Architecture students compete to build the best houseboat


The Summer Design Studio partnered with Go Friday, a design company in Portugal, and the students entered a contest that could win them monetary rewards and a trip to the European country.

Without significant global adjustments to greenhouse gas emissions, the climate crisis is set to alter the planet irrevocably. Already, weather events are changing, with more powerful hurricanes, extreme droughts and more frequent floods and wildfires.

Faced with this future, architects are challenged to design structures that can withstand these extremes and adapt to the environment. A unique summer design studio at the University of Miami School of Architecture does just that.

The Summer Design Studio has partnered with Go Friday, a Portugal-based design firm well known for its innovative floating structures, with students engaged in creating weather-resistant floating homes and dwellings.

“The idea of ​​living in houseboats is something we should consider, especially in Miami,” said Veruska Vasconez, the guest speaker who teaches the studio course. The flooding is getting worse – as we saw on Brickell Avenue a few weeks ago – and the overdevelopment of skyscrapers is overwhelming.

“A good architect should be able to take a houseboat idea and create communities that provide a good standard of living,” Vasconez added.

In its guidelines, Go Friday said floating structures were ideal for a changing climate since “in currently temperate climates, the cooling properties of water can attenuate heat if sea level rise can be addressed. . Additionally, as a building system located on bodies of water, floating architecture can also ameliorate deforestation and increasing land depletion.

There are 16 students enrolled in the studio course. Some work solo and others work in teams.

As part of the studio, students participate in a contest run by Go Friday where the top three design winners would receive cash prizes. Additionally, these winners would also travel to Portugal and showcase their work in front of Go Friday executives. Due to the nature of the competition, students do not see each other’s projects. Instead, they work only with their instructor.

Vasconez noted that Go Friday executives gave a presentation to students, where they provided the basics of building a houseboat and showed students one of their prototypes.

“They gave the students an open canvas,” she said. “They have to think about sustainability. And they have to redesign the houseboat, and they were asked to choose a region where the houseboat would reside.

Structures should not exceed 1,500 square feet.

Tais Pierre, a student entering her third year in the graduate program in architecture, loved the idea of ​​the project. “What really excited me about this studio is that it could increase tourism in Jacmel,” she said. “This could be luxury accommodation.”

Pierre said she thinks it would be a great way to increase tourist visits to Haiti’s port city. Her parents are from the countryside and she knows that Jacmel is a beautiful coastal town with an open bay and spectacular mountain views.

Design by Tais Pierre

His proposed houseboat is a hurricane-resistant wood and glass structure that resembles a lantern. Featuring sliding doors and easy access to water, the house has solar panels to provide power.

The double-decker houseboat has one bedroom on the first floor with additional accommodations on the second floor. All students were encouraged to build docking stations for their structures, as well as add features to enhance surrounding communities.

Pierre has built quays that can hold up to 30 barges and are an extension of an existing boardwalk, making it easy for pedestrians to enjoy the area.

She said that since the docks are close to the urban center, the barges could also be used as transitional accommodation in the event of a natural disaster.

For Vanessa Crespo and Ana Yu, the project gave them the opportunity to explore how to build an entire mangrove-based ecosystem in the seaside town of La Parguera in Puerto Rico. Crespo is originally from the island.

The duo’s design was a two-story houseboat built with concrete and foam to provide buoyancy, an open first story with columns and a second story lined with recycled plastic windows and trusses that could be closed in the event of a crash. storm.

Design by Vanessa Crepo and Ana Yu.
Design by Vanessa Crespo and Ana Yu

“One of the challenges was that we had never built in the ocean,” Crespo said. “So how do we build a sustainable city that is not on land and place our project in the mangroves?

La Parguera, a popular tourist destination due to its bioluminescent cays and bays, already has a significant number of houseboats, Crespo said. But they are stationary. Crespo and Yu’s structures would have engines to propel them through open water.

Their circular docking stations not only accommodate homes, but each feature a small saltwater pool. To revitalize the area, the docks will also have a number of stations for markets as well as fishing farms and an area for agriculture, so plants can grow using the surrounding water.

“La Parguera already has a tourism base, and we see our project as a way to expand that tourism,” Yu said.

Andrew “AJ” Zegans, a fourth-year architecture student, grew up on Long Island, New York, and wanted to build his houseboats near New York. Therefore, he chose Liberty State Park in Jersey City, due to its proximity to New York.

“I decided to do it on the Jersey side of the Hudson River and there would be a ferry to take them to town if they needed to work or sightsee,” he said.

Design by Andrew "A J" Zegen
Design by Andrew “AJ” Zegans

He designed a series of motorized houseboats made up of steel and reinforced glass modules that can be stacked if necessary. Modules range from a 20-by-20-foot studio to a three-bedroom model that can have up to three stories. He imagines that future buyers use an IKEA-type catalog to personalize spaces. Corrugated steel shutters can be ordered for additional protection from the elements, he said.

The students completed their projects during their final studio class on June 24. Go Friday executives will review their work on July 11, then students will learn which projects won the top prize.


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