Architectural Critic for Universities

With a multi-disciplinary background in Graphic Design and Architecture, I believe that communication on different levels always bring better solutions to problem solving.   Along with years of professional firm experience, becoming a LEED Accredited Professional since 2007 and as a very active philanthropist, I always sharpen my leadership, communicative, and social skills with other architects, designers, planners and LEED APs.

I was invited as a visiting juror to critique final reviews for FAU Fall 2011 Site Planning (URP 4870) 3 credit course taught by Professor Sherryl Muriente, covering basic principles and methods of site planning and evaluating site plans.

This exciting opportunity allowed me to contribute my environmental perspectives as a LEED AP and as an observant citizen, aware of social, ethical, economic impacts of South Florida who participates in city hall meetings, educational programs, design charrettes as well as organized conferences locally and nationally.

Synopsis of Projects:

Group 1: America’s Backyard: Site is on the edge of Andrews and Las Olas Riverfront entrance 305 S. Andrews Ave. The students took an existing building and repurposed it and added some external “in-fill” program/spaces to house different types of homeless people into educational programs with a focus in art workshops. They will also include some housing as well.

My response: In consideration of the mixed demographics of twenty or thirty-something barhoppers/patrons/visitors, seasonal tourists, homelessness and low-income areas surrounding the area along with streetwalkers and heavy traffic on the edge of Andrews, this is quite a major challenge.  Firstly,  the demographics of homelessness is so widespread and sporadic that it is not easy to “coordinate” and assume that groups of homeless are capable of entering a facility that accommodates them.  Whether they had a decent upbringing with shelter, food and family as well as education, some may have lost their jobs and all of their assets, wheras others have had uncompromising health situations and or personal interactions with others, whether the reason is, it is humanely impossible to coordinate or “assume” all homeless people will want to be accommodated indoors.

While this student group idea is a wonderful concept, you really can’t promise good results, since reaction is always circumstantial in any situation. Some homeless people have never lived indoors or used to or are not used to using civil and humanly appropriate, sanitary ways for eating, sleeping, bathing and restroom usage, etc.  Just as much as we all as young architects and planners want to save the world and its inhabitants, it is always good to know that we try our best for positive solutions.

In terms of the student project, recruiting and taking care of homeless indoors, the facility should consider long term and short term visits and its consequences for hospitality.  What about their personal health conditions? Would there be a group of medical professionals available or on call to provide help if needed and locally? Would building inspectors allow certain human accommodations to comply within the building codes for homelessness to habitat within? What about the durability and cost-effectiveness of interior materials for fitting the needs of all sorts of people who never lived indoors? Age, weight, health conditions, etc…. How would the facility architects compartmentalize the spaces? Would safety be protected away from those that cannot interact with other humans? What about safety to patrons and pedestrians by America’s Backyard as they pass by the facility? Would homeless still be allowed to live outside and would they have to check out of the facility? How about weather conditions? Other things to consider as well: hurricane evacuation, emergency hazards, and human errors of staff or anyone? Security design? Surveillance cameras? Etc.

Public art concept is great, could bring out artistic side of some homeless people as well as sitting on the rooftop in the roof garden and learning about green living.  Would locals or visitors from Riverfront area consider volunteering with the facility? Nothing can be promised unless statistical data has proven otherwise via energy performance and risk assessment practices. If results are positive, the students’ concept could prove great promises for future stakeholders wanting to invest into this project.

Group 2: Las Olas Riverfront 300 SW 1st Avenue will be transformed into a Pier. The students have created a floating dock area by reconstructing the river’s edge and letting the water come in the city more. They want to build a destination not only for the local people in Ft Lauderdale but also for boaters as well.  It focuses on local tourism, nightlife, and creating a vibrant center in Ft. Lauderdale.

 

Their concept was to somehow connect the surroundings of Las Olas with the Riverfront. They wanted to close the gap, create entertainment and recreation within the gap and create green walls.

Great concept, it is similar to the magnificent floating dock along Flagler Avenue in downtown West Palm Beach by the Waterfront.  The idea of a floating dock not only is aesthetically pleasing, but as a LEED AP with a zest for sustainability, this idea is intended to intertwine natural ecological elements with a manmade structure floating atop the water, giving shade to certain mangrove and other ecosystems in need of nutrients and some type of revitalization for survival.

Deerfield Beach is well-known for its long-term effectiveness and survival of the Pier adjacent to the outdoor patios of local bars.  The site setting and its surrounds must fit very well as the population of locals and tourists is maintained well enough to also accompany the still standing Pier on any occasion.  No heavy traffic or pollution or carbon footprint really impacts the Pier area on the water, since the shallow area is protected by the “backyards” of local bars and restaurants as well as narrow entries onto the beach.

The group has to consider exterior, uncontrollable factors such as extreme tropical weather conditions as well as allowing water “space” for boats to park during annual Boat Shows. While boat shows are a great tourist attraction in bringing in major influx of varied demographics of people from all over as well but they may also bring negative consequences of excessive pollution, congestion, high impact of carbon footprint as well as distress for marine mammals like manatees that come to the shallow end depending on the season for food, shelter, etc.  Of course, speed limits for boaters coming to the shore would be a great asset to overall energy and pollution, less gas, more cost-efficency factors as well as less stress for marine life.

Balance is always best. A medium-impact would be a great level of appropriateness and long-term effects for ecosystems, marine life, locals, as well as the cladding materials for walls and roofs of buildings neighboring the Pier.

Group 3: Las Olas Street/Plaza Renovation: Various sites on Las Olas Blvd. The students found various “open” sites throughout Las Olas, where there may be plazas, gardens, parks or empty lots to create a open space network with streetscape renovation. They are trying to create a vibrant corridor and an identity for downtown Ft. Lauderdale.

The group wanted to improve the sidewalks which are one of the major influxes of human energy and carbon footprint entering and exiting the area of study. Also, they have plans to incorporate ADA updated ramps connecting to local buildings, repaint and repair all paving within the area as well as add outdoor bench seating every 100 feet.  Bus stops, train stops, wayfinding, bike racks all would be enhanced as well as an improved or new street system. The students want to expand the road into the site as a major “connector” tying in all infrastructures of Las Olas Street and the Plaza area. They would add landscaping or some type that would withstand commotions of car traffic within the median of the street.

As a LEED AP and an observer standing outside of the area, outdoor parks, plazas, mini-sidewalk gardens, all natural living plants of a certain kind able to withstand harsh pollution and commotion of the street are all pluses. Evacuated or empty parking lots are a great opportunity to be incorporated with gardens and groundwork could be repaved with lighter coated concrete to allow more cooling effect once the sun hits the surface and would reflect back up.

Walkable streets would be another great concept depending on smart, green ways of settling down the local traffic in order to allow pedestrians a safer accommodation. Perhaps, yes widening the street median, according to city and local codes as well as bringing in more sitting areas to be enjoyed by the street, in a safe, low-carbon footprint way. Bicycle paths could be buffered perhaps by local tropical plantings of some sort or reclaimed wood benches with tall street lamps.

All this within city and local budgets is the key to consider throughout all this planning, as well as preliminary programming with client, architect, etc as well as risk assessment and site analysis performed by professionals. Finally, locals and seasonal tourists perspective of these areas are a huge asset in telling the client, designers and planners what the defined society of the area needs and wants.

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