Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Pilings. I guess pilings are going to be the platofrm on which my house will rest. Whether the compact or the organic proposal, pilings will be the anchor. Jeremy, pictured below, is in real estate development, and he gave me a quick explaination of pilings.

He tells me that a house will be grounded onto pilings. The pilings are driven into the soil by a pile driver. The pile driver uses a set pneumatic strike each time, delivering the same psi to the pile. A chief will count each pile drive, and someone esle marks the distance the pile was driven. At a certain point, the pile will not drive much further. This indicates that the soil friction is sufficient to know that it is irrevokably anchored, as if it had hit bedrock itself.

What is the Costa soil like? Well, its poor. It has that romantic red hue that tells you that there is a lot of clay, and a lot of iron, but little of the ole P, K, N that makes plants grow tall and strong. You see a lot of land slides in Costa Rica.

Better question yet...what it my soil like. Well, I need to perform soil borings at some point, no doubt. Wouldnt it be nice to find a bed rock layer at about 20 feet? Yes Michael it would, and it would be nice would be nice to discover that my parents had lied to me about a trust fund they established, but highly unlikely.

The best news is that Jeremy tells me that once you reach sufficient friction, at about, say 40 feet, you can build skyscrapers on those pilings. If that is the case, then my land can certainly hold a little ole surf house.

Now, what are the odds of getting a pile driver into Guanacaste?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


When I began, one of the stated requirements of the building project was a meditation room. Well, if not a room, an area. A space for contemplation. Something intimate. Something small. A chapel.

Somehow I thought this might be lost in the shuffle, but Guillermo and Sandra took special care to preserve this element. They toyed with the idea, and polished it, and returned it to me, with a whole new finish. They confronted me with the idea of moving the space off site. Of making a special sanctuary, a hidden escape enclosed in green. Did I mention I like them?

The compact model has a meditation room. If I am to go the that model, and use that space for meditation, I would want most of the southern and western walls glass. But not all of it.

DZ asked me what I envisioned? A space for 1? or 2 or 3? 4 or 6? 1 is too small. The purpose of zazen is not to exclude the world around you, but to sit purposefully in it. 6, though, is too large. I want this to be an intimate moment. 4 people though, should be able to sit there, 2 facing two, with some room in the middle. maybe 8 by 8. Yes, 8 by 8 seems nice. And, I had not thought of it before, but seeing the compact model with an illustration of someone mid-sun asana, got me thinking at a small porch for yoga, for one, or two, but no more, would be wonderful.

I had an idea. What about lifting up the soil, to create a sod roof over concrete, and build into the hill? A cave, almost a hidden temple. Two pillars, or an arch, shallow wood porch, then a sliding glass front. from the house, you could not see it at all, even if you were looking right at it. From inside, you would look out onto the forest. Not to geek out on you all, but an earth work, a hobbit hole, a lair.

Or alternatively, a pagoda of sorts, a small simple structure, built by friends, with a short door that requires that you bow your head to enter, and then open doors on the other side. Simple, austere, but pretty. Blurring the line between indoor and outdoor like Japanese traditional structures. The idea of building it with my friends is one that is older thant he current building project. As soon as people learned I had land in Costa Rica, they wanted to go. But, suprisingly to me, they wanted to go and build. I think the call to create a structure, a shelter, is indenable and ancient. Kim, Stacey, Ken, Julie, Anne, Forest, Wendy, Jeff, Jason, Jennifer, Goldie, Farzin, Jeremy, Ian, Brian, Pickle, Jill, Eric, Amy, Steve...they all volunteered to go to CR, to Nosara, and to act as laborers, planners, electricians, painters, brick layers...each according to thier ability. The outpouring was something that I did not expect, and once it came it really overwhelmed me. I wanted to hold onto that energy, even past the point where it made sense to erect a simple surf shack. I thought, if they build it, they will feel that this land is thiers too, and will come and visit more often. I hold onto that idea.

The meditation area could, one day, be used for housing. In case of an overflow, or children. But for now, I want an escape, something dim and close and quiet.

Monday, February 12, 2007

To dream of Nosara.

1) surf.

2) the hotel nosara. Weird but wonderful place

3) a view. Please note the strong railing work. Yik. Lets avoid the salute to soviet era mass production please.

4) The beach. Yes...I know where this is and you do not.

5) and Yoga. Apparently there is a yoga institute in Nosara.

Thats all I have.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Step right up and win some cr*p...

A warm hug to the first person who can get me an image of the house in Chlideren of Men. It was the high point of the movie. I would have liked the house much more if there were less Michael Kane in it. But that goes for the movie as well, and life in general. Note to self: I have to tell Guillermo, no Michael Kanes.

It was light, green, interactive, and modular. The interior frame of the house was open and allowed for secondary uses. Fascinating. it might have been a set, but then again, it might exist and be instructive.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Verticality. I am not entirely sure that is a word. My feeling is that yes, Michael, you are insulting the English language, but I will stick with it.


The one aspect of my home that gave me pause in the meetings with DZ, is the certainty of a view. I had one motto driving all of my dreams about this house: The View is King. There was a corollary motto of "Yehahahaahhahaaa weee!"; but again, that is likely not a motto but rather a responsive ululation.

The View is King.

Howie, my colorful Neighbor [editor's note: anyone more eccentric and/or louder that I am is "colorful". Howie was a really ebullient guy. I hope to find him when I go back down there and talk to him about our lands], has a view from his land that would make you stare. It made me stare. In my life, precisely two beach views have stopped me dead in my proverbial tracks. The view from Judge Vinson's condominium in Pensacola, and the view from Howie's house. I took pictures and posted the best one below, but it does not justice. You can see the long think white pencil line of sand snaking from Nosara Hotel all the way to the peninsula to the South, and all the blue of the pacific ocean that meets it. Amazing. You can see the Palm tree that is a good surfing landmark. You can see the waves crashing into the shore. Read again: you can see the waves crashing into the shore.

I am convinced I can get a reasonable facsimile of this view. The question is altitude. The mode is faith. The answer is research.

The proposals, as envisioned by DZ will get me a view of the ocean. What I think is possible is a view of the beach. There are questions to ask, but the most important is this: exactly how high above street level do I need to be to see the beach. From there I can do the calculations from the height of the house and see if this is possible. The problem is that the person I hired to clean the property did not cut the trees between me and the beach. Not that I want them all gone, but the suckers and the small underbrush that grows quickly and tall I need gone so that I can see what I have, and how high I must go. First order of business is clearing that path save for the hardwoods. The hardwoods I can but up, and see under. There are, of course, trees on Howie's property that might be obscuring my view. These I can do nothing about. There is, as I recall, a mini ridge between the flat of my land and the view.

I mentioned all of this to Guillermo and Sandra. They had already considered such an approach so much of the thinking had already been done. We talked about site orientation to bring me closer to the ridge line, and we talked about what brush might need to be removed. Finally they talked to me about approaches, challenges and ideas.

In both proposals, the vertical element would top the kitchen and the master bedroom, making the vertical element thee modules high. 3 high and 5 horizontal is a nice mix. Rain and Roof is the problem. Although Guillermo and I talked about a slanted roof there, he was certain that aesthetically the only way to make it work was a flat roof. I like how he thinks. he is right. He talked about a terrace on the top. I imagined the view from that terrace, and the idea stunned me. It would be like a tower, peering over the canopy of a Forrest. The mountains would drop away beneath you, and all of Nosara would be at your feet. Wow.

The problem is drainage. Guillermo said that in good conscience, he could not tell me that a flat roof would not leak. Oh, he said, for 5 years, maybe not, but eventually it would leak. I appreciate the honesty. I have a feeling another architect would have put it in. We went around and around on the idea, and Guillermo is currently working on it. he says: It has to be flat, but it cannot be flat. we talked about hiding a slanted roof under a flat hardwood deck, giving the appearance of a flat terrace. That could work. The question is, "at what angle" to clear the water in Guanacaste invierno?

Guillermo filled me with visions of it. he recommended a canvas roof, so that people underneath would be shielded from the sun, but it would be taken down when not in residence, in winds, or in rains. It would dry and could easily be replaced.

I will see proposals, or review discussions, of vertical elements, in a couple of weeks. First, we need that research, and Guillermo has proposed that the only way to do it right is to get some contractors on the site, while he is there, and telling them what he wants, and asking them if they can do it. Then, once they do it, it might be a trick getting images from different heights. Perhaps using the neighbor's property will work. Perhaps a ladder at street level. Perhaps climbing a tree. Perhaps it will not be needed at all. Still, I love the idea of a dedicated solarium, turned in adorment of the ocean.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Just back from New York City. Actually, got back a little after midnight on Saturday night.

I cannot sleep in New York. I lived there for years, and yes, I did fall asleep on occasion, but in general, the place is so loud, and so busy and vibrating all the time between the trains, the garbage trucks, the cars, the pets, the people, the music, that I always have had a hard time falling, and staying, asleep in Manhattan. This was again the case when I went to New York Friday night for my Saturday morning meeting with Guillermo. I met W at a birthday party for her friend Shilpa and stayed on a pull out at Shilpa's apartment. While the New Yorkers slept soundly, I starred at the ceiling. So it was through bleary eyes that I fought the 6 train down to Guillermo's office on 19th just above union square.

Guillermo was waiting in the lobby when we arrived. He and I have been emailing since 2004, just under 3 years, but had never met before. He took me up to ground zero of Datum zero. [editor's note: I apologize for the lameness of the last line. I wanted to write it. now I feel kind of dirty, but still kind of proud of myself. It will not happen again].

Datum Zero is a white washed loft space on the ninth floor about midtown in NYC. It is light, and open and full of energy. Guillermo was joined by his partner, Sandra, who i learned is collaborating on the project. And I am glad. While Guillermo brings an infectious passion and zealous energy to the project, Sandra offers a focusing and pragmatic energy. The two are great together, they feed off each other and compliment each other's styles.

First order of business was a tour around the office. On the walls and on flat surfaces were the models and prototypes of the buildings with which I have become familiar as part of DatumZero's portfolio. G house, M house, Achio house, others. They were in tiny forms, and then larger. It was really amazing how true to the models the final forms remain.

There were materials in places that were being tested, considered, or adopted. I have been surprisingly interested in the materiality considerations of building. I saw a cut of the translucent panels that give achio house a huge glowing ceiling. It was surprisingly light.

We sat down together, Guillermo Sandra, W and I, and started immediately on discussing architecture. Strange, now that I think of it, how eager we all were to jump right into the project. And strange too how I feel like I know them as well as people with whom I might have spent the same time commuting the ordinary conversational traffic. But it seemed like everyone was excited by the project, and we energetically began the discussions.

Guillermo first showed me the counter models he had done on a sophisticated computer program. The software allowed him to print color images of the land from any angle or vantage point and showed changes in elevation at meter intervals. The land, at the road, declined more aggressively than I had remembered. It dropped some 30 feet in very little distance. The land sloped less quickly at the western boundary, making a bit of a ridge. There was also an incline in the eastern side of the property, over the area where the intermittent creek flows. Everything sloped down down down into the national Forrest which is my norther boundary.

The model was to scale, and computer generated images of a man gave you an idea what it would be like to walk the land.

What it did not give you was an idea of the view from the house. And to me, the view was the most important thing. We had had the land cleaned of larger trees, and Guillermo had taken images of the land from many different angles. It was interesting to see it again. I could see the blue of the pacific off in the distance.

Guillermo had an interesting observation...from my land, the beaches drop away to the north, and the ideal orientation, in terms of exposure, might not be due west, but North west. This would face me toward Playa Pelada, and the rocky shore south of Ostional. My initial impression is what I told him: that I would prefer to face west. Due west. This would allow me to watch the sunsets, and to take advantage of the trade winds, and, of course, to see the surf building on playa guillones. But he has a point. From his proposed orientation, the land drops away, and it might be that I inherit a view of the coast line stretching out into the distance.

There were two proposals. Guillermo and Sandra termed them the "Compact" and "Organic" models. I will preserve the nomenclature.

The Organic model is a long ranch type house, made up of 5 modules, of equal size and volume. Under the first volume lies the master bedroom. The first module is the kitchen, sheathed in concrete, perhaps with a flat roof. The next module is a breezeway, an open air, but covered portion of the house which would become an entry way, a porch and a plaza all in one. Beyond that the living room. By opening doors, the first three modules are largely one room.

Beyond those modules are two modules divided up into bedroom/work spaces and bathrooms. each bedroom has a wall of glass, and has an open axis when the door is open, allowing complete open space from east to went through the house if desired. The roof was interesting, varied in length, but emanating from a single common rafter, if you will.

The advantages, as I see them, to this model are:

  • the flexibility of the space: bedrooms become work spaces, become open air if desired. If it is just me there, I could convert the space into a one bedroom with offices and libraries.
  • The bed rooms are on different levels. This might give guests a whole floor of their own.
  • Bedrooms on the top level- gives them the same view as the living room
  • Airiness: there is a hall way which is rock and light, with openings on both sides.
  • smaller imprint: the foundation will be small and displace less soil leading to lower costs and to lower environmental impact.
  • Cooling: air can pass under more of this model, allowing for cooling.
  • Perhaps I can close off the master bedroom if I rent it.

The disadvantages of the model as I see them:

  • bedrooms on the top floor haven't a roof. This will mean that any light sleepers will hear everything going on in the living room, which will probably be the primary hang out area.
  • bedrooms on the top floor have panels and not solid doors: again, noise.
  • Roof has a center beam, meaning that it will descend toward the view.
  • Stability: there is a lot of water in CR. With a huge roof creating additional, focused, runoff, and the loss of the vegetation that was under my house, will there be erosion problems? In 10 years, is my house going to settle? The organic model is balanced on one end, on two beams. How stable is this going to be? Is there seismic activity in the area? In short, how stable is this house?
  • Longer: If the orientation changes, the far end of the house might be 30-40 feet off the ground.
  • Loss of some of the features of the Compact model that I will discuss below

I will say now that everyone that I have shown the proposals, so far, prefer the organic model. They compliment its openness. The more I think of that feature, the more I like it. When I contacted Guillermo about the project, I told him that the house was about the view, and it was about Costa Rica. It was not to draw attention to itself. And that is what he gave me. First, I would like to say how amazing an experience it has been having your adjectives turned into blue prints, translated into form, and second, I have been appreciating more and more how this is exactly what Guillermo and Sandra created: a reverse jewelery box- where the outside is showcased. For sure, this model will allow green Costa Rica to stream in from every vantage point, and offer several different perspectives on it. This is, I think, what I like best about this approach. It brings the outdoors in. It blurs the line between nature and house. It invites the occupants to feel part of their environment.

The Compact model: This one initially struck me. It is also a long house, but with tow floors, though the entry level is the top floor. It pivots from a strong, thick wall, which is the backbone of both floors of the house. The roof is a single rise, without a center beam. It projects up and outward from the wall, telescoping toward the view. The same breeze way, kitchen living room model is created as before in the Organic model, but this time, the living room glass is a sliding panel, and the entire front of the top floor is a boardwalk. I like that. I like that from the top floor, you can be outside, and enjoying the view of the beach. I like that one can walk along the top floor, and pass by the rooms, looking in. There are only two openings on the street side, as compared with 3 or 4 in the organic model, and no windows on the ends.

The second floor contains the master bed, and two bedrooms. The bathrooms on this floor have doors that open to the out of doors- making for an outdoor shower/bath experience. The master bedroom retains a porch.

This is a more simple, solid approach. The entire front of the building opens up to the view, with large glass sliding walls. I like that. The entire movement is a salute to the sun, and to the beach. The compact house has a much smaller signature from the street. It is grounded, and the bedrooms have the cool solidity of earth on one side- giving them coolness, and darkness, while the other side is glass.

The advantages to this model are:

  • Small signature: from the street, this house is nearly invisible, except for the roof.
  • single direction roof: this makes the house crescendo to the beach. It may also be simpler for care, repair, and replacement. There is also a larger view on the ocean side than in the organic model.
  • shorter: this makes it easier to move on the site, and less prone to drop offs. It might make it less vulnerable to environmental interactions.
  • Grounded: the heavy wall and earthwork makes this house feel solid- where the organic model feels so open. Different feels.
  • Sleeping: dedicated sleeping lower floor means guest rooms will have roofs and doors. There will be quiet when people want to sleep, but others want to disfrute la pura vida. Since I am a light sleeper, this is meaningful to me
  • Indoor, outdoor showers. Nice touch.
  • Easier to secure.

Disadvantages, as I see them:

  • Darker
  • Heavier
  • More earth movement and cutting into the soil. Environmental impacts and costs.
  • Less...special, I guess.
  • No carport.
  • bedrooms haven't a view of the beach.
  • Lack of flexibility in living space.
  • Maybe it is not easier to secure, with more surface area on the ground.

This was my immediate favorite, probably because it looked like images I had in my mind. I recognized it. But the more I think of it, the more I straddle the fence and even lean the other way. I like the bold puncturing movement by the breezeway in the organic model, and its embrace of the out of doors.

I will write more later discussing my input, what Guillermo and Sandra did with it, meditation spaces, and time table as well as general impressions, but for now, I wanted to describe the meeting and the proposals, for your consumption. I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Here is a little chart I made that shows you the temperature, rain fall and humidity in the Guanacaste. This is important certainly to understanding the design challenges I will face. Clearly, I will not have to worry about keeping the home warm. The coldest low is almost 70 degrees. The challenge, therefore, will be cooling the house during the 95 degree days, and during the humid part of the season. Rain water will also be a challenge. nearly 12.5 inches will fall in the month of June. That will threaten erosion, leaks, and washouts. A huge roof is going to funnel a lot of surface area's worth of rain somewhere, and I had better think hard about where or else there will be problems.

I have considered man made wetlands, to absorb the runoff. I had also considered, though not with Guillermo, the idea of a sod roof, that would decrease the thermal shock of the day, insulate, and absorb rain. But the weight would be massive I should think and require a rethink of what I am doing. I doubt my budget will allow for it.

Guillermo and Sandra discussed with me cisterns for collecting run off. Not a bad idea. But the roof design will, one way or another, need to accommodate this rain.

In terms of cooling, already the house is oriented with the trade winds. There is a central breeze way, and one proposal would create multiple through ways. Both house proposals would use louvres and cloistery windows to allow the wind to pass effortlessly through. It is supposedly best to keep the bedrooms away from the wind as they need the least cooling in the day.

[apologies for the formatting, but Blogger auto corrects my attempts to maintain columns.]

Av. hi Av. Lo Av Rain Hum.%
F C F C inch mm
Jan. 91 33 69 21 0.04 1 66
Feb. 95 35 69 21 0.04 1 64
Mar. 95 35 71 22 0.35 9 61
Apr. 96 36 73 23 0.87 22 63
May 93 34 79 26 9.25 235 74
Jun. 89 32 73 23 12.28 312 84
Jul. 89 32 73 23 5.28 134 80
Aug. 89 32 73 23 8.11 206 82
Sep. 87 31 71 22 12.8 325 86
Oct. 87 31 71 22 11.22 285 87
Nov. 87 31 89 32 4.09 104 81
Dec. 88 31 89 32 0.51 13 72
Source: National Weather Services of Costa Rica

Thursday, February 01, 2007


Not that they do any work in Costa RIca, but I really like thier approach. I cannot copy any of the images from their web site, but you can follow this link there. Good porportions and interesting materiality to warm the hard bauhaus sort of feel the the raw volumes.

There was an idea I liked a lot from a project about which I read. It involved a wood panel exterior that was custom stained to match the trees in the area. I wonder, though, about pests and termites in CR. Thus I read about hardiplank, a Portland concrete poured with sand to give it texture and imitate wood. It is supposed to be easy to build with.

My main concern going into my meeting with Guillermo on Saturday, is preserving the costa rican architectural element. I do not, and cannot, imagine how to make it apparent in my dwelling without compromising the simplicity of the structure. I want something intimate, and the glass box leaves me a little flat when it comes to nuance.

I have been imagining villas, a non-centralized structure to maximize wind cooling and to blend with the slope of the hills in which I am situated. Gosh, I don't even recall the layout of the place. I am dealing with 8 year old memories. I should see the contour model in two days, and then dream. Until then, I can wonder how many baths I will need, and other things 30 year old surfers really shouldn't care about.
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