An interview with Jeffrey Huber, Brooks + Scarpa and Florida Atlantic University School of Architecture
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 Jeffrey Huber, principal and director of planning, landscape architecture, and urban design at Brooks + Scarpa and director of the Florida Atlantic University School of Architecture.
As a native Floridian as well as an architect and landscape architect, how has climate change affected South Florida?
Hurricane Andrew was a fundamental point in my life. It’s actually what got me interested in architecture, and to see from one morning to the next just complete and utter devastation—it was kind of a shock of what Mother Nature did.
And now we are in this 30 years later and I’ve seen pretty interesting changes. When you see a street flooding because of king tide events, because it’s just the infrastructure working in reverse, that’s not normal. So you are seeing things clearly as evidence.
We are seeing that we are living in this kind of Anthropocene now, that we as a human species are obviously creating some of these changes. But South Florida in particular is unique because it is the canary in the coal mine. We are seeing global changes happening at a local level.
We talk about the heat. It’s getting worse. It’s also getting saltier. It’s getting saltier because of the saltwater intrusion. We’re seeing well fields that I know were in use as a kid are now being shut down.
(There are) other data sets that there’s a change in the pattern of our weather. We are now getting less frequent rainstorms, but we’re getting more rain in those less storms, so we are getting what some call rain bombs, some call the 100-year storm events.
How have climate change and sea-level rise influenced architectural designs in Florida, and what are some of the main challenges designers are facing?
These are trying times…I’m kind of coming from it from a very unique perspective. I’ve had this fascination with: how do we think about coupling architectural and landscape architectural ideas?
Fundamentally, it is changing the way architects and designers think about the built environment in a multitude of ways, but in my way, I see urbanism as the missing link… It’s urbanism that gives the architectural profession, the landscape architectural profession, the planning profession, a holistic framework through which complex systems can be engaged.
How have climate-related issues changed how architecture is taught? How is it different now that you are a professor compared to when you were a student?
Education has, in fact, changed. That’s been 30 years, 20 years ago. The education now, we know a lot more. (Teaching was) based on passive design practices when I went through school.
So the idea of cross-ventilation, the idea of orientation, the idea of maximizing the way in which you use breeze blocks, you know, all of those things, the kind of framework that architecture could do for you.
I think those things are coming back heavier and quite frankly, I think they need to be baked into our code. To have a building that cannot open a window in our environment is, to me, illegal.
Students now are having to learn modeling techniques. Our computational modeling programs have become interesting. We had to do it in my time as a kind of, you know, it’s like your grandparents kind of just knew things.
We had basic ideas of models and we just knew that they worked; there were rules. Now, there’s so many programs that allow for you… to expand on those rules.
You can stick your 3-D computer model now into a program, and it will do a solar radiation study for you. It will determine if the wind and how the wind will react on the building and will determine how water and flooding react on your building
Have building codes sufficiently kept up with our changing weather and rising sea levels?
Well, yes and no. I think if we look back to that wind event, hurricanes, I think we’ve become very resilient and durable to wind. We’re able to survive that four- or five- hour, six-hour wind event.
What we’re not prepared for well in our code is the event that happens after. You only have to look at Hollywood (during Hurricane Irma), the unfortunate events that happened there in the assisted living facility.
That should not happen in a modern society; it should not happen in a society that prides itself on its ability to protect life and property. That’s the life, safety, and welfare of property and life is what we do as architects, landscape architects, any designer of the built environment.
We haven’t done well especially in thinking about how we buy into this, the aftermath.
The challenge is when you see that only 10 percent of the built environment is actually designed by architects; the other 90 percent is not architecturally designed, or it’s not architect-led. That statistic, you can see, becomes the challenge.
What we need to do is have some base minimums in the code that allow for that survivability after those events.
How can our state and federal governments enable more climate-friendly design practices?
They can enable them by especially working with universities, working with local leadership, and working with local architects, with local landscape architects, with local planners, engineers, to try things to test things.
There’s a mismatch here. There is tremendous research that is being done in higher education that is not being transferred into the public sector, into development, into those things, and to me, if there was some ability to tie some of these concepts and this thinking—this would have to be state-mandated.
The state is going to have to think about how do we produce energy, how do we deal with wastewater, how do we deal with food production in the future because, quite frankly, when the seas come, we may not have an ability to feed ourselves at that point. I think we see things starting to happen hyper-locally, but things need to be enabled at the state point.
Kevin Mims, a Florida-based freelance journalist, is the producer of “The Business of Climate Change.” He conducted this interview with Ms. Hammack.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state.