Community construction

Fourth year bachelor of architecture major Marinna Yerak presents her team's plan for the Habitat for Humanity project to representatives from the NGO. The representatives gave their input about how Yerak's plan can meet the regulations of the community in which they be built. Lindsay Brown // The Miami Hurricane

For the first time, the University of Miami’s School of Architecture has partnered with Habitat for Humanity on a project to improve the local community.

“Instead of looking for professional practice in architectural firms, it is an honor to have an international institution come to our School of Architecture looking for innovative ideas on how to design residential communities,” professor Steve Mouzon said. “It is an amazing opportunity for all students.”

The two groups are developing a plan to build between 16 and 33 homes in the Liberty City area in northwest Miami-Dade County. Unlike Habitat’s usual single-family home design, this project will consist of building duplex-style homes customized to create a more amicable ambiance.

UM students say they are excited to be involved in the project.

“Working with Habitat for Humanity is a wonderful realistic experience,” graduate student Emily Glavey said. “It is an opportunity to create an environment that strengthens a community and at the same time focuses on actuality. The constant dialogue between Habitat, the faculty and the student body establishes a balance of ideas. It is a valuable experience from all perspectives.”

Danay Morales, another grad student who is studying urban design, agreed.

“We get to have an impact in our community and at the same time gain real-life experience in our field,” Morales said. “As future urbanists, we are responsible for making successful, sustainable communities that engage its citizens.”

What is challenging yet unique about this plan is the use of “vernacular construction” in a limited area. Vernacular construction categorizes architectural methods that use available local resources. In this case, Habitat will use concrete resources such as masonry blocks for the walls and wood truces for the roofs.

“We are asking the students to do something they have never done before,” said Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, dean of the School of Architecture. “There are a lot of challenging components to the urban design.”

UM students will be split up into three teams that will create site design that will be finished before spring break this month. The design will be presented to Habitat and the winning design will be built on site.

“Working in teams, students have three different approaches,” Plater-Zyberk said. “It is a wonderful project and we are pleased with Habitat for taking the time to work with us. This is excellent practice for the students.”

Habitat officials say they are happy to work with UM students.

“Habitat seeks to offer visual interest and diversity and to provide opportunities for residents to know their neighbors and create a collective security,” said Anne Manning, executive director of Habitat for Humanity. “Who better to partner with for this purpose than the University of Miami’s School of Architecture Center for Urban & Community Design?”

The director of planning and site development, Kia Hernandez, concurred.

“My experience has been outstanding,” Hernandez said. “I have found the students extremely supportive and dynamic. The partnership has been mutually beneficial.”

The students will finish their part of the project on March 12. Habitat hopes to actually break ground on the development sometime in the first quarter of 2011.

Jessica Delgado may be contacted at