Combining Old and New in the Age of Sea Level Rise

Resiliency , Washington Avenue

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Combining Old and New in the Age of Sea Level Rise:

Historic structure may become future example

The Historic Preservation Board this week gave its approval for Paul Cejas to develop the property at 1600 Washington Avenue, a project which will include the first attempt to move and elevate a multi-family historic building in Miami Beach to both showcase it and protect it from sea level rise.
 
The developer’s original proposal called for the total demolition of the two-story Henry Hohauser building at 425 16th Street. After the HPB unequivocally said “no”, he came back with a new plan that uses the historic structure as a focal point of the project, turning it into the lobby of the new 10-story residential building that will be attached to it. By moving the building further to the west, an open courtyard allows the building to be more visible. Elevating it, results in it being more resilient to flooding.
 
The one-story non-contributing building at 1600 Washington will be completely demolished. A five-story parking garage at 1601 Drexel will remain.
 
Current condition: 1600 Washington Avenue


The project is located in City Center, described by City Design and Preservation Manager Debbie Tackett as “one of the highest zoned areas in terms of FAR and height within the City”.  She noted the proposed 10-story building is “in scale with the surrounding buildings”. (FAR refers to floor area ratio which measures the density of a building.)
 
Attorney Monika Entin said currently the Hohauser building, which has an eastern-facing front façade, is only minimally visible due to the close proximity of the commercial building at 1600 Washington.  She said the owner wants to restore the building and elevate it, both in its physical condition as well as its appearance to “make it a focal point of this project”. She noted the Board in January asked the architects to ensure the Hohauser building was a meaningful part of the project and not just integrated in a way that felt like an after-thought, a request which she said they took to heart.
 
Before presenting the ambitious project, the team consulted first with the engineering firm responsible for moving a large home on Star Island. They agreed it was possible to move the Hohauser building which will be relocated about 40 feet to the west closer to the property line. Entin said moving it will create a “grand opening” via a courtyard between the residential building and commercial structure to the east. “It really does bring out this historic structure,” she told the Board.
 
One concern discussed was the need to partially demolish the building due to City code which does not allow construction greater than one story above a historic structure. In order to build the larger residential building, the only option was to move and partially demolish the older building.
 
Entin said, “The goal is to restore entirety of building. The issue is not whether we want to or we don’t, because we do. The problem is the code. We’re only permitted to build a one-story addition over the existing structure. In order to have one contiguous project … part of a whole that opens up and connects to interior spaces, we had to demolish a portion of it, reconstruct it … in order to build over it.”
 
The plan calls for keeping about 30 feet of the front façade on the east, about 16 feet of the west side of the building, and the entire south side of the structure. Entin said it will appear that the entire building was preserved and retained through replication.
 
“The idea,” Entin told the Board, “is a seamless effort. One structure. One façade.”  She said the plan will “preserve and celebrate” the Hohauser building.
 
Christina Villa of Stantec Architecture said the height of the commercial space will be the same as the Hohauser building. “There’s been a lot of thought into how that architecture relates to the two-story building,” she said.
 
Daniel Ciraldo, president of the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL), said, “We think this is great… I’m a little bit like ‘Wow, how far we’ve come.’” Ciraldo and MDPL have spearheaded workshops to showcase efforts to elevate historic buildings. He said five years ago people told him it was impossible to lift buildings for sea level rise. Since then, the home on Star Island was raised.
 
Ciraldo said this would be the first time that he’s aware that a multi-family building – “the typology that does make up the majority of historic buildings in Miami Beach” – would be elevated here. He said this could be “the sample project that we’ve all been hoping for” to move and elevate a multi-family structure.
 
“It’s not perfect and there are components that need to be rebuilt,” he said. “But compared to the original project, which was to demolish everything, … keeping the Hohauser or really extending the life of the Hohauser, they’re actually making it the main entry, the main lobby of this project. It seems to be a pretty good project. For this reason, we’re supportive … I think it’s a good one.”
 
Tackett clarified that the building “does not have significant public interiors; the applicant is retaining and restoring the most significant primary architectural features of the building.”
 
After some Board members expressed concerns over the partial demolition of the Hohauser building, Nancy Liebman said, “I don’t understand why people are still agonizing over this … the only thing that stopped any of the Board from approving it [in January] was the little historic building … They have now admitted that this historic building is what is going to make this building different from all the other new developments that are in Miami Beach. These are unique.”
 
“They are bringing it out rather than hiding it somewhere back in the bowels of all of the concrete,” Liebman continued. “They did what we asked them to do the last time ... The main subject was ‘We want you to save the historic building and they’ve done that the best that they can.” The proposal she said, “preserves the look. It preserves the building. It makes the building look more important.”
 
“The fact that they’re going to raise it, as Daniel [Ciraldo] said, is an historic moment in itself, that the building is going to be raised,” Liebman said. “We’ve been trying to get people to understand that buildings can be raised. There are so many points in favor of what’s happening here.”
 
Jack Finglass said, retaining “15% of it is not saving it … You’re way off base Nancy … They can call it celebrating, memorializing, connectivity, harmonizing, sensitizing, being non-competitive with their new building. Our job is historic preservation. We need to have less celebration, more historic preservation. And this is just not right. To subjugate an historic Hohauser building to somebody’s desire for a 10-story new building, I think is wrong. We are not giving historic preservation any chance here, any leeway. We are not doing our job.”
 
Liebman responded, “It’s somebody’s right to build their building. Why don’t we just tell them to put the Hohauser, leave it where it is, and not build the building. That’s what you’re saying.”
 
“A good architect can always come up with other alternatives,” Finglass answered. “This Hohauser building is very important to save. There are very few of them and little by little, slippery slope, here we go, down with all the historic buildings. And up with all the new condo developments.”
 
Kirk Paskal said, “It’s our code that requires the extent of this building that needs to be demolished, right? … Clearly, we need to have construction over the top of it, that’s the nature of the project.”
 
“Why?” Finglass asked.
 
“Otherwise it’s stuck in time,” Paskal responded. Referring to the Hohauser structure, he said, “It’s a beautiful building. It’s a very, very beautiful building but it’s not as vibrant as it could be and buildings need to have a future but it is the code that’s requiring [the partial demolition]. It’s not the applicant that requested it.”

 
Current condition: Henry Hohauser building at 425 16th Street, southeast corner
Southwest corner, 425 16th Street


“That component in the code, just for the record,” Paskal added, “it worries me very much particularly when you’re dealing with these sorts of buildings … that’s a bad situation to run into when you have a project that needs to move forward. The preservation component is suffering but it’s not their fault as I understand.”
 
Liebman responded, “That’s going to be a very bad thing for North Beach.”
 
Finglass spoke to the architect again. “I love your building. I think it’s one of the prettiest buildings Miami Beach has ever seen but that I don’t think is my point being here [on the Preservation Board]. I’m all for economic development and this is done all over the country … The zoning issues are terrible. They’re putting a kibosh on all sorts of things that will come up in relation to historic preservation and that’s wrong and this is not your fault. I am not pointing the finger at you. I love your building but I love the Hohauser building more because they’re few of them and there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of your new buildings and I don’t like paying homage or celebrating things as they’re going into demise.”
 
John Stuart told Finglass, “For all of the reasons that you’re finding this problematic, I find it an interesting challenge that has in it almost every challenge that our city will face.” The challenges, he said, include not just height of buildings around historic ones but also “how much to retain, how to match historic fabric with a new recreation. We talk about recreating buildings all the time as being a kind of something that we’d insist on if a site were redeveloped and now we have this opportunity to think about probably the most important part of this building that’s never been seen which is that eastern façade that that would really be something that somebody could now experience…”
 
The project, Stuart continued, gives the City the opportunity to test some of the thought processes around resiliency. “We’ve never even really tested a multi-family building being raised and moved and I think it would be an amazing opportunity for people on this board, for everybody on this board, to watch that happen and to use this as a way to publicly kind of see the good and the bad and what we have to watch out for,” he said. “I think there are things we don’t know yet, the questions that we’re not asking that we won’t find out until after this is done about how to do it better, but I think the way we have to do it is to try.”
 
“From the perspective of where we were and where we are, this is kind of an exciting moment to try to answer those questions as best we can, knowing that preservation is multi-faceted and complex and involves reconstruction of things that are not going to be able to be kept,” Stuart said. With regard to integrating new projects with older structures, he said, “How do those wall thicknesses compare? How do the materialities compare? … I don’t know the answers to these but these are things that I think, on this project, we could start to really investigate and either say ‘Do it like they did at 1600 Washington’ or ‘Don’t do it like they did at 1600 Washington.’ But we have to see somebody do this.”
 
“I think this is really an interesting investigation,” Stuart concluded. “I think we should support this and think about it as a kind of a test balloon, for us getting a better understanding how we have to change the code, how do we get creative about this.”
 
Leibman added, “We do a lot of talk about adaptive reuse. This is an adaptive reuse. This was a residential building being adapted to work with a new modern building … those are questions that we’re going to face … Just the fact that they’re going to raise the building is really a good experience for this city and the people who say you can’t do it.”
 
Scott Needelman asked the developer to work with the City on its experience in elevating the building and to share costs, processes, and lessons learned. “It may be cost prohibitive for most people,” he said. “This is a typical example of multi-family on the Beach … On paper is one thing but when you actually go and do it, who knows what you’ll run into.”
 
Finglass said, “I’m very hesitant to use a Hohauser building as what’s been called a ‘trial balloon’ for this moving. There are plenty of other buildings in low-lying areas that could be trial balloons. This building is by a very important architect and, again, I think we’re going down a slippery slope and if that’s the direction of the Board in the future, that in my view is not historic preservation. I don’t know what you call it, historic replication or whatever and I find it shameful that a majority of people on this board apparently are willing to go along with this part of the project. It’s just not historic preservation in any way, shape, or form. It’s a replica. It’s just a shame that a building can’t be what it is and I think it’s a bad precedent to set for other important buildings in the City which may be under similar circumstances in the future. I think we’re justifying the beginning of the end of what should be preserved.”
 
The Board voted 5-1 to approve the project with Finglass being the lone vote against.
 
Because the project involves over 50,000 gross square feet in new construction, it also must go to the Planning Board. That hearing is scheduled for May 22.  
 
The Board also asked for a discussion item at a future meeting on the City code requirement that restricts construction over historic structures.
 

Renderings: Stantec Architecture
 
 
16th Street with restored Hohauser building
Corner, 16th and Washington
View from Washington Avenue

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