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Living With Water in Miami Beach

August Geiger, The Shadows, Miami Beach, Florida, 1912-1913.
August Geiger, The Shadows, Miami Beach, Florida, 1912-1913.

CRISP, LOW-LYING, AND QUIETLY BEAUTIFUL, the Art Deco boulevards of Miami Beach constitute what the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) calls an “Open Air Museum of 20th Century Architecture,” driving tourism and the city’s economy. The modernist curves and stacked ziggurats—designed to catch the breeze in each hotel room—suit a landscape built at the mercy of water. The white-and-pink, peach-and-aqua exteriors balance out the deep blue of the Florida sky. Walking down Collins Avenue with its oceanfront hotels, or the side streets with their three-story Moderne apartment buildings, the architectural effect is one of a well-curated environment where “good design” is an everyday pleasure and form follows function. This modernist truism, however, is an anachronism in the face of the city’s deepening climate crisis: Nothing about Miami Beach is functional, at least not anymore, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the old forms we have relied on—architectural, economic, and social—no longer hold.

Preservation in Miami Beach has always been about more than architecture. For decades, the sandbars of the man-made beaches have needed replenishing in order to give the illusion of their natural occurrence. And now, preservation is rapidly becoming improbable. Because of the area’s flat topography and porous bedrock, it is uniquely prone to continual flooding. This risks contaminating the freshwater aquifers and wells with saltwater and septic sewage, and all of the canals, pump stations, and sluice gates that currently prevent the ocean from intruding on the city won’t endure the estimated sea-level rise given current rates of carbon emissions. A 2015 study by the National Academy of Sciences proposed “lock-in dates” for around 1,800 endangered coastal urban areas in the US, the date by which a city’s future underwater fate is essentially sealed. Miami’s lock-in date has passed, making it one of the cities that lead study author Benjamin H. Strauss describes as “already lost.”

Read on >>>> Source: ArtForum Living With Water

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