Sonia Chao

Building Resilient Neighborhoods in South Florida and Beyond

Many of South Florida’s most historic and architecturally significant buildings are vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise. Residents and business owners worry about how best to protect their homes and buildings. City planners want to know how to preserve vibrant neighborhoods in coastal communities, and elected officials seek sustainable approaches to guide future growth. The Center for Urban and Community Design at the University of Miami’s School of Architecture is on the front lines responding to the urgent needs of South Florida by collecting data on housing stock, creating guides for residents to explain options for protecting their homes, and working with cities and national foundations to develop new standards and guidelines for preserving South Florida’s architectural history.

Sonia Chao is the Director of the Center for Urban & Community Design at the University of Miami’s School of Architecture where she also serves as a Research Associate Professor. Dr. Chao is known for her work on resilient architecture and sustainable design in South Florida and throughout the Caribbean basin. Chao founded and leads the Resilient Miami Initiative, which engages faculty from several institutions of higher education to collaborate with Florida government officials to envision resilient design solutions for historic neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County. Chao’s current research is supported by a National Science Foundation CRISP grant, to study the connections among a city’s built and social layers. Dr. Chao and her colleagues will integrate social sciences, infrastructure and urban design, to create new resilient design paradigms for coastal cities. As a scholar committed to community practice, Dr. Chao’s work informed sustainable rebuilding following Hurricane Andrew and has drawn on both modern and traditional building practices to build affordable housing in Haiti. Her work has gained the support of major philanthropies and government agencies, and she lectures nationally on resilient cities and historic preservation. Dr. Chao is an Executive Board member of the Florida Climate Institute and served as a leader of the Resilient Redesign III Charrette for the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact.