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Project Manatee Bay

Type Elementary School & Community Center 

Program 8 classrooms, community spaces, manatee conservation area, nature viewing spaces, park 
Location 735 NW 11th Avenue, Miami, FL 33136 

Size 6.3 Acres

Status Conceptual, Award Winning


Although I crossed the Miami River countless times, I had not visited its shores until I first walked on this site in preparation for this project. While I looked down into the river, I experienced a magical moment. Right in front of me was a family of Manatees grazing placidly on the vegetation at the bank. As I watched, cargo vessels move past with tugboats, and I understood the treasure this community had, and that I must include the sea life that had been historically unappreciated and neglected.

The resulting project is an Elementary School with an adjacent Community Center, with a focus on education, community involvement, the environment, and the relationships with each other. The location is on the edge of an area called Little Havana that includes lower to middle-class residences, commercial, and light industrial. The project addresses the role of public spaces as tools to help societies move toward social inclusion and generate new behaviors and relationships.

The supporting facilities include an innovation lab, research center, media library, growing garden, ponds with wildlife, outdoor play zones, and a Manatee friendly environment, which allows people to enjoy and interact with the unique wildlife. The Manatee Sanctuary is visible from ground level, the roof terrace, or the unique below-ground natural aquarium. This glass-enclosed space reconstructs the relationship of the subject to object, allowing one to view the marine life in its natural habitat. The allure of pondering if you will see the creatures, not that they will be there because of being inhumanely trapped in a cage, will bring new excitement, understanding, and mutual respect.


The structures are composed of repeating forms, which can be created off-site for less cost and then if built on location. Additionally, the system can be added to over time as needs changes or additional capital becomes available, and then also applied to other locations to save money on design and production costs.

By identifying conditions and forming bottom-up performance-based solutions, Manatee Bay hopes to show how a community can learn together, enjoy nature, and have pride of place.

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