Who We Are

Sonia Chao- CUCD Director

Sonia Chao writes and teaches in the areas of sustainable architecture and urbanism, resilient design, and historic preservation in the subtropics. Her scholarship explores the intersection between historic preservation, historic places, and resilient design. Some of her more recent accomplishments include grant awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF), W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Barr Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), as well as multiple grant awards to fund regional community engagement activities, in collaboration with Asst. Provost Bachin (OCCE), including Miami-Dade County Housing Finance Authority, The J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, and the Jesse Ball DuPont Fund. In 2016, she convened a university-wide ad-hoc faculty working group, the Resilient Miami Initiative, focused on Resiliency issues. For a ten year period, Chao focused research and capacity building efforts in the area of urban codes; specifically, the relationship between the evolution of urban form and urban codes in historic centers and collaborated on this topic with scholars in Havana Cuba- their case study site. She has been appointed to the Executive Board of the Florida Climate Institute. Before entering the academy, she practiced architecture in New York City with Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Kohn Pederson Fox, and in Venice, Italy with Studio Mar, in collaboration with Vittorio Gregotti Architetti. She received a Masters of Science in Architecture from Columbia University, and Bachelor in Architecture from University of Miami.

Steven Fett - CUCD Assistant Director

Steven Fett is a full-time lecturer at the University of Miami, School of Architecture.  He received a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Architecture and Master of Urban Design at the University of Miami.  Steven, a licensed architect, is the founder of his own architectural design and planning firm, Steven Fett Architecture.  Located in downtown Miami, the firm has won a number of important awards including the Florida Redevelopment Association’s President's Award, and the American Public Works Association’s, “Public Works Project of the Year” for his built redesign of Commercial Boulevard in downtown Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida, a project he co-authored with fellow professor, Jaime Correa.  Steven is a regular contributor to the School’s Open City Studio program, an itinerant urban laboratory that travels to international cities each summer.

Ricardo Lopez - CUCD Assistant Director

Rick Lopez has been part of the faculty at U-SoA for over a decade, teaching drawing courses, design studios, and preservation electives for both undergrads and grads.  Recently he has been working with the Center for Computational Sciences to integrate emerging technologies to traditional methods of documenting historic structures.  He has also participated in various travel abroad programs and has helped shape the school’s “U-Serve” Day as part of his work at the CUCD, the school’s community engagement arm.

He and his wife, Xuan Florez, founded Florez Lopez Architects in 2009 where they engage a range of projects from the custom design of private residences to consultation on public/private urban design interventions.  They are committed to preserving traditions of architecture, urbanism, and culture as they relate to region and climate, while adapting them to continually evolving contexts.

Zhao Pei- Researcher

Founder of Urban Propensity Studio, an interdisciplinary design studio in China focuses on architectural design, urban design, heritage protection, and the history and theory of modern Chinese architecture, along with comparative studying between Latin American and Chinese modern architecture. 

He has lectured at numerous design institutions with his writings appearing in Time Architecture, Domus, The Architect, Urbanism Architecture, Architecture Culture, Gallery, Azure, Architectural Journal, New Architecture, Urban Design Journal, among others. He is a guest editor of The Architect, and a columnist and a guest editor of Architecture & Culture. In 2015, he cooperated with Prof. Jorge Francisco Lienue to curate Latin American modern architecture issue of The Architect, which is the first time to comprehensively introduce Latin American architecture to Chinese readers. His research works have been exhibited in many international biennials: Wuzhen (2017), Chengdu (2011), Venice (2010), Amsterdam (2003). In 2006, he co-worked with Adrian Blackwell to curate Detour: Tactical approaches to China’s changing landscape, the first international exhibition of contemporary Chinese architects. The works he designed and participated received many awards in different countries and regions. He is the committee member of Chinese Industrial Heritage Society and academic member of DOCOMOMO China.

Before teaching, he has practiced as an urban designer and architect in many international office, such as EDAW, ATKINS, PARSONS Brinkerhoff, with extensive experience in US, Canada and China. He has received many awards for his works in different countries and regions in past years.

Benjamin Kirtman- Research Affiliate

Dr. Ben Kirtman is the program director for the Climate & Environmental Hazards program at the Center for Computational Science.  He is also a Professor in the Division of Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS). Prior to joining the University of Miami, Dr. Kirtman was a Professor at George Mason University.

In June of 2016, he was appointed Director of CIMAS, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration‘s (NOAA) Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies.

Dr. Kirtman received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of California at San Diego in Applied Mathematics. He holds Masters and PhD degrees in Meteorology and Physical Oceanography from the University of Maryland–College Park. Dr. Kirtman is very active in scientific leadership both internationally and nationally. Currently, he is a Coordinating Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report (AR) Five.

Alex Morcate- Research Affiliate

Alex Morcate has been in the financial services and real estate industries for 12 years, covering the gamut from mutual fund advisory, to bank risk analysis, to residential and commercial real estate analysis. During this time, Alex has evaluated over $7 billion in residential and commercial properties across the United States with a focus on development, re-development and multifamily properties.

He specializes in investment and development feasibility with extensive experience evaluating under-utilized, under-performing properties.

Alex holds a master’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in international real estate from Florida International University. Prior to his graduate studies, Alex graduated from the University of Florida with honors.

For the last 8 years Alex has worked as an adjunct professor at the University of Miami’s Master’s Degree Program of Real Estate Development and Urbanism where he teaches real estate analysis and finance. He was also a visiting instructor for Florida International University, the local Board of Realtors and FIABCI, an international real estate federation that represents real estate professionals.

Max Zabala- Research Affiliate 

Max Zabala, principal of OSKI Studio and Director of the Zonar product in Gridics, is an architectural and urban planner with over a decade of experience from the analysis and design, to development and construction.

As a native of Ecuador, Mr. Zabala is fluent in English and Spanish. Mr. Zabala earned a degree in architecture and engineering technology from Wentworth Institute of Technology at Boston, MA in 2001 and later graduated from the Masters of Architecture program at the University of Miami in 2007. Mr. Zabala has experience with both private and public projects in all phases of the architectural and urban planning process, including design development through construction administration, merging technical expertise and design flexibility.

During his Urban Planning career, Mr. Zabala developed Zonar, the world’s first site-specific zoning application. Zonar allows anyone to understand development capacity for any parcel or assemblage, design new zoning codes, run scenarios, and assist municipalities reviewing plans.

Dr. Wangda Zuo - Research Affiliate

Dr. Zuo's research focuses on modeling and simulation of smart, sustainable and resilient buildings, communities and cities. Dr. Zuo is the recipient of IBPSA-USA Emerging Professional Award, Eliahu I. Jury Early Career Research Award, ASHRAE Distinguished Service Award, Provost Research Award, and SEEDS Leadership Award. Dr. Zuo is Treasurer and Affiliate Director (representing USA) of International Building Performance Simulation Association (IBPSA); Chair of IBPSA-USA Research Committee; Faculty Advisor of University of Miami ASHRAE Student Branch; Secretary, former Research Subcommittee Chair and former Voting Member of ASHRAE Technical Committee (TC) 4.10 Indoor Environment Modeling; Secretary and Voting Member of ASHRAE TC 7.4 Exergy Analysis for Sustainable Buildings; Voting Member of ASHRAE TC 4.7 Energy Calculations.