The Real Deal Miami

UM students develop smart technology ideas for Design District

Student groups presented solutions to make the area a prototype for the future

October 20, 2015 05:36PM
By Francisco Alvarado

  • Print

CraigRobins, Rodolphe-el-Khoury and Vicente Guallart

One day Miami’s Design District may produce electricity using renewable energies, and have buildings adorned with rooftop gardens and structures that serve as indoor farms, with multiple levels of crops mixed with fresh markets and restaurants.

University of Miami architecture students are collaborating with Design District developer Craig Robins on ideas to make the neighborhood more technologically and environmentally friendly.

During a class at the university’s Coral Gables campus on Monday, the students — who are divided into six two-member teams — gave Robins their first presentations on how the Design District can become a prototype for how cities of the future can incorporate smart technology and sustainable energy.  

“The university was very interested in working with the Design District to develop our vision on how we can add more value,” said Vicente Guallart, a visiting professor who was previously the chief architect in Barcelona, Spain. “Technology is not only about upgrading old systems, but also to introduce new principles.”

Architecture school dean Rodolphe el-Khoury said the students are participating in a class that teaches them to embrace emerging technologies in the shaping and the planning of Miami neighborhoods.

“Guallart was the obvious choice to lead this effort given his track record in transforming Barcelona into a smart city,” el-Khoury said. “The Design District has been very open to new trends and new thinking with a very enlightened developer. We recognized there is a synergy between our efforts and Craig Robins’ agenda in seeking innovation.”

Each team presented graphics and data on six topics: energy consumption, urban agriculture, urban re-industrialization, social interaction, the environment, and mobility. The energy consumption team presented a heat map and proposed how to produce electricity in the Design District using renewable energies. The urban agriculture team presented a proposal for rooftop gardens and new buildings that serve as indoor farms with multiple levels of crops mixed with fresh markets and restaurants.

The urban re-industrialization team showed renderings of digital fabrication factories that would produce products made of recycled materials. The social interaction team used geotagged social media posts to determine which pockets of the Design District lack human activity and proposed placing retail stores and restaurants along those areas. The two other teams are still developing proposals that will be finalized in December.

Robins, president and CEO of Dacra, told the students he was impressed with all their ideas. However, he said that some of the proposals would not be practical in the Design District. For instance, Robins commended the urban agriculture team for suggesting a multi-level urban farm on a property facing Biscayne Boulevard and abutting I-195. “However the land you identified will eventually have a building,” Robins said. “One thing to look at is the zoning and maybe get an additional two to three floors on top of the building for an urban farm.”

Robins also said a factory making products from recycled material would have a hard time staying in business. “The challenge is  that you ultimately need a successful product,” Robins said. “The gap between being able to get to that from something that is thrown away is the hard part.”