Three S's to Sustainable Structures in South Florida
The housing industry is rekindling in Florida, giving us the opportunity to re-evaluate our approach to modern housing. Recent technology has brought numerous advances; however, the wisdom and building techniques that once created resilient and sustainable architecture have been lost. South Florida's unique housing market began after Henry Flagler's FEC Railway extended to South Florida, and eventually Key West in 1912, rose during the '20s land boom, and followed a series of boom and bust cycles that have persisted to our present day. With high humidity in the sunny hurricane alley, early Florida pioneers refined traditional building techniques for the foreign subtropic climate. As we enter a new cycle of construction, we should take a moment to assess our current situation and study a few of these lost traditions:
Skinny House. Designing buildings with narrow wings is ideal for cross-ventilation. A sustainable alternative to air-conditioning, natural ventilation maintains human comfort while controlling the negative effects of high humidity levels. Thin and simple massing is also more economical – leaving more in the budget for custom details inside and out.
Shade the Entrance. Integrating porches, verandas, and galleries cool the breeze while shielding the house from direct sunlight. Traditionally these outdoor spaces were comfortable alternatives to interior rooms for socializing. In order to be useful for socializing and acclimatization, they should be designed deep enough to feature seating areas.
Shutters for Storms. Shutters are NOT aesthetics, but vital protection from South Florida's main natural disaster: hurricanes. Therefore, they should be usable – not screwed into the wall, but installed with hinges and dogs.
Other architectural components used for passive cooling in South Florida's climate include courtyards, crawlspaces, attics, et cetera. Unfortunately, many of these elements are regarded purely as aesthetics due to the reliance on modern amenities like air-conditioning, pumps, and more. As designers in a new cycle of construction, we should embrace these often forgotten principles that have stood the test of time.
What other passive architectural traditions should be re-evaluated in your region?
Credits: Photographs by Jennifer Garcia. Data linked to sources.