11.332J / 4.163J
Urban Design Studio

Terra-Sorta-Firma: Coding Resilient Urbanism in South Florida 

With nearly 20 million residents, Florida is one of the country’s fastest growing states. Its ubiquitous suburban landscape is enabled by the continued manipulation of a dynamic estuarine environment and a pervasive real-estate-driven housing pattern. Thirty-five miles of levees and 2,000 hydraulic pumping stations drain 860 acres of water per day, resulting in the ‘world’s largest wet subdivision’ and putting $101 billion worth of property below sea level by 2030. The overall structure that defines Florida’s cities emerges from the combination of hard infrastructural lines, developer driven master plans, powerful reductive normative zoning, and rigid form-based codes. Taken together, they dictate everything from the use of the land, to its subdivision patterns, and from building heights, setbacks, densities, street widths, and open space ratios, all the way to roof pitch angles, and fence hues.

These conventional tools have proven marginally effective in dealing with the increased vulnerability caused by Florida’s inherently dynamic environmental forces. Tidal flows, severe weather events, rising sea levels, and the hyper-speed nature of living matter, all make for a constantly fluctuating environment. This renders the traditional static “object-based codification,” which has defined much of contemporary urban design, inadequate and in urgent need of innovation.

By recognizing that it is exactly in the process of physical planning and design that we may be the most operative and strategic agents, this Urban Design Studio puts front and center the agency and efficacy of urban designer’s tools as they deal with issues of 21st century urbanism. It starts by accepting the “third condition” as a space for urban development. The “third condition” refers to the constant influx of hydrological states - that is neither wet nor dry but always shifting - as the starting point of a novel and contextual “process-based” language for coding the future of Floridian urbanism.

Several counties in South Florida began a review of their comprehensive physical planning documents since executing the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact in 2010. Accordingly, Palm Beach and Broward Counties (north of Miami) will serve as the practicum’s clients. Two sites of further exploration - Pond Apple Slough near Fort Lauderdale’s Airport and Loxahatchee Groves at the peri-urban western frontier of Palm Beach - are representative of a range of urban, suburban, agricultural, infrastructural, and ecological, variations of Florida’s urbanization. Specific programs will be developed after an initial research and mapping phase, and may range from the design of large-scale landscape infrastructural systems to the design of suburban housing prototypes of varying densities along the Everglades Coast.One site will require a retrofitting strategy, while the other remains highly undeveloped, yet both are considered priority areas of investigation in their respective counties.

The studio is broken into three main phases: 1) group mapping exercise; 2) coding research; 3) multi-scalar design strategy..The brief will ask students working in teams or individually to develop a systemically driven approach that takes the hydrological extremes and ecological resonance of the context as the foundations of their formal proposition. Through the design process, students will then devise a set of unique resiliency zoning, codes, land uses, programs, and typologies that are empirical and precise, yet dynamic, flexible, and responsive. Students will design outcomes for their sites. These new codes and designs will be collected in a compendium of urban design guidelines to be handed to the practicum’s clients as they reconsider their policy documents. By incorporating the indeterminacy of the shifting broader environmental systems, with the pervasiveness and exactitude of planning code, we establish an opportunity for the instrumentality of policy to be a part of the design process and a progeny of it.

The studio is open to SMArchs, MCP, and MArch students by permission of instructors. This studio is seeking an equal balance of degree students from both Architecture and Planning. The studio counts towards the UD Certificate. For DUSP: students requiring a practicum to graduate will be given priority, followed by those who have prior design experience and / or 11.328J - 4.240J Urban Design Skills. Applications should include a maximum of 5 page PDF of graphic work samples and a 200-word interest statement. We will accept applications till 11:00pm on Tuesday September 8th, after the DUSP Showcase and Arch Lottery Presentations. Please email your applications to fmasoud@mit.edu. Instructors will make their selections and notify successful candidates on Wednesday September 9th. The studio’s first meeting is on Thursday Sept 10 at 1:00pm in 10-485. The studio meets twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays 1:00-6:00pm. A sponsored site visit to Palm Beach and Broward Counties will run from October 8th to 11th.