors at a recent American Institute of Architects’ Symposium. The theme was “Miami as a Climate Resilient City.”

“One of the things we realized during our design process was that not only could we come up with solutions that would allow our home to withstand water encroachment, but that we could do so without making drastic changes,” said Maria Eduarda Oliveira, a second-year student in UM’s School of Architecture.

She and fellow students Jiajing Cao and Isabel Sarmiento led the teams. The goal of the contest, organized by fifth-year architecture students Jonas Doggard, Laura Greenberg, Lora Shea, and Isaac Stein was to engage students in a case study of a Miami residence.

Oliveira’s three-member team developed a modification plan for a Little Havana residence a few blocks from the Miami River. Their design, which also proposed elevating the home, won first place.

The jurors selected the winning entries based on resiliency, sustainability, practicality, creativity, and graphic completeness.

At the Little Havana home, Jessica Stefanick and her team visited for a site inspection and found 90-year-old resident outside, according to a news release.

Through an interview they learned she lives in the house with her son and three dogs.

For their project Stefanick’s group had possible solutions that included raising the house almost three feet, replacing its roof with a more energy efficient one with solar panels, and installing a cistern to collect and store rainwater atop a shed.

The project taught Stefanick more than she expected about sustainable design.

“Even the tiniest details like color and material affect how well something works,” she said. “I hope to take the knowledge I gained from this competition and use it to its full potential in my future career as an architect.”

At the Overtown property, architecture students Cao and Sarmiento devised a plan to install bioswales, gently sloping landscaping that can help remove silt and pollution from storm water runoff. They also won first place for their design The project and research hit close to home for Cao, who is from Shenzhen, China. That city is addressing its own vulnerability to the effects of sea level rise.

“It’s left a lasting impression on me,” Cao said.

She and Sarmiento became interested in sustainable building after completing professor Joanna Lombard’s Architecture and the Environment course.

The class is taught in conjunction with UM’s Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy that examines the built and natural environment and the impact that each has on the other.

“We study the living-building challenge,” said Lombard, “and because the students are designers, they’re not just memorizing concepts but actually applying what they’ve learned.”

To learn more about South Florida’s vulnerability from rising sea levels visit and to see an interesting video about possible future levels check out


Tens of thousands of candles will glow around the world on Dec. 8 when bereaved parents, siblings, grandparents, relatives and friends around the globe gather to remember and honor the memories of children who have died too soon.

The event is held annually the second Sunday in December.

Join others in our community who will never forget their loved ones at a special candle lighting service starting at 6 p.m. at the Miami Dade County Fair Expo

Center in the Grand Ballroom of the Goode Building at 10901 Coral Way. The program will have music featuring soloist, Karen Strolis Lewe, special readings and poems. Candles will be lit at 7 p.m. There will also be a reception and slide show.

If you like, you can bring a framed photo of your loved one to place on the Memorial Table. You will take home your photo after the event.

The Miami Chapter of The Compassionate Friends is hosting this event.

Last year there were 629 known services held in the U.S. Every state including Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico had services. The Compassionate Friends also received information on services held in 18 other countries.

The global candle lighting starts in New Zealand at 7 p.m. local time there. As the candles burn down in one time zone, they are lit in the next, creating a virtual 24-hour wave of light around the world.

The national website will host extended chat room hours and a message board for families to post tributes. There were 5,341 messages from all over the world posted last year.

To learn more about the Miami Chapter of The Compassionate Friends regarding membership or the Candle Lighting call 305-460-5762. For information about the national organization and chapters around the nation, call toll-free 877-969-0010.


Singers from many different backgrounds, aged in their teens up to 99 years, make up the South Dade Community Choir. The group will perform at a free concert at noon, Dec. 2 at Silver Palm United Methodist Church at 15855 SW 248th St. The

church is next door to Redland Middle School and across the street from the famous Knauss Berry Farm on Coconut Palm Drive.

Sandy Keffer is the founder and director. The choir, with many different performers, has been singing for South Florida since 1991. It has been featured at various venues in the community and has even travelled by invitation to Vienna, Austria.

Enjoy a simple lunch before the event for $10. Call 305-230-9185 to reserve your lunch by 2 p.m., Nov. 29. Lunch begins at 11:30 a.m.

The concert is presented as part of the Bea Peskoe Lunchtime Lecture series. Peskoe was an activist for social justice, education and culture. There is ample parking and handicapped access at the church. For more, check out

If you have news for this column, please send it to Christina Mayo at

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