Within the next century, most of Miami-Dade County is projected to be underwater.
Architecture students from Florida International University are studying possible changes to the county’s landscape if the sea level rises, as many experts predict.
“The biggest shocker was that as sea level rises, the land we are currently using started disappearing,” said Gregory Gonzalez, one of the students. “Peninsulas and islands started forming.”
FIU professors Marta Canavés and Marilys Nepomechie worked with students for three years to research sea level rise projections at three, four and six feet, and created models and proposals to keep existing city infrastructure and neighborhoods habitable. The models, designs and collected data are on display at the new Coral Gables Museum exhibit through March1.
The project, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Cejas Family Foundation, began in 2011 when Canavés and Nepomechi combined their experience to help students find architectural and landscape solutions by the year 2100.
Long-term data shows global sea levels are rising at 2.8 millimeters each year, according to the science foundation.
Museum visitors will find small plexiglass models, infographics and an interactive wall with video clips, touch screens and interviews with local leaders, including Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez.
“This is an agenda of public education, for the public to understand what’s at stake,” Nepomechie said.
The exhibit centerpiece is a massive model of the greater Miami area. The 25-by-17-foot map is made of clear and colored acrylic, 3D printed buildings and more than 6,000 LED lights wired by three electrical circuits.
“The result is that the city appears to lie low to the water and hover gently above the sea,” said Eric Peterson, another FIU instructor that oversaw the students who created this model.
The map lights up by remote control to illustrate how different sections will be affected by rising sea levels — three feet, four feet and six feet of water.
At six feet of flooding, Peterson said, all of South Beach is inundated as well as much of downtown Miami. The Miami River widens and the Miami International Airport is almost completely submerged.
“We were originally going to look at 10 feet of flooding,” said Ana Echeverri, a recent FIU graduate who last year took an architecture course taught by Nepomechie. “But when we got to six feet, the whole map disappeared.”
Echeverri, who focused on Miami Beach for her project, spent three months researching and learning geographic information system to get data and understand the city’s infrastructure. Then she spent three months on her proposal and building a model.
“I didn’t know anything at all when I started, but I got to learn about the city,” she said. “If we don’t take the necessary cautions, we might lose Miami Beach.”
Landscape and architecture majors studied together and then split up to work on individual models. They used several computer programs including GIS software for mapping; Adobe Illustrator for diagrams and infographics; Photoshop for model renderings; and InDesign to make boards.
“I hope people realize what landscape architecture is going to do for us,” said Andrea Sandoval, a recent graduate. “It’s going to get to point that we’re going to need to do something and adapt.”
Ana Benatuil, another graduate, based her project on the Miami River corridor, particularly the area near downtown Miami.
“All water comes from underneath. The city was built over a porous limestone base — there’s no way to just cover it,” she said.
Her proposal called for moving people from heavily affected areas and to develop methods of water transportation to navigate flooded streets. Another idea is to build elevated walkways to get to Metromover, for example.
The exhibit aims to inform the public and call leaders into action.
“God willing, city planners are going to show up,” said Christine Rupp, the museum’s director. “Things have to start changing.”
If you go
‘Miami 2100: Envisioning a Resilient Second Century’ is on display through March1 at the Coral Gables Museum, 285 Aragon Ave. For more information and related events, visit coralgablesmuseum.org or call 305-603-8067.