Some students in the University of Miami School of Architecture are taking what they learn in the classroom to help improve communities in Miami and as far away as the Caribbean and Latin America.
Senior Xenia Nicasio was one of several UM students who took part in an outreach project in a historic neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
The group, along with students from a local university, worked on urban planning proposals that would help the economic revitalization of the Santa Barbara neighborhood, while preserving its cultural heritage.
“It gives you the opportunity to learn about techniques which you will apply later on,” Nicasio said.
Sonia Chao, director of UM’s Center for Urban and Community Design, agreed.
“These projects help the students to engage with real-world problems,” Chao said.
The center was established in 1992 and has been involved in a variety of projects locally and abroad. Student participation is voluntary.
“With the focus of the center, both students and faculty are establishing bridges with Caribbean and Latin America,” Chao said.
Through a variety of outreach projects, students get to participate in planning charrettes and community meetings involving local government officials, citizens’ organizations, developers, lawyers and others.
The students and faculty have also worked on a number of projects in their own backyard, including designing homes in West Coconut Grove. In 2007, the school took on a major project involving more than 300 students to create a promenade along Miami’s seven-mile stretch of waterfront.
Another large local project involved the restoration of the Miami Marine Stadium, which was overseen by architecture professors Jorge Hernandez and Catherine Lynn as well as prominent Miami architect, Hilario Candela, who originally designed the stadium in 1963.
Students researched and documented the history of the Virginia Key stadium, which was recently designated one of the 11 most endangered sites by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Additionally, the students suggested development alternatives for the properties surrounding the stadium. Their work was presented to the city.
In fall 2008, a group of students joined faculty members Adib Cure and Carie Penabad in Barranquilla, Colombia, to study one of the most pressing problems facing Latin American cities: the abandonment and degradation of the historic city center. The group worked on designing housing projects and urban blocks and retrofitting historic buildings to help stem the decline in the population of the downtown area.
This fall, the school will conduct a new design studio project for areas in Barranquilla.