Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Cortel Steel. This is the material recommended by guillermo for the construction of the tower of the house. Fascinating stuff.

Weathering steel, best-known under the trademark Cor-Ten steel, is a group of steel alloys which were developed to obviate the need for painting, and form a stable rust-like appearance if exposed to the weather for several years. Wikipedia.

The steel, according to the website where it is sold under the trade name of A606, weathers better than normal steel. It is used in the construction of bridges and buildings. They have a picture of the golden gate bridge on the A606 page. Might my tower be made of the same material as the golden gate bridge?

Richard serra says: Cor-Ten is an oxidizing steel and it turns orange and then after about eight years, it turns dark brown, amber, and then holds its color. . Thats right...THE Richard Serra. If you are not a fan, its time to get with at least the last millenium.

I guess the real attractiveness of Cor-ten steel is its interaction with the environment. It evolves and grows, and reflects the elements which touch it. This is quite unlike a lot of building materials. Cor-ten steel feeds on the environment, and it changes throughout the years. It ages, and it colors. I want my house to embrace the environment in which it stands. I do not agree with Thomas Hobbes' assesment of the natural state as "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." Fear and ignorance lead us to believe that we can engineer our ways off of the wheel of life. Man was not content with the bounty of nature, and created agriculture to control his meals, and provide him with his preferences every day. In the same spirit man uses electric lights, encased windows, air conditioning, indoor bathrooms, carpet, and heating to seperate himself from the variations of the natural world.

K house, as it is currently known, is an attempt to live within nature. Its open throughway invites the breeze and the elements into the house. Until dark, daylight will suffuse every room. The house is positioned along trade wind routes for cooling, and is only one room deep to allow the wind to pass through it. The corten steel too will interact with its environment, and that environment will make the walls stronger, and last longer, than they ordinarily would.

Intersting no?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The new design arrived. Actually, stating it like that makes it sound as if the new plans were bundled up and dropped in by a stork, and not the effort of hard work and effort of the part of D0. But this Friday, Guillermo sent me the solution to the vertical element problem in the Nosara house. It is wonderful.

There is a certain balance in the design. The horizontal volume is 5 modules long. Each module is about 15 feet- a little more after conversion from metric. The vertical volume, added recently, is 4 modules tall, leaving a visual 5:4 ratio which grounds the building and makes the vertical elements look slender, and delicate, like a bell tower, or a spire. The horizontal volume is largely the same, and when I say the same, Guillermo noted to the in an e-mail that the break through made what that the vertical projection really only complimented the organic proposal, while it made the compact model look heavy, and grotesque. The vertical element is not one, but two stories above the kitchen, with a roof terrace. From this vantage point, I submit that it will be possible to see the sands of the beach of Gillones. This view is what is driving me. Guillermo, in our last meeting, brings up an interesting point...perhaps it is not necessary to build vertically as high as I think. The western portion of my land represents a ridge of sorts, and the land survey shows the mountain dropping away beyong it. There is not much of a rise between the proposed site for the house and that ridge, and perhaps with proper cleaning of the trees, that is, pruning them up, and leaving the upper levels, I might be able to see the beach, with a reaosnable facsimile of neighbor Howie's views, from the main level of the house. Still, I want to explore vertical. I think that the distance of the main house to that ridge will interupt the line of site, and prevent seeing the beach Furthermore, I think the trees on Howie's property could grow up too tall and obstruct the view.

Still, we are not committing to the vertical elemetn until we have properly studied the view at different hieghts. Ashley White of Nosara Real Estate is coordinating the cleaning of the site, from the street, to the proposed building site, to the ridge line. Then Alex Bravo, of Datum zero, or Guillermo, will go to the site and take images at different hieghts to get an idea of the possibilties.

My input is this...the closer I build to the ridge line, the better the view will be. This is a Geometrical reality. Drawing a line from the beach, to the ridge creates a line that is intersected at a shorter hieight the closer one gets tot he ridge line. Guillermo and I are currently exploring how the house can be situated to accomplish this, taking into account the countors of the property and the set back required by law.

My other input was the inclusion of the vertical element. Guillermo indulged my tastes. Now the organic proposal has a two story slender vertical appendage, raeaching up over the kitchen into the Blue Costa Rica sky.

There will be decisions to make. If moving the project site allows for the view I covet to be obtained from the horizontal portion of the house, then perhaps the vertical elements is deprioritized. The vertical element is going to increase the size of the house from 1600 feet sqaured, to 1900. that goes quickly from cozy to huge. ADd in a meditation room of, say 2-300 sq/ft, and we are over 2000. I guess that is not the end of the world, but I feel protestant pangs of guilt about owning that much house. More important, we are dealing with a strict budget on this project, and I dont know that the comprimises of building materials is going to be worth the cost of the vertical element if the view can be obtained elsewise. If there is no view, or only a view of the water from the horizotnal element, and I suspect there will be, all bets are off and up we go. If there is a view, then it will bear some discussion about accomplishing the other goals of the porject.

Ok, on the vertical element. it is beautiful. It allows for rain run off by being slimmer than the horizotnal modules...mabe 10 feet side. I am not certain how the floors are reached, since the spiral stair cases described in the other building plans might eat up most of the real estate if added in the vetical volume, but then again, what are our options? Outdoor stair cases, or rungs really. The western and southern exposures are completely glass. I cannot tell, but hope, that these will open. I expect they will, becuase the spire has a flat roof, with no over hang, and thus these rooms will be exposed to a lot of sun, and could get very, very hot.

The flat roof is an illusion. It is a flat roof over a slanted roof to allow for drainage. Still, can you imagine being, what, 45 feet over the ridge line and looking all around you? it would be a sea of green. Oh, and blue.

Here, Guillermo describes it best in his recent e-mail:

I think the tower will look beautiful, there are some details that are difficult to translate through these dwgs. that we will capture on the final dwgs. Such things as real materials employed for the outside surfaces of the tower. In some of the initial sketches that we internally discussed, the tower will have a material such as Corten steel or axodized copper which will give a timeless spirit, as well it will sit on a concrete base that gives a sense of permanence amd belonging.

The windows are operable, and YES, the tower has two levels above the kitchen, also a terrace with a canopy above.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Guillermo is in Costa Rica. He is meeting with his San jose office and visiting some sites. One of those sites is mine, ole ee-25.

I am coordinating the clearing, excuse me, cleaning of my property. The difference is that cleaning leaves larger trees, and clearing does not. I have contacted Ahley White at Nosara Real Estate, who is helping coordinate the cleaning crew. She contacted the property cleaner, who will contact Guillermo and Alex, or the other way around. The end result is that the site cleaner will have a copy of my plot schematic, and the areas that we want cleaned.

Once the land is cleaned in the areas where the house is projected to be built, and the areas that will control my view, then Guillermo and Alex Bravo will visit the site. They are hoping to learn more about the situation of the house, and also do a series of studies that will reveal what view will be possible with the addition of a vertical element to the house. I hope they take lots and lots of images.

I will be making a visit to the site in a few weeks. I promise lots of pictures. I also promise lots of sun, surf, and cheap beer with W, but that is probably not as interesting to you as the images. Then again, maybe we can do both.

On a tangent, it was -10 in Boston yesterday with windchill. It is 90 in Costa Rica. That is an expected 100 degree shift of tempurature, and a 180 degree shift of pleasure.

I think I will buy a machete. I dont think I will need one, but I will feel like more of an exploitive capitalist if I have one.

In other news, Guillermo and DatumZero, after weeks of consideration, made a breakthrough in the vertical approach to the K-house. I have not seen the results, but Guillermo sounds very confident and excited about them. He tells me that the result is a hybrid of the Compact, and Organic appraoches, but with a distinct organic approach character. That means, lighter, longer and more open than the compact model. You all will know when I do what it looks like.

in closing, I want to tell you all that I am fascinated by sod roofs. Green roofs. They decrease the dirunal tempurature shock, decrease heating and cooling costs, and provide areable land for agriculture, or gardens. There are companies that produce panels that reduce the total weight of soil on the roof. I wonder how leaks are though?


Thursday, March 01, 2007


One of my concerns in building in CR is whether of not the humidity will ravage electronics. I hope to make an office where I could work, making the concept of living in costa rica while working in the Untied States a little less fantastic, and a little more realistic. But reality also dictates that computers generally are not as amenable to the pura vida lifestyle, and may require a little special support.

the question, in brief, is whether a dedicated, climate controlled, are is required to maintain sensitive electronic devices in Nosara?

I asked just that question on Costa Rica Bulletin Board: really the best CR related BB out there though there are other good ones, and moderated by John and Smudge. Here are the replies I graciously received:

Living on the Caribbean coast for two years, I know what humidity can do to electronics. Upon opening both my computer and VCR, all metal parts inside were rusted and corroded. Nevertheless, both were working just fine (had to open the VCR to extract a stuck tape).

Thanks Tony. I guess I was on to something. This is going to require attention.

I have a friend with a top end yacht. Now that he keeps the bridge and salon air conditioned 24/7 (for the last 5 years or so) he has no trouble with his electronics corroding. Before that he used to have to replace virtually all non-marine electronic gear about every 12-18 months

Gracias MiamiDave. This would seem to indicate that a well venilated house might prevent a lot of the rust and corrosion. The Organic model bettwe fits that bill with large open air ways, a high roof, and most of it raised so that passive cooling systems, read: the wind, can wick away the moisture a bit.

For the last 12 years, I've had desktop computers in our house, 200 yards from our beach on the Pacific west coast. It is not air conditioned and the windows are never closed. The only time humidity has been a problem was once we rented the house for three months to a couple, and I stored the computer in a second bedroom to keep it out of their way. I asked them not to use it, and they didn't, but to make more room in the bedroom they moved the computer into the shower of the unused second bathroom. There was a continuous drip from the shower head, and when we arrived three months later the computer looked as if it had been on the bottom of the ocean.

In my experience with our area, on the Guanacaste coast, computers and books that are kept in areas that have good air circulation do quite well. I have a shelf of books that have been in our new house for three years now, and they are just fine. The computer I'm using now also has been in use for four years and no problems.

However, while this is the case on the Guanacaste coast, in places where there is really high humidity, such as on the Caribbean coast, I know people who have had problems. I would ask your neighbors how they handle the problem. Sometimes, when books are stored in a bodega, a dehumidifier will do the trick, or simply a burning light bulb will work. To me, air conditioning is a drastic (and expensive) remedy, unless absolutely necessary.

John Howells, thanks for the detailed reply. It appears then that an open, and airy design, with great venilation, cross breezes, louvres, windows, doors all Orietned with the trade winds might do the trick. I do not want the expese of air conditioning, that is certain. The Organic model is looking better and better all the time.

Even though Gaunacaste is really dry in the dry season, it gets really wet in the rainy season.Some rainy seasons are wetter than others. September and october are the wettest months. Though I live quite close to John's house, there are apparently some factors that make a difference between his house and mine. We both have CBS construction, so that's not it.I also don't have AC, but do have a very well ventilated house.Maybe it's because I'm a bit farther from the beach and have many large trees that shade my house. In the rainiest months we do get mold and our electronics are subject to humidity related problems. We have solved this problem by using Goldenrod heaters. We purchased these at Boaters World.They come in various lengths, are inexpensive to use and eliminate any problems. I would hink that any good yachting goods store, or stores that sell piano or gun paraphanalia would also sell heating devices meant for humid spaces. They're the best alternative short of AC.

thanks Pam.

Heating.. I never thought about it. I actually really never made the intuitive step that sailing would have all the same problems.

Now I have a slightly different situation than Pam seem sto be faced with, as I am up in EE, in the hills. I chose this place specifically because it is less humid, and has a gentle breeze clearing through it. This might reduce my exposure to Pam's house's problems.

[editors aside: I have nieghbors. Real neighbors. I cannot wait to meet them.]

Our friends have a house in Esterillos (between Quepos and Jaco) right on the beach. About a month after they bought their new fridge, they noticed it was starting to get little rust spots. Yikes. However, they had one room in the house in which they put a dehumidifier with a hose out of a window to the ground outside. That room housed their computer equipment, tv, VCR, DVD-player etc. and all their books, tapes etc. That worked just fine. They had no A/C either and didn't seem to need it with good ventilation and ceiling fans.

PS: They moved the fridge to a location where there was better ventilation and the rust stopped.

Nel, thank you. I will have to make certain that the kitchen gets good circulation. But this is an approach that I had considered before. A small dehumidifier in one rooms dedicated to electronics. I want to stay off the grid as much as possible, and running it full time would be a great expense. However, it sounds like I might need run it only in the invierno, and even then, I might not need it. It will be a good thing to keep, however, the option open. I will likely not be the last owner of this home.

I agree that the location could make a difference. I'm sitting up on the crest of the hill and my computer is on the second floor, where there is always a breeze whizzing through the house, which is almost all windows on three sides. Also, I usually keep the cover of the computer off, which helps air circulate. I keep it off because once in the house we had at the bottom of the hill, deep in the forest, some ants decided the computer case would make a dandy condominium. When I returned after a long trip, I was astounded to see hordes of ants streaming out of the computer when I turned on the current. After a thorough cleaning, it was able to boot up.

By the way, speaking of ants . . . in the new house, we were plagued by bees, as you well know, but also by several varieties of ants. We had the usual large red ants that don't get into food or bother us (can't imagine what the eat), but also by ordinary sized black ants and tiny little yellow ants, so small you can hardly see them. I spread some of the borax acid insect powder around and it would slow them down for a while, but always would come back and would find anything sweet or greasy and have a picnic. But once I finally got rid of the bees, the ants were gone and never came back. (except for the red ants, they live there). What has been your experience with ants?

John H again. And he brings up the subject of ants. Ormigas. Something I need to take into account. The little red ones hurt like h*ll. But, forgetting that for a the computer? IN THE COMPUTER? Note to self- Its the insect's world, you are just borrowing it.

But, and maybe John and I will live near each other, it sounds like his locaiton is more similar to mine. And his solution sounds like the one that I am considering. constant breeze, 3 walls of windows...actually, forget construction for a moment, I want a tour. Sounds beautiful.

We also have a place in Guanacaste and also have some experience with rust. We bought a washer and dryer, new, about two years ago. Both were Whirlpool and were brand new. But after about three months, for no obvious reason the dryer top began to show rust spots all over the top, like measles. My wife thinks that it was because our once-a-week maid would put things on top of the dryer while she loaded the washer and did other chores. It happened rapidly. But a can of white appliance spray (after some light sandpapering) and the problem was solved. Two years later and still no problem.

Charles C. Thanks. I need to think about more mundane appliances also it seems.

Miami Dave offered a comment on appliances and things to avoid:

She might have used bleach with less care that it generally requires which will corrode almost anything.

We once had tenants who bleached their kitchen floor regularly. A few months after they moved in I was horrified to find the bottom two inches of the fridge, dishwasher and oven looked like they had been on a beach for years. After having to pay for new ones they finally figured out that it was not such a a great idea.

and now, for Wax and Bees:

Here's a tip we learned living in the Fl. Keys , a Very rusty environment ! We put car wax ( Turtle wax, whatever) on our appliances every couple of months and that slowed the rust Way down. For the itty bitty sugar ants, which also seek water, we used and also use here, Terro Ant Killer. By the way, John, one of our snowbird friends who lives across from the Yoga Institute, is having the reoccurring bee problem as well. They're African bees, whose behavior and hive building habits are different from other species.In the states, bee professionals use a specific pheromone to manipulate them to a new destination. I don't think they have this information or pheromone here, at least not in Nosara. So the African bees continuously return because of a preexisting oder that attracts them.This is what little I know and understand about the African Killer Bee. I do know what's it's like to be pursued by a swarm however ! No fun at all !

Turtle wax. not a bad idea at all. I guess the principal is sealant. Paint, and wax. I will have to be rigorous in my care, it sounds like, lest I end up rusting everything out.

-from Pam

Over the years, I've become a semi-expert of getting rid of bees. I've done it so many times, I can't count. Actually getting rid of them is easy, only within a week they are back, either the same dudes or a new tribe, or swarm, or whatever. Incidentally, all bees in Costa Rica and anywhere in Central America are Africanized bees. The situation is that their strain is dominant and the mild domestic bees have been bred out of existence

In our present house, the bees moved in even before the construction was finished. They were there to welcome us when we arrived with our belongings. Our property manager had an "exterminator" get rid of bees five times within a two month period, but before long, the bees returned. Spraying is only temporary.

I had a gang of workers go over the wooden part of the eves where the bees were building condominiums, drill holes to spray By-Gone and seal all cracks with silicone. That would work for maybe a month, and then here would come another swarm who somehow found a tiny hole to enter. I got so I knew the workmen so well that they buy me beer when I walk into a bar where they are drinking. They ask me to bring them goodies from the states whenever I go back.

Finally -- Maria, our maid, who had been watching the process over the months, quietly said:

"don John, you can never get rid of bees that way! Once a hive has been in the wall, no matter what you do, the smell of honey and wax will bring new swarms. Insecticide doesn't bother them unless it is sprayed in the air so they breath it. Once the bees are dead, new ones enter and start new hives."

"So, what must we do?"

She said: "First remove the wood from the inside of the wall. Then get rid the old hives as well as the new ones. Scrape all of the wax from the walls -- ALL of it -- and seal the wood from the inside with foam or silicone."

Bill Kanz verified what Maria said, saying that from the inside, you can clearly see all of the places where they can get in because light is shining through. Bill had to do exactly the same thing about five years ago, and his long-time problem disappeared.

In one afternoon, two workers did this, and no more fighting off bees! I think we finally won!

By the way, although African bees can be dangerous because of their aggressive protection of the hive, I've found them quite tame when swarming to establish a new hive. I've been surrounded by them, spraying them with By-Gone until they decide to give up and go elsewhere. In all of these years, I've never been stung once. The maid was helping me fight off the last swarm (I hope it's the last) and she got stung on her palm when she accidentally trapped a bee in her hand. (Of course, I always keep the front door open, just in case I need to make a fast exit.)

this man has the answers. thanks John Howells. I suspect I will be returning to this post at some point. I wonder if my mainly concrete construction in the walls will help this problem. There are going to be a lot of wood accents, do probably not much, but I may take this into account when selecting building materials.

and now for something completely different...Skunks?

John, Maybe you could ask Maria about those pesky little skunks that keep coming back ? ! We had to dismantle the bedroom in the wee hours one night after he had himself a stinkfest . Though we've denied him entry to the bedroom, he's never forgotten or forgiven that fact. Every so often he fires a round of his biological weapon right outside the bedroom window ! We relocated the Sapos and they found their way home, so I suspect that a skunk might have equal or better navigational abilities. Ah, the challenges of living in and with the jungle !

Ok, note to self- perhaps life on pilings is a good thing.

Thanks all.
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