by flaunt

There’s an uneasy relationship between tragedy and opportunity that goes right to the core of our DNA—take evolution by natural selection—environmental pressures driving the emergence of new species molded by, and better adapted to the conditions. Weak species die, successful species thrive. With climate change comes opportunity. “We’re trying to think of this as an opportunity to create an awareness that this is a reality,” Miami-based architect Rene Gonzalez tells me, “and instead of trying to abruptly push that reality back or deny it, we are embracing it and trying to create spatial and architectural conditions that allow you to experience it.”

Gonzalez is Cuban-born and raised in South Florida, but his first project was working on Richard Meier’s Getty Center in Los Angeles. He is now designing and developing buildings that are a direct response to the changing fates of Miami. “I think it’s really a responsibility that we have that we address sea level rise,” he tells me. “Since 1880 the water level has risen eight inches, and the projection for the next hundred years is that it will rise somewhere between two and four feet. And some projections are even more extreme.”

In reaction to this, Gonzalez is raising new luxury homes up onto stilts and platforms—elevating them from danger, and developing a new aesthetic in the process: “I’ve designed a series of elevated houses where the ground level can vary depending on what happens in the future,” Gonzalez tells me, “and as a result, be something quite malleable, be something that is quite adaptable. The whole ground floor is open air—open to the elements—which allows breezes to circulate, natural lighting to penetrate, and as a result ecosystems can thrive under the houses. It obviously creates a situation where the house is safe from storm surges because the water will flow right under it.”

This also creates less obvious benefits like reducing insurance rates—a major issue for a city facing $3.5 billion in asset exposure by 2070. Indeed, Gonzalez has looked to the similarly submersive Italian city of Venice, and has taken inspiration from the work of Venetian native Carlo Scarpa, who, in the early ‘60s, transformed a 19th century palace into the local art museum, the Fondazione Querini Stampalia. “He did the same thing,” Gonzalez explains, “he saw it as an opportunity to create beautiful spaces that create poetry out of a situation. There, for example, as the water level goes up and down, it reveals different platforms that go directly into the water, so the whole ground floor is tied into the canal.”

When I ask whether Miami will survive the next century Gonzalez is blunt: “It has to. I think we’re a very resilient culture, and I think that Miami Beach is in a fortunate position to be very wealthy really, unlike other cities around the world that don’t have the resources to really allow their community to sustain environmental changes,” he tells me thoughtfully. “I think in Miami the key is not ‘will we survive,’ the key is how can we make changes that will use creative means and end up with better urban conditions that are, of course, always related to the water, related to the Bay—to the beautiful qualities that we have in Miami.”

Written by Gus Donohoo