A conceptual rendering of “Zile Danse” (Dancing Islands), a community of three rotating artificial islands proposed by Haskell and Studio Yves.

April 6, 2023

Young Architects Design Solution for Miami’s Affordable Housing Crisis

Zile Danse: Haskell's resilient, sustainable Floating Housing concept is inspired by Haitian culture for Miami's climate gentrification challenge.


Working at Haskell in any of our architectural studios is a positive and optimistic design experience that promotes successful careers for our young architectural professionals (YAPs). In their current roles, our YAPs are very passionate design thinkers and are always willing to learn more and improve professionally.

To foster a creative and educational studio culture, Haskell recognizes the importance of encouraging our emerging architects to grow outside of their day-to-day design activities. One of the ways we support this is by entering architectural design competitions. Competitions provide challenging opportunities to think beyond daily project responsibilities and freely pursue creative ideas and novel visualization techniques. Through these efforts, our YAPs learn, sharpen their skills and improve their ability to collaborate with one another. After the competition, these new capabilities help us provide an even higher level of service to our clients.

With support from Operations President Frank Mangin, one of our Jacksonville-based architectural studios, in partnership with Studio Yves, recently entered the “Miami Floating Housing – Open Ideas Architecture Competition” curated by architectural research initiative Arch Out Loud. The competition brief encouraged entrants to develop solutions to the increasing effects of climate change and the growing need for affordable housing in Miami. These two macro trends are combining to create a new cultural phenomenon known as “climate gentrification,” through which residents of historic upland neighborhoods are being displaced by coastal residents looking to escape flooding from rising seas.

From left, Haskell Architectural Design Associate James Wright, Architectural Practice Design Lead Chris Allen, Public Facilities Design Associate Sophia Cain and Public Facilities Project Specialist Peng Zhang collaborate on the Miami Floating House entry.

The site chosen by Arch Out Loud was in Biscayne Bay, north of downtown Miami and just east of Legion Park. The park connects the waterfront to the Little Haiti and Little River neighborhoods, which recently have become hotspots for new upscale development.

Inspired by Culture and Dance

Exploring sustainable and resilient floating housing concepts that can preserve Haitian and Caribbean culture inspired CaylaMae Adams, Haskell Design Associate.

“What I decided to go with was the way that they dance through their challenges,” Adams said. “I researched articles online that were about the George Floyd incident and how they, instead of being destructive or aggressive and abusive, they were dancing through it in the streets.”

A tabletop workspace shows the conceptual progress toward the design.

Senior Graphic Designer Luke Romer added, “We started looking into the Haitian culture, the culture of Little Haiti. … How do you take that cultural miasma and all the different aspects of it, and how do you bring that out onto the water in a sustainable way?”

The answer Haskell and Studio Yves developed and submitted to the jury was titled “Zile Danse” (Dancing Islands) and proposed a community of three rotating artificial islands that take their formal inspiration from dancing Haitian women in traditional dresses. These poetic forms were then advanced through an iterative design process to become a beautiful aesthetic and successful technical solution.

The team started with the basic programmatic requirement to provide a minimum of 45 units in a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom configurations. All housing options include a front porch, an important feature in the social life of Haitian communities. The dwelling units are proposed as two-story duplexes to spread the cost of building maintenance over more than one family. Additional elements included docks (one mooring space per dwelling unit) and rooftop gardens where residents can relax and grow their own food.

The housing units were then grouped to form three floating island neighborhoods. These large artificial islands were further developed by Haskell’s designers to provide playgrounds, public gardens, and a central market district.

Beauty, Functionality and Resiliency

From a technical standpoint, the unique horizontal disc and vertical post structures allow the neighborhoods to move up and down easily during normal tides or king tide flooding. On nice days, the large adjustable covering on one side of the islands provides a comfortable micro-climate underneath for a shaded public park with captured breezes and water mist cooling. The covering also hosts photovoltaic panels and acts as a wind screen during extreme weather events.

The team used a Miro virtual collaboration board to share ideas.

When bad weather occurs, the entire island floats up above the storm surge and pivots into the wind, like a boat at anchor, to protect the residents and their property from damage. Ecologically inspired design ideas informed the configuration of the main posts that host wind-driven electrical generators above the bay and aqua culture below the waves. In this way, a new self-sustaining ecosystem is created for the residents that has been engineered to withstand the future effects of climate change.

Haskell is very proud of our YAPs’ entry, even though we were not selected by the jury. However, winning is not the only purpose of supporting our young architectural professionals to pursue this kind of unique challenge.

“The design competitions allow us to be creative and keep our design juices flowing,” Design Associate George Tribble said. “It's very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day drawing detail. ‘Where does the door go? Which way does it swing?’ So, I think it [the competition process] keeps our design minds energized.”

About the author: Christopher Allen, AIA, DBIA, WELL AP, joined Haskell in 2006 and now serves as Architectural Practice Design Lead, a role in which he champions the company’s design culture and advances design excellence. Allen earned a Bachelor of Arts in Art History from Boston University and a Master of Architecture from The Ohio State University.

Haskell is hiring! Join a design community where your creativity will be appreciated, challenged and nurtured. Explore the range of architectural opportunities available.

Haskell delivers $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,200 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

Promoting and expanding diversity and inclusion is a strategic pillar of Haskell’s long-term vision and is foundational to creating a team member experience of significance, success and satisfaction. Haskell Together is our intentional and consistent initiative to promote open dialogue and bring about positive change.

Related News & Insights

Privacy Policy

Our website uses technology to offer you a personalized experience. We need your consent use cookies in accordance with our privacy policy. By clicking “Accept,” you agree to our use of cookies.