Jason Chandler, chair of architecture at Florida International University, takes his students to Savannah, Ga., at the beginning of each semester to give them a new perspective on urban design.
“Savannah is the one trip that gets the conversation going,” Chandler said. “It’s a different universe for students that were born and raised in Miami.”
Students then look at different cultural areas in Miami and create small-scale building models, prototypes of what they see around Miami’s landscape, but with bits and pieces of what they liked from Savannah.
The best designs and models from about 100 students from seven of Chandler’s courses taught in the past year will be part of the new Coral Gables Museum exhibit, “All Buildings Great and Small: New Building Designs for a Better City,” from Friday to Oct. 26.
The students that take part in this exhibit are third-year students in a five-year architecture master’s program at FIU.
Haley Perry, 21, took Chandler’s course during the spring and her building model design will be displayed in this year’s exhibit. Perry said Chandler’s course is the culmination of the five-year track.
“I’ve always heard about the course,” she said. “We basically apply everything we’ve learned up to that point.”
Within a few months, Perry took some basswood, plexiglass and a white matte board and turned it into a two-story residential model.
The projects this year were inspired by Wynwood and Coral Gables, but Perry said that she was more taken by Little Havana, because it is pedestrian-friendly and one of the few neighborhoods where residences have businesses or retailers on the building’s ground floor.
The trip to Savannah gives the students a few days to explore the city and study the urban structures as a model to contrast with Miami, which according to Chandler, mostly has either detached, single-family homes or high-rises.
“We’re trying to provoke the idea that you want both,” Chandler said. “Savannah has an extraordinary urban plan, and [in Miami] the idea of neighborhood and collective space is eroded.”
As Perry took it, the urban design of each city dictates a different lifestyle — Miami is a commuter city, where homes are in the suburbs and commercial areas are separate, while Savannah is more integrated and pedestrian.
Although this is the second year that FIU students create models for an exhibit, Chandler has been working on this initiative for about seven years along with Andrew Frey, executive director of Townhouse Center, whose mission is to help build urban buildings and neighborhoods. Together, Chandler and Frey are co-curators to the exhibits.
Last year’s studio was funded by a $20,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
This year and next year’s studios, Chandler said, are funded by a $60,000 two-year grant from the Knight Foundation, which also finances the trip to Georgia for students and faculty in the course.
With the financial boost, there are many more model and designs in this exhibit.
In the Anthony R. Abraham Family Gallery at the museum, visitors will see around 300 little models of about 40 inches long and 18 inches high, as well as 18 larger models, which about 14 feet wide and five feet tall.
Caroline Parker, the director of programs at the Coral Gables Museum, said that Chandler’s project resonated with the museum’s focus on urban design and architecture.
“It certainly reflected our mission — that’s why we gave him three months in our calendar,” she said.
As the host venue, Parker said the museum gives Chandler a platform to get the students projects and ideas outside of the FIU walls.
“That makes it very relatable to anyone who is familiar with Miami,” Parker said. “That will definitely strike a chord.”
To supplement the exhibit, Chandler will lead one of the museum’s Saturday walking tours around Coral Gables, where he focuses on how smaller building designs work in Miami.
“Most of these early 1920s buildings [around Coral Gables] were two-story structures,” she said. “There’s something to that small-scale development staple — it adds a lot of charm.”
If you go
The preview reception is exclusively from Coral Gables Museum members and invited guests.
Curator’s Exhibit Tour with Andrew Frey
Public Opening Reception
Downtown Walking Tour with Jason Chandler