Keeping Current Competition Winner: Department Design Office

July 22, 2019

Van Alen Institute and the City of North Miami Announce Winner of Keeping Current: Repetitive Loss Properties Design Competition – Department Design Office

Department Design Office is Awarded $80,000 to Transform Flood-Prone Lot in North Miami into Community Space and Storm Water Management Site, to be Unveiled December 2019

New York, NY — July 22, 2019 — Van Alen Institute, in collaboration with the City of North Miami, today announced Department Design Office as the winner of the KEEPING CURRENT: Repetitive Loss Properties design competition. The competition, which launched in April 2019, invited architects and designers from around the globe to submit proposals that reimagine public uses of the City of North Miami’s current and future portfolio of flood-prone vacant lots, known as repetitive loss (RL) properties. Through the selection of this interdisciplinary team to develop a master plan and pilot project for an RL property in North Miami, the competition aims to promote climate-consciousness, reinvigorate an underused communal area, and reduce the cost of flood insurance, in hopes that other cities will also benefit from these learnings.

The competition selected three international finalists to receive a $5,000 award and travel stipend to join Van Alen in North Miami for a three-day program in early July, featuring tours and discussions with the community. The invited firms were Department Design Office, Office ParkScheerbarth, and Resolve. The finalist teams were asked to develop a high-level proposal for a pilot activation of an RL site, located at 901 Northeast 144th Street, North Miami. The 18,101.81 SF site is in a residential neighborhood, adjacent to three single-family residences and a street. Because the topography of this small neighborhood varies so widely, the finalists were asked to consider that some community members experience regular flooding and standing water, while others do not. The proposals were presented to a jury comprised of local and national leaders in climate change, design, and community engagement, who played a critical role in selecting finalist and winning teams and in helping to shape their concepts.

Department Design Office’s winning proposal, Good Neighbor, addresses two critical concerns that arose during community discussions about this treasured public space. Through a piping and basin system, storm water will flow into a water retention pool, decreasing the amount of flooding on nearby properties. With physical markers registering water elevation change, the retention pool will also make flood water visible to members of the community, presenting an opportunity to increase local awareness about how much water the area receives. In addition to the retention pool, Good Neighbor will incorporate diverse plants native to the area in order to highlight the different ecosystems that have been sacrificed due to development, including pine rockland, coastal hammock, coastal marsh, marsh prairie, and sawgrass marsh.

Department Design Office will have five months to develop a master plan for RL sites in North Miami and to fully flesh out designs for the pilot project’s implementation. Department Design Office has been awarded $80,000 for master plan development, design, and construction. A pilot project ribbon-cutting will take place early December 2019. Van Alen will collaborate with Miami-based placemaking organization Urban Impact Lab and local stakeholders to ensure that the design will genuinely serve the needs and desires of the North Miami community.

The Department Design Office team is comprised of four entities: Department Design Office, Adler Guerrier, Andrew Aquârt, and Forerunner. As landscape architects, urban designers, architects, artists, and planners, this team brings several key areas of experience to the issue of RL properties in North Miami. Beyond landscape architecture and design, Miami-based artist Adler Guerrier adds his experience in public art; and Forerunner brings a nuanced understanding of FEMA’s Community Rating System as well as floodplain management. Andrew Aquârt acts as the team’s local architect with a decade of practice in Miami. Members of the Department Design Office team have also worked in community engagement and public art focused particularly in arenas of environmental consciousness. Together, they form a multidisciplinary team with both local and expert knowledge of design, planning, and ecology.

“Because many of these lots, and the pilot site specifically, are within residential areas, they have the potential to give back to the community in a meaningful way – to be a good neighbor,” said the Department Design Office. “Rather than lay vacant, these lots can increase stormwater capacity and alleviate local flooding by functioning as basins; unlike other forms of stormwater infrastructure that are typically buried underground, however, these sites offer the chance to make visible their function while showcasing South Florida’s unique ecology. We envision this pilot site, and other emergent sites, as a register for environmental change that simultaneously grows public awareness, reduces risk locally, and provides a community gathering space.”

“We are very excited about the new platform for environmental sustainability that the innovative Department Design Office plan will bring to the city of North Miami,” said Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime, City of North Miami. “We understand the importance of taking steps today to lay a framework for the environmental quality of this community’s future. We feel privileged that such an innovative project to address flood-prone receptive loss properties is taking place in North Miami, and ultimately serve as sustainable repurposing roadmap for neighboring communities to follow. We are thankful to all who made this possible and anticipate positive outcomes.”

“Van Alen is thrilled to work with Department Design Office to reimagine North Miami’s flood-prone, vacant lots,” said Van Alen Institute’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, Jessica Lax. “This is an important opportunity to demonstrate the multi-layered benefits of adaptive design, from beautification to protection.”

“We believe that a truly great city is one where all residents have the opportunity to shape their future,” said Marta Viciedo, Founding Partner and Executive Director of Strategy, Urban Impact Lab. “Department’s approach to this project aligns with this idea in powerful and transformative ways by empowering residents and the City of North Miami with information and experiences that will ultimately drive sustainability and resiliency for every community member.”

Competition Jury Members

Germane Barnes, Director, Studio Barnes; Jennifer Bolstad, Principal Landscape Architect, Local Office Landscape & Urban Design; Jessica Lax, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Van Alen Institute; Debbie Love, City Planner, City of North Miami; Jayantha Obeysekera, Director & Researcher, Sea Level Rise Solutions Center, Florida International University; Akin Ozaydin, City Engineer, City of North Miami; Jeremy Alain Siegel, Associate, BIG -Bjarke Ingels Group; Marta Viciedo, Founding Partner & Strategy Director, Urban Impact Lab.

About Van Alen Institute

At Van Alen Institute, we believe design can transform cities, landscapes, and regions to improve people’s lives. We collaborate with communities, scholars, policymakers, and professionals on local and global initiatives that rigorously investigate the most pressing social, cultural, and ecological challenges of tomorrow. Building on more than 125 years of experience, we develop cross-disciplinary research, provocative public programs, and inventive design competitions.

Keeping Current: A Sea Level Rise Challenge for Greater Miami is a project of Van Alen Institute that encompasses a series of initiatives seeking innovative solutions to protect South Florida’s 6 million residents from the potentially catastrophic consequences of sea level rise. To fund the initiative, Van Alen raised $850,000 from The Rockefeller Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The Miami Foundation, Target, and Terra. Van Alen employs its expertise and network to help South Florida residents gain a better understanding of sea level rise and new ways to respond to their changing environment. This initiative builds upon Van Alen’s leadership in organizing projects that generate innovative solutions to complex climate change problems. After Hurricane Sandy, we worked with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to develop nearly $1 billion worth of infrastructural improvements in the Northeast region. We also recently worked in Lower Mississippi River Delta, where we collaborated with dozens of stakeholders to make the New Orleans region more sustainable over the next 100 years.

About North Miami, FL

North Miami, Florida (pop. 60,000+) is a diverse community, located midway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. As the sixth largest city in Miami-Dade County, North Miami is committed to growth in its business community, while also focusing on issues such as education, the arts, leisure activities, and sustainability to provide a viable future for its residents and to preserve the City’s rich history since incorporating in 1926. For more information, visit

About Urban Impact Lab

Urban Impact Lab enables clients to drive positive change in their communities through civic research, creative placemaking and social impact initiatives. Through strategic, tailored projects, Urban Impact Lab bridges clients’ goals with a data-driven approach for measurable impact while strengthening their relationship to their city.

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