An interview with Jacqueline Gonzalez Touzet, partner with the Miami-based architectural firm Touzet Studio
As part of its series “The Business of Climate Change,” which highlights the climate views of business men and women throughout the state, The Invading Sea spoke with Jacqueline Gonzalez Touzet, partner with the Miami-based architectural firm Touzet Studio and chair of the resiliency committee for the MRED board – Master’s in Real Estate and Development for the University of Miami School of Architecture.
Here are some highlights from the interview.
Tell me about how sustainability and climate have become important in your work. Has sustainability always been a focus or has that evolved over time?
It has evolved. It started off as something from a wellness standpoint—I have a child who suffered from childhood asthma—and I got involved about a dozen years ago on the wellness side of things and then the sustainability.
I chaired the Green Committee for our child’s school. I became LEED-accredited.
And as I got more involved in it, our studio also started to design for clients who were usually interested in futurism or technology. And so a lot of them wanted to be as high-performance with building as possible so we were looking at solar, we were looking at cisterns, and we started looking at it as a high-design performance.
So, both from the wellness side from the health side, and also from building performance, designing buildings that produce their own energy or store water for the benefit of the owners. We are on the front lines of climate change, and this is a place that means a lot to us.
We’ve been here in this region for many, many centuries, our families. We’re Cuban. Miami has been our home all our lives. I don’t believe you can design a good building—it doesn’t matter how many awards you get—if it’s not resilient or sustainable.
What are some of the effects of climate change that you’ve seen firsthand?
We see sunny-day flooding, we see sewer issues, septic. We see the delimitation (or failure) of building facade materials that used to do quite fine with the increased heat and the rain, what they call “rain bombs.”
We’re seeing levels of rain and precipitation that are unprecedented. And the idea of a 100-year storm is out the window.
We used to have a very clear line between what was a flood zone and what was not a flood zone. I think we’ve come to understand that we’re all pretty much in a flood zone. And that really has a lot of implications in what we do.
We can’t pretend it’s business as usual. We have to design as if basically all of us are in a flood zone, and on the building code side, the wind loads keep increasing.
What makes certain designs more sustainable or less sustainable?
Some of this is not new. In the old days when the first settlers came to Florida and the Caribbean, they knew that they had to survive in a pretty tough environment: a lot of winds and flooding and bugs and heat, and they didn’t rely on technology as much.
Our generation grew up with technology being able to solve for most of this, but we’re getting rapidly to a point where we can’t rely on technology and we have to look back at some of the lessons about cross-ventilation, paying attention to orientation, using landscape to help mitigate some of the heat.
Our partnership with landscape architects has never been more important. And I think that even as we understand what it means to be in a healthy building, that connection to the outside and to nature is really kind of re-establishing that connection.
There’s a lot of lessons within nature and being part of the natural world and using materials that are locally sourced, using materials that are not toxic. Don’t design buildings that cannot crack open a window and you can’t have a breeze.
What should designers and developers be doing more of?
Some things need to be part of the code when they’re a part of life safety or building resiliency for the city, and other things you can incentivize greater if you do above and beyond the base.
But I think we need to lift our gaze a little bit about what the base should be, and the base should be about keeping our community viable in the future, which means there are some things that right now are voluntary like freeboard, lifting your building up, putting your equipment up, designing for flood as if you are in a flood zone.
All of these things right now are voluntary just like impact glazing was voluntary in the beginning. And you could put plywood or you could put shutters, but eventually when I design a new building now I don’t get that choice. It’s going to be, you know, impact-resistant glazing, it’s going to be like that I think with resiliency, first we start off by, these are the things you really should be doing.
Lift up the mechanical equipment so that it’s not flood prone. And also you know you have to think about what materials you’re using because drywall is not a material you want to have when FEMA says design at flood level. You have to design flood-resistant materials.
That should be part of the code at this point because we know we’re going to be flooded, and that will make it much easier in the future for insurance companies to continue to insure us.
What can the Florida Legislature do to help?
I think that allocating resources is a top priority because this is not something that the private sector can handle alone, so it’s going to be a partnership between federal, state, and local.
In terms of South Florida, I think that needs to be recognized, who are the economic engines for the state and the resources should be allocated proportionally to keep that engine moving because South Florida, for example, generates a tremendous amount of income for the state.
And I know that we’re vulnerable and there are areas that we’re going to have to make some very tough conversations about.
But when you’re evaluating where those resources get allocated, I think we also need to evaluate the cultural importance of places and economic importance and where people live, and come up and be at the table with us in terms of master planning. This is a regional issue. It’s not something that cities can take on or solve for themselves so we do need to have a state participation.
Kevin Mims, a Florida-based freelance journalist, is the producer of “The Business of Climate Change.” He conducted this interview with Ms. Touzet.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state.