Friday, December 22, 2006

Racing through the past.

Guillermo visited the site for the first time a few days after we agreed to work together on this project, at the end of November. He flew to CR to visit some of his other projects, and then made it out to Nosara to visit EE-25.

In preparation for his visit, I needed the land cleared. Actually, cleaned, leaving all trees with trunks over 6 inches thick. For this, I called Ashley White, of Nosara Real Estate. I met her last time I was in Costa Rica. Another agent from the Realty office had been very helpful in tracking down the title to my land, appraising its value, and offering candid advice as to what to do with it. That agent, Josh Lepree, left Costa Rica, but Ashley White has been very helpful in his place, giving me information about loans, recommendations about building goals and values, and connecting me with local services. This time, she connected me with her husband, who cleaned from the road down about 6 meters, along the southern boundary of the property for 175.

Guillermo got there in the daylight, and watched the sun go down on the land. He got up early the next morning to see the morning break over the land also. Very thorough and much appreciated. He thought the land had great possibilities and started in with ideas.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

All three architects replied to me favorably. They seemed interested in the project. Each sent some examples of his work. I have to admit that I found all but one or two examples from Icesa to be heavy, airless, and just not that for which I was working. It was also difficult to set up an itnerview time with the architects.

Guillermo was actually my first interview. I felt a great rappport. His input closley paralleled my vision. He offered a lot of good avice, and it was clear that he had a good deal of experience with designing and building. We talked for two hours.

DatumZero has a New York Office, as well as one in San Jose. I viewed that as a major plus. This would give me the oppurtuntiy to meet the architect face to face regulalrly if need be. It also meant that the architects there would be famililar with American building styles and quality. I felt this would be useful in translating my ideas, and also in feeling comfortable about the level of workmanship.

Guillermo is well renown for his Costa Rica building, the Achio House.

I cannot confirm for certain that this is my dream house, but I like its openness, the lightness of the materials, and the upward sweep of the structure. The boxes are a bit too strogn for me as a beach house, but this indicated to me that Garita's abilities are sophisticated. No cinderblocking in this one.

Here is Guillermo in front of his project. He received a lot of press for this piece, including Dwell magazine, where I first saw it years ago.

I liked speaking with Guillermo. He was very honest. Where he thought a timeline was unreasonable, he said so up front. He teaches architecture in NYC, and he had the patience of a teacher. I could tell that he liked the project, but he was not desparate for it. he keeps a small project number, so that he can focus on each. I told of my other interviews. It turns out that Luis Quiros used to work in Garita's office. Guillermo had nothing but positive things to say about his work. He recommended that I speak with him, and if I was not going to go with Guillermo, to consider Luis carefully.

So I did. Luis was my second interview. He was warm, and he was youthful and energetic. He has a great passion for his work. He is well versed and interested in sustainable architecture, green architecture if you will. He spends a lot of time with the land, and thinks hard about the project in terms of ecology, impact, aethetics and serviceability. He was very honest, and straightforward. He is located in San Jose. He knew Nosara, and had freinds there. I viewed his familiarity with the land, and his emphasis on sustainability as major positives. He was great, and he too, like Guillermo, asked that I keep in touch, even if I do not hire either of them, and to feel free to come to them with questions. good business, no doubt, but also very sincere. He also has a father in construction, so as an architect he has a better than usual knowledge of the cost of materials and construction. This is also a huge plus.

I decided to work with Guillermo. He had a good deal of expereince, and his proximity to me in Boston were major pluses. I am trying to bild remotely, and so I need all the hand holdign that I can get. I thought Guillermo and I shared a vision, and it seemed a good fit. I am comfortable with my decision, but I will say this to anyone who is looking for an architect: consider Luis Diego Quiros for your job. I hate that I cannot get his web page to come up, and cannot link to it. I will edit that when I can find a working address. I recommend him to anyone working in CR. Not only that, but I will try to get a hold of him when I get next to CR and maybe we can paddle out together and I can buy him a beer.

I recieved emails back from Luis, Sr. Fuscaldo's assistant, and Guillermo. I described my project in slightely better detail. I also sent to them a file I had created with the aims of my project, and then images that I found inspiriing, so that they could see what I was envisioning.

Here is the list from the file:

• Serene,
• Balanced
• Open
• Airy
• Clean
• Uplifting proportions.
• Calming
• Compact
• Graceful

Environmentally friendly:
• low impact,
• energy efficient,
• use native materials, renewable or low energy materials where possible,
• use natural light, heat, air, warms, breeze, water.
o Lift the main rooms so that air can circulate underneath and add sky lights to reduce reliance on air conditioning
o Green space on top
o Solar panels
o In floor heating
o Reclaimed wood
o Bamboo
o Partially underground to take advantage of cool. Perhaps one gues bedroom on the bottom floor, leading into the garden. Completely glass on out facing side.
o Low water toilets
o Double paned glass
o Cistern or water collection
o Cross veneration
o Use of stone
o Passive cooling
 Shading
 Low mass thermal construction
 Reflective insulation
 Solar film/tinted glass
 Good roof and ceiling construction
 Casement windows. Louver windows. Cloestery windows
 Roof, and overhangs
 Low thermal mass construction unless design innovatively considers the use of high mass construction
 Raised and exposed floors to allow cooling breeze beneath.
 Hot air ventilation at ceiling level, and fans throughout.
 Plants filtering out the hot dry north east winds.
 Single room depths where possible.
 Spinaway roof ventilator
 High mass walls and floors on the interior of the building to regulate temperate.
 Insulation
 Orientation
Easy to clean and to repair:
• exposed piping,
• windows within reach for cleaning,
• resilient floors…)
• simple electrical systems.
• Concrete and wood.

• Post modern/contemporary architecture, with Costa Rican flavor, proportions and geometry
• Raw concrete, steel glass with wood, brick and tile.
• Coexist with the native flora. Cut as few hardwood trees as possible.

Compliment the view:
• Everything should be designed to maximize and appreciate the view. This will require at least a second story, perhaps a third.
• The spaces where people spend the most time awake should have priority to the view.
• I would like space outside as well as inside for enjoying the view. I have considered using glass for the top floor almost completely. This would not store the heat and might be the ideal building material.
• Open kitchen area, solid glass looking out into the trees, with small balncony to help clean the windows.
• Completely glass fronts facing the ocean.

• Ability to expand the design in later years to accommodate future needs.

• Compliment the neighbors building. (to the extent they are not themselves horrific.)
• Do not obstruct neighbors views, or minimize obstruction.

• Efficient cost structuring where possible
• Working directly with a builder, or with an architect who is also a builder.

3 bedrooms (Master w. two guest).
Humidity proof study/library/office
Kitchen: one range, 4 burners, one hood, an oven, fridge, freezer. Counter prep space. I love to cook and do it almost every night. I would like to have an area where people can sit while I cook. .
Meditation room
+/- 2000 sq/ft.
Use the property with a mind to later adding a small guest house and garden.
Garage- 1 car
Security (Since I will not be a year round inhabitant.)
A stair case to get down to the beach road.

• What materials hold up best in Costa Rica?
• Which materials are available?
• What is the quality of workmanship in the Guanacaste?
• What quality building woods and materials are native to that area?
• Earthquakes?
• Termites or insects and wood?
• Costs?
• Repair?
• Installation?
• Tornados
• Flooding and torrential downpours?
• Heat in summer and winter?
• Climate, what sort of construction is needed for this area? Hot, but dry and wet, or does the winter get cold? Do the nights get cold? What is the mean diurnal variation?
• Mold?
• Trade winds? What is the orientation of the breezes and the winds?
• What is winter like?
• Angle of the sun from summer to winter?
• Security?
• How must the slope of the plot be taken into account? How can it be made into a positive.

I cannot print the images, since Blogger will not letyou cut and paste in, but I got most of them from

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I did some recon while I was in CR. Looking for architectural inspiration. I took some images to get an idea of what the locals could do.
For fun, here are the boys in CR.



and yours truly

Hardly looking like a group on a real estate development mission. But then, neither did the Pilgrims I am sure.
Here is what my property looked like when I visited it in 2006.

as you can see, 6 years allowed it to return, largely, to nature. You cannot see from this picture becuase it was so bright out, but the water can be seen beyond those trees. The great grew blue of the pacific.

This is the view from my neibor's property. It is what I will be able to obtain as long as I can build with enough hiegt to see over the ridge line. That should not be a problem, so this should be my view one day, albiet from a deck, instead of from a yard like my neighbor. href="">

Views that will follow to the sides of the building if, and when, it is built.

and again, the view I hope to have when I am done building....
I tried, but could not contact most of the architectural firms I approached. Neither Neo, nor Roullon could I get to respond to me. I send several emails. This is what my querry email looked like:


I am currently researching the team needed for a building project in
Nosara, on the Guanacaste peninsula. I hope to build, within a year, a
3 bedroom, multilevel residence with views of the Pacific. I have a one
acre plot of land there in the hills.

I have developed what I think is a reasonable budget, and have a good
idea of the architectural style I would like to embody: open, serene,
contemporary, strong, and reflecting the building materials and
traditions of Costa Rica. I will travel only occasionally to the site
during construction, and will need to rely on an architect who can visit
the site during design and construction. It is a beautiful piece of
land, and I want to develop an environmentally sound structure that
compliments it.

You firm was given to me in a search for an architect. I have spent a
lot of time with your website and I am stunned by the depth and spirit
of your structures.

I am wondering if you would be interested in the project, and if so, if
you could provide me with examples of your work, and references.


Now that I read it, it is pretty poorly written. I sent tha, in variations, to everyone I liked.

Here is Jaime Rolluion's web site. Check out Como si no, and some of his other buildings. I found them really inspirational.

Quirpas web site is pretty crude, for reasons I learned later.

Here is datum zero. I especially like thier ecazu house, the M house, and the spaciousness of thier approach. Also, you might see in the credits that they designed the spa at Mandalay Bay. It is, to me, Beautiful. Serene, balanced, and anchored.

Sr. Fuscaldo, from Icesa, someone from Roullion, Luis Diego Quiros from Quiraps, and Guillermo Garita from Datum Zero entered intot he final round by virstue of getting back to me.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

After talking to a few US firms, It became clear that though they were professional, and eager, to tackle the project, they were not intimately familiar with the obstacles involved in building in Costa Rica. I decided to hire a Costa Rican firm to design the structure.

This is more difficult than it sounds perhaps. In the US, you would ask around for reputations, interview, and do some research. In CR, its hard to know even how to get a listing of architects.

I ran a search on "Architects" and "Costa Rica". One result was a yellow pages type database. It listed everyone in CR who claimed to be an architect. There were about 300 entries. This was really not all that helpful. I tired entering each name into a search and seeing if they had a web site. This actually unconvered a link to a realtors page. Realtors in CR are often involved with selling land and then offering the service of helping the clients build on that land. This page listed the handful of architects with which the realty company recomended working. I dropped anyone who did not have a web page, reasoning that if they did not feel compfortable with the internet enough to post a web page, then communications would be difficult. That left only several options:

Zurcher Architects, Jorge Mojica, Rouillon Arquitectura; Jaime Rouillon, and Neo Arquitectos Sergio Bogarin.

I added three more names to this list.

Quirpas, Icesa, and Guillermo Garita of DatumZero.

Quirpas I found while searching for architexts using a search engine. I found the CV of a Luis Diego Quiros on line. His training and influences looked like a good fit, and I liked that he had taught architecture at Kansas state.

Icesa I found by just looking at houses images on line and finding one I really liked.

DatumZero I found years earlier. Or rather, they found me. I had, in 2004, when I was just realizing I needed to get to CR a build, posted a request for information about architects on a Costa Rica bulliten board. I received some good advice about pricing and considerations, and also was contacted by an architect who introduced himself and offered to answer any questions. I dislike hard sells, so I told hom very little about the project, but was pleasantly suprised that he offered candid and striaghtforward answers. We corresponded briefly, and I kept his emails tucked away in my inbox. When I looked him up again in 2006, I found his website, and was impressed. It was clean, and contained a modest, but impressive cannon of work that complimented the vision I had. I bookmarked his page, and continued my research.

I sent out emails to all of the above firms but Zurcher's. He is well respected in CR and Central America. He places are sophisticated and well built, but just not my style. See for yourself on the link above.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Building a house, I learned, requires an architect. Actually, I figured that one out all by my self. But after that realization, I plunged again into ignorance. How does one go around selecting an architect? It is harder than you would think. Especially if the house you want to construct is in a foriegn country.

Ari Stonehill, my financial advisor, gave me a refferal. Not, necessarily, a recommendation, but someone who would be willing to act as a first resource in my search. I learned I like architects. They respect thier role as techinicians and artists. I feel they would all prefer to build somethign beautiful and novel, but they are not free to do that with thieir clients money, so thier job is to translate dreams, visions, into 3 dimensions with bathrooms, electrical hookups, and all the boring practical deatils like insulation and setbacks.

I learned that someone needs to take PageMaker away from architectural firms. Architect web pages are terrible. They tend to be self indulgent, non-sensical, and convoluted. Seriously, here I am, a potential client, and I could not even, on some occasions, figure out that the website was indeed that of an architet. No blase, common terms like, say, "architect" denigrated thier web pages. They did not clutter the space with descriptions of anything gauche like houses. No, I learned about missions, and approaches and interconnections.

Look, I practice Zen. I like me some esoteric, contradictory, introspection. But I am shopping for a service here, and the web sites could just make you naseous.

for example, this comes from the website of an architect in which I was genuinely interested:

"Our office occupies a ground level storefront. The windows are a transparent filter between our interior work-space and exterior public-space.As the traditional storefront presents that narrow reach where the passerby is invited to shop but not obliged to buy, The [] storefront similarly exhibits ideas and materials to be glimpsed and perused, but not necessarily taken as conclusive or final.And in the same way storefronts continually transform, the SsSTOREFRONT presents a varied scene of manifestos, theories, or musings.Analagous to our physical storefront, this web version documents, augments, or presents alternatives to the actual one."

are you kidding me?

a transparent filter? I was a poli sci major but even I would have dificulty employing this much BS in a single paragraph without serous counseling.

Where was I? Ahh yes.

I looked at hundreds of websites. Naomi, a friend of an associate of mine, is an architect. She is also a crack up. She was, like I discovered a lot of architects to be, very excited about design, and very honest. She knew she could not tackle my projec,t but gave me good and blunt advice about looking for an architect for the project.

She recommeded that I try a larger NY firm which might have offices in CR. She gave me some names. She recommended that I get an idea of what I wante to build. She told me that she had had people apprach ehr firm looking for a cape style house, when it was clear, from a 10 second purusal of the portfolio, that Cape Style is not what they did. There is a disconnect. Like hair dressing, architexts spend all day designing, and thinking of design, but the average person does not employ their services enough, and the cost is high enough, that they are uneducuated in the possibilities and wary about a bad experiment.

I spent a lot of time pulling images. I waited for responses from some big NY firms, and I thought about my position. I decided that it made sense to choose a Costa Rican Architect. A CR architect, I reasoned, would know what builidng materials were available, what unique construction challenges would be faced, be in a position to build a house that refected the lang, its traditions and its special characteristics. I did not want to slap a victorian home down in Costa Rica. I wanted the bulding to refelct CR traditional architecture.

Oh yes, and I also love post modern architecture.

Its a dirty secret. One I have kept in the closet for years. But this project is my big coming out party.

Thats right, I prefer the Government ceter in Boston to the state house. I like IM pei's contributions to the Louvre. I like Falling Water, the Moscone center, and I am no ashamed. not anymore.

Its not that I do no like victorian homes. or colonian architecture. or Classical, Barouque or any other movements. I dont like neo-victorian. Neo-colonial. neo-greek, etc... Let it die, evolve, make new things. I reached this conclusion while living in Paris. They boldly blended glass a steel with even the historial buildings. It was alive. And I wanted one.
I bought the land in 1999. And then it sat. I entered law school and hadn't the funds to visit CR. And then there was a move to Boston, a new job, and years passed. In 2005, Jeremy called one day. He told me he was going to CR, that he needed a vacation. I know a call to rally. Ian and I got our respective sh*t together, and we all met in CR for a week of surf.

It was a great week. It is not necessary, though attractive, to go into the surfing here. We did make it out to Nosara, and stayed for a couple of days with the intention of checking the land and perhaps finding someone to build a cheap ranchito. Ian, who has a affable ability to make friends with all warm blooded mammals, made already settled in with some people at the bar when I finished my shower. One of them was a real estate agent. We got to talking and I told him that part of the plan of the trip was to check in on my land. I was imagining red tape and squatters, but Josh asked to see the plano, and then he sat back.

"when were you last in CR?" he asked.
"yeah, well, a lot has changed since then..."
"sure, I figured as much". Crashing dissapointment.
"How much did you pay for this land?, if you dont mind me asking"
"its appreciated".

Well, that changed everything.

The Ranchito, once a quaint idea, now was potentially, a waste of an investement. I had all kinds of ideas. Josh encouraged me to sell. I surfed and thought about that. I remembered paddling out into the surf in 1999 with my favorite T shirt tied to a rock. I threw it in the water and promised I would be back. I didn't buy the land as an investment. It made sense fiscally, but not spiritually, to convert it to green now.

I decided to head back to the States and think about it.

Back in Boston, i hired a financial advisor. he not only thought the idea of building was rational, he thought it was a good investment decision. With that, I decided to build.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

More Topo news.

Well, the topographer claims he never had any instruction to note the trees on the survey. Jeremy tell me that this costs extra here in the states, so I do not get the sense that Fransisco was being dishonest, but all attempts to contact him resulted in nothing during the survey. Further, I looked through my email, and in the retention message to Ashley, Guillermo asked that all trees be noted. She says that she did not know she was supposed to convey this instruction.

Fair enough I guess. The email leaves room for that interpretation. Barely:

Hi Ashley,>> >> Thanks for the info. on the Surveyer.>>
Those dates for the survey sound good. I am cc'ing my studio head in my
CR>> office for coordination on the Topo. His name is Alex Bravo; he can
speak>> to Francisco to make sure that certain things are noted on the
topo. such>> as trees with calipers larger that 8" etc...he can give
Francisco a ring.

So now Franscisco wants 400 dollars to add the trees to the survey. That, after charging 725 for the survey itself. That comes to a little under 70 dollars a tree. Call me crazy, but that seems a little steep.

I dont want to pay 400 dollars for that which was clearly asked to be done. I would do something reasonable, like 75. But 400? I am a foriegner, not an ATM.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This is Nosara.

Its hard to take good pictures of Nosara because it insults cameras. It is too buetiful to really be photogrpahed well. It is located on the Guanacaste Penninsula of Costa Rica. It is hard to get to. The first time I went there, I took a bus. The bus nearly killed me. The second time I went to Nosara, I drove a rental truck with two of my good friends, Jeremy and Ian. I nearly killed them. It is not paved, and the road occasionally washes out.

The first time I visited Costa Rica, I lived on this beach. I dug a tench around my tent so that the rain water would nto flood me. I often woke up with crabs and other assorted beach friends in my sleeping bag. The beach is called Gionnes. Or Giones. Actually, I have no idea how to spell it.

Gionnes has mediocre, but regular surf. That is why I stayed there. I am a mediocre, but regular surfer. The beach is protected by a 200 meter set back. That means your friends "asshole developers" cannot crap it up. There is a mountain range right off of the set back. It is that moutain I am trying to crap up with my house.
Cradle to Cradle

Today I looked at some of William McDOnough's architectural projects. Mr. McDOnough is the authour of the cradle to cradle movement of eco-effectiveness and the book by the same name. He discourages the "consume less" appraoch to environmentalism, and inherently limited. He argues that by merely consuming less, we only slow the rate of decent. He advocates for a truly sustainable approach where waste is fully recylcable, nourishing and beneficial.

He has been hired to design a city in China. An entire city. The city will house over 14 million people.

He describes the process of building a structure that utilizes the environment, and lets light, air, and water into the building, using them for lighting, cooling, and filtering, instead of shutting them out. He describes anticipatory building, the process of constructing a building in anticipation of a technology that does not yet exist. For instance, a headquarters he built has a south facing roof with inputs for solar panels once they become cost effective.

He designs products that are not, of themselves toxic. Carpets that can be completely recyled, timbers that are sustainably harvested. Wet lands are used to break the water's travel from the roof tops to the water source, so that they do nto erode.

Do check his web site out, and give it a moment. He has been very sucessful. As he said, if it were not cheaper to build this way, noone would be paying me:
Today I heard from Guillermo,

He told me that the topographical study I commissioned was done, but not well done. The local guy I hired had neglected to designate on the survey, where I might find the large trees. This might be deemed mere oversight if it were not the case that Guillermo had specifically asked him to note any trees over 8".

Apparently he wants to be paid more money to go to the site and add the trees into the survey. The local guy not Guillermo.

I say, horseshit. We asked him specifically to add the trees, furthermore he was asked to coordinate with D0's local office. He never recieved nor returned calls from D0. But I gave away my leverage when I paid him for the work. I am not used to working with people who refuse to do what they said they would do. I don't particulaly like weilding a contract in one hand, and a club in the other, but its time to get rid of that squeemishness. This house needs to be built.

I will call Ms. Ashley White tommorrow and ask her what to negotiate on my behalf with this gentleman.

In the good news department, aparently the survey was misformatted, but Guillermo's CR office was able to reconstruct the information. So we have a contoured map, even if we do not know where the trees are.


1) be explicit
2) get confirmation
3) pay AFTER reciept of satisfactory service.

The only silver lining on this experience was that I may have learned my lesson early, to prevent a more costly, and infuriating, mistep later based on trust.

Guillermo was great about the error. He was aghast at the surveyor's actions. He followed up with the surveyor, and then offered to pick up half of the cost of the blackmail, just to get the job done on time. He wrote me a letter explaining that he regretted the experience, that this was not the way that he works, and that he was embarrased that a client had to endure this treatment.



My name is Michael and I am about to do something reckless.

In the next year, I am going to design, and then build, a single family residence in Nosara Costa Rica. Actaully, I will do neither the designing or the building, but rather work with people who will do both. Semantics aside, I hope to spend new year's day, 2008, looking out at the Pacific ocean from my place atop the hills of Nosara.

How did I get here?

In 1999, I decided I needed a vacation. I had never asked for a vacation before. The powers that be in the american edicational system, in thier infinite wisdom, had always carefully allotted me vacation each year at regularly scheduled intervals, allowing me to relax and focus on not being educated.

decisions need objectives, butvacations are inherently objectiveless, so I imported some objectives: 1) learn some spanish, 2) learn to surf. I spent a long time coming up with those. In the end, after several trips back and forth on the (free) Staten Island Ferry, I had a conclusion. Santigo de Compostela. After another trip on the Staten Island Ferry, notably the one leaving Staten, I had a reconsideration. Costa Rica.

Thanks to a client not paying for three, count 'em, three pay cycles, I was poor. Tuna from the can poor. I nearly bankrupted myself buying a ticket into San Jose CR. In Jaco, I used what remained of the petty cash to buy a surf board. After that, it was beach camping, stealing drinking water, and more tuna from cans for a month.

I visited the town of Nosara. I intended to stay 2 days. I stayed 2 weeks. By the end, I was in love, and like any lover, totally dellusional, and so I decided that my tuna money was enough to buy land there. I walked into a real estate office, green Hurley board shorts, flip flops, a beard, and eau de Salt water purfuming my presence, and announced I wanted to visit some plots for sale. No one blinked. I guess they are used to that. Well, long story short, I visited 5 plots, none of which were enough to move me to defraud myself by signing a contract, but then I saw the 6th. bad could it be?

I inked the contract for 36000. I had, in my entire life, 1118. I wrote a check for 1000, to keep an option open for a month, and then I prayed. On the 28th day, my client paid. I sent the balance to a ms. Phillis someone, and then went back to my room in Bed Sty, where the taxis do not stop.

What ever did I do?

The piece of paper in my hand indicated that I owned almost one acre of costa rica real estate. There were stamps and seals and a lot of spanish words on that paper. Beyond that, I had no idea if I had been a victim of a 36k fraud, or if I owned something. I remained willfully ignorant. In truth, I never missed the money. It was only in my account for hours. I went back to my tuna, and back to my Goodwill Matress and slept with visions of Costa dancing through my head. Lord knows there was plenty of room in there.
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