Monday, April 30, 2007


The tower could be a very hot box. I know Guillermo and I talked briefly about how screens would provide shade for the project, but I am not certain, truly, how this will work.

I believe the idea as it was being formulated was to use screens that would cover the windows from the searing Costa sun, but could be raised to provide a roof line. Lightweight, locally available, etc. Still, I cannot picture then. It could make the tower like a tree, with the panels as leaves. One day adding solar capacity would make it more like a tree. Jesus I sound like a complete hippie right now.

Guillermo and I went over the roof line while I was in San Jose. I discussed extending its leaf like shape just slightly to provide more shade for the terminal bedroom/office. As it reads right now, the roof line almost touches the house over this portion on the end. I was concerned that in all times after midday, the room will get direct sunshine into it. Now this is a functional concern. It may not, with tree coverage, even be much of an issue. Furthermore, there may be aesthetic reasons that the roof line should meet the house at the point. I find that I love the plans, the approach and the aesthetic, thus I spend most of my time gazing at the plans trying to shake out functional questions and weaknesses or preferences.

For example, I mentioned that I was concerned about the trusses which would hang, in some areas, past the house and un protected into the elements. Costa Rica rains a lot. I am concerned, as I explained to Guillermo, that over the years the trusses would require considerable upkeep or replacement as the sun, and then the rains, beat down on them. Guillermo mentioned the idea of extending the roof line using a translucent material to cut the UV and shelter then from the rain. I like that approach, but I wonder what the two versions would look like. It would be great to be able to know for sure if the belt needs the suspenders, you know?

So I guess the point of this post, is how and where, will shade be provided over the house? The gallery, yes, the kitchen, sort of, the bedrooms, some of them, the tower, I dont know. Its is clear from Costa Rican architecture, that avoiding the sun is the key to comfortable living in the tropics. I think Guillermo is doing a good job of transitioning from indoors to outdoors and blurring the line of which is which.

But what about that tower?

Thursday, April 26, 2007


I do not think that solar panels are scalable and efficient in Costa Rica currently, but they will be soon. I need to remember that so that I recall to leave hook ups when they are available at a cost that is reasonable to thier energy production. I wonder, at that time, how large panels will be? Fortunatly, the sun is abundant and we know in what direction they should point. Will they need roof mounts? I dont know. I dont think I have thought about this sufficeintly.

Perhaps they could be installed over the windows in the tower to double as shades as well as energy collectors. Perhaps they can be located remotely from the house.

Monday, April 23, 2007

On cleaning and decks.

One thing that I have learned from my experience of owning a third story brownstone, is that cleaning the outside of the windows is a major pain in the *ss. This is mainly speculation, since I have not done it on most of the windows, but frankly, I don't even have a sporting chance when the best opportunity for reaching them involves hanging my fragile noodle out over Tremont street by 50 or so feet. If, as Le Corbusier says, a building is a "machine for living", my machine has some serious design flaws, like a Bavarian Motor Works vehicle, that drives like a dream, but requires a plumbing tool, a contortionist, and a quart of astroglide to get in to repair.

I am trying to avoid this limitation as best as possible with the Plan B. repair and maintenance should not be a surprise, but part of the design.

My first area of concern is, strangely, not the vertical element, but the horizontal house. The living room, if I am reading the proposal right, has two massive windows facing the ocean, which, according to Guillermo, are going to be operable through means of a pulley system. They will open outward. Now, unless I miss my guess, or I befriend a 18 foot tall Tico, I cannot see how I am ever going to be able to clean the monsters. Or, for that matter, the windows/doors in the bedrooms. The windows on the other side of the house, even those not at ground level, are very approachable as there is a deck from that side below them. It allows easy access and I could, and will no doubt, be able to walk outside, stand on the deck, and clean the tall glass.

I wonder if the solution is as simple as a deck on the other side of the house, mirroring the street side deck. It is an approach I know that DZ and I have spoken about before. That would certainly take care of the bedroom windows, and perhaps I can clean the living room windows by closing one, and opening the other, and leaning out with a long handled squeegee.

We have the same problem in the kitchen also though, and we have not even gotten onto the tower. On the tower, I expect cleaning difficulty. The windows open, and so perhaps there will be vantage points from which they can be reached. Perhaps the Zendo can be cleaned from the terrace on top?

Does this all seem picky to you? I am trying to imagine not only what seeing the house will be like, but what it will be like to actually live in Plan B. As things arise, I write about them. Stimulus, response. Nothing terrible sophisticated here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

One of the really clever things about Plan B, if you believe in really clever things, is the programmatic separation of the horizontal and vertical elements. It is, in fact, two houses in one, pivoting off of the kitchen. If it were a ven diagram, and I am finding them really funny right now, then the kitchen would be the darkened overlapping bit. Fortunately it is not a ven diagram, which is going to make the living experience a lot more pleasurable.

The question is what personalities do the two spaces have, how can they be maintained visually and experientially?

Originally, there were two staircases, one ladder like going up into the tower, and the other spiral going to the bed room. This separated the elements. This is currently under review though because of a couple of changes in the plan, and some whining on my part.

I wonder, at this point, if the materials, and feels of the environment of the vertical elements should be different. I thought of this yesterday when I was building my kitchen scrap book, and reviewing green flooring materials for a kitchen. Wood, tile, concrete all probably worked well, but when the article discussed cork, I recalled a floor I saw once, I think in Domino magazine (I know I know, what is a red blooded 31 year old heterosexual doing reading Domino. It wasn't mine. It was W's roomat...ok fine, I liked it. happy? ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?) an example of a cork floor using recycled wine corks. The mortar, or whatever it is, between the blond cork was black. I think I saw it used in a bathroom. Kind of like this, but with light cork and dark filler:

I dont know that cork, or this cork floor in particular is the answer. I really dont even like most cork floors. That is not the point. The point is, the tower could be very warm. Walls in warm colors, reds, blacks, dark greens maybe. Or the floor could be dark, as opposed to the blondish color in the rest of the house. Really, something nearly black, or espresso, in the Zendo. Or light floors with age green walls. Bedrooms are very sensual when dark with committed coloring or textures, or...well, it was just a thought. White, and open on the horizontal, warm in the kitchen (as a kitchen should be right? burnt orange, reds, deep green, stone, whatever...), and then something different in the vertical element. I dont know how this would work.

We are certainly not talking about wall paper. Or doilies. Or anything really busy, but maybe a change of approach could set it off. You will never see the vertical house from the horizontal house. It should be subtle, the change, I suppose...well, I just dont know how to work it.

Frankly, I dont know how anyone ever makes design decisions. Especially on materials. There are so many great ones. Dyed concrete flooring, unfinished concrete floors, hard woods with white stains, black stained floors, green stained floors, bamboo, tiles, glass tiles, metal tiles, ceramic tiles, cork, Epoxy, linoleum, plank wood, parkay flooring, stone, granite, etc. etc. etc. and that's just floors. Wow. What a neat job to have.

As an aside, the program for the horizontal element has been plywood walls with white stain. I have gone down to the hardware store to see if I could see an example of this...I cannot picture it. Could be great, or terrible. I dont know. If you have an image, oh blog-friends o' mine, you could send it on to me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Celings--- recently I have been thinking about ceilings.

In my apartment in Boston, I have high ceilings. 9 foot 6. On the East Coast this is not so extraordinary, but comming from California, where every ceiling is 8 feet high, it seemed novel and exciting. It still does. I love the high celings, they way they clear the box of a room, draw the eye upwards, and lighten the impact of being indoors.

That said, I realized I have no idea of the height of the ceilings in the vertical element of Plan B. They could be cathedral, or short. I really have no idea. And furthermore, should I be thinking about thier formation, that is, their materiality? Are they tiled? wood, concrete? Are they one at one level, or more? I am excited to find out.

In the horizontal element, the roof is wodden, I beleive, and broken up by teak truss'. The bedrooms are going to retain privacy by having glass finishing between the ceiling line and the truss. I cannot describe that. You will have to see it for yourself.

Soon it is time to find a contracting team. Guillermo has some leads, and we have some recommendations from people who have built in Nosara. This is a, if not THE crucial element in thesucessful execution of the plan. I hope we find a winner. If any of you, dear readers, have recommendations, I would be glad to hear them.

Budget will be a different matter. This has to be done right, but then again, if the cost outstripps my abilities, then we will have to cut corners. I dont like that, but money, like site, is just one more element to take into consideration.

This entire project was brought into focus for me when W brought me a copy of a Dwell magazine. For months I had been cobbling together images of building I liked with very little success. Little did I know that there was an entire magazine out there that focused on the type of architecture I enjoy, and which explained the approaches and process to complete amateurs like myself.

I subscribe to the magazine now, and cannibalize it monthly looking for any images that might be relevant to Plan B. Well, this month's issue, focusing on one of my favorite topics--Small spaces--, published an article on a house in Japan which was long, but which wanted access to the out of doors. The result was a sliding glass door that ran the entirety of the house, 6 or 7 panels long. Then I saw a shot in the magazine of the door fully collapsed, and I realized what Guillermo has planned for the living room and Kitchen doorways.

It looks great. Better than I could have hoped. The doors are all separate glass panels with woods frames. Each one is on a separate track. The tracks were, in the article, made of wood, and the doors ran back down then and would stack up, like cards, when open, and then slide into a glass wall when closed . I am very pleased with this. I was worried that the doors might be flimsy, or difficult to regularly operate. But the images in the article make this approach to the glass wall appear sound and simple.

In case you have not all been on board with me while I have writing about this project, one of the guiding principals of Plan B has been dependability. I did not want a house that was a sports car, beautiful and high performance, but finicky and often in need of repair. The fact is that the house is open to the elements, and elements have a way of testing houses as they test people. This door was unfamiliar to me, and I am grateful to Guillermo for so universally adopting my goals, and to Dwell for showing me now, what I will see in real wood and glass in a couple months.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Towering thoughts.

I was looking over the plans last night when I had a thought about the tower and the approach to its final integration into the design. Guillermo gave me a homework think about the purpose of each of the spaces defined as the levels of the tower. How were they to feel, what were they to mean, how where they to be used?

I thought about this a lot. I have finally begun to get some clarity on them.

The mezzanine, the level above the kitchen, should be an intimate gathering space. I am thinking about a low wide table on the ground, its top about the height of the bottom of the window, maybe a couple inches more. Pillows, or low chairs. hanging low lamps. Close friends, drinking tea, or water, or beer, under low light, with the sound of the ocean and the breeze flowing through the space. I picture raised areas against the walls, incidental perches. Occasionally, we will decide to stretch out on the cushions and sleep there. I see 5 people, not more than 7, in this space. Nestled in the tops of the trees. The kitchen should warm the tone from below, and allow for quick trips to refill water bottles and tea pots.

The top space should clear, and open and present. The view should dominate, and even awe. There should be ceiling to floor glass, so that the outside cannot be diminished. The floor should be perfectly flat. Polished wood, oriented running toward the front window. It should feel like a Zen-do, a window on the world, a ballet studio, a looking glass, like consciousness- perfect and breathless in its immediately and simplicity. There will not be much talking in this space. People will look out, and just sit and do nothing extra.

I can see it in my head with fair distinction. The bottom floor reds and blues, candles, sounds, laughter, and warm, this floor, whites and woods, and glass.

So I had a thought...and I like it. Instead of having the outdoor staircase on the right (North) side of the tower, which has always seemed awkward to me and ruinous of the profile of the upward gesture, place the outdoor stair case on the rear, on the street side, on the east side. It feels right. There, people with a fear of heights will look out to the road level and it will not seem as high when they climb. The stairs will be in the back of the Zendo, and the back of the terrace, allowing both spaces to remain focused forward. In the Zendo, nothing will break the lines of the side and front of the space. I like this. In the terrace, as you mount the stairs, you will be completely unaware of the beach view, until you crest the railing. Then...wham. I think the 11.5 foot width will permit the stair case to run here. The only obstacle I see is the water ejection port for the "flat" roof which really has a sloped roof hidden under the deck. If the staircase is Corten and the tower corten, it will add interest to have a spare cantilevered stair case punctuating the tower.

This led me to a second realization. Guillermo had mentioned that he was using spiral staircases for the bottom floors and rungs, or steep stair cases for the tower. He wanted to visually separate them. It makes sense. Still, I could no get my head around the rungs, and I, for some reason totally unknown to me, don't like the spiral stairs in a bedroom. So, I thought, swap them. Spiral Stairs to the Zendo. The railing is on the back side of the zendo. That means from the hole in the floor forward, the ground is perfectly uninterrupted. Looking back, you would see no stairs, just the door to the roof. The spiral staircase, for me, then becomes a Spinal cord for the tower, with the Zendo as the head, the mezzanine/tea room as the neck, and the kitchen as the shoulders. I think it totally works. The stairs to the terrace become a flowing main, and one climbs to the area over the head, the source of the seventh chakra, when one gets to the top. A stretch? Maybe, but tell me that does not work for you? Then stairs, of course, into the bedroom. Stairs to me are intimate in a bedroom way. I don't mind a stair case in a bedroom. One thing I like about stairs, is that they create negative space beneath them. All sorts of things can hide there, like dreams.

The last change I would make the the plans as they are, is the windows of the Zendo. Currently, the front wall is floor to ceiling glass. That is as it should be. The left wall is half glass. The right wall has no glass. I think it should go like this...

Left wall should be about half, or a third, glass. Floor to ceiling. If the building cannot support a jointless corner of glass, then a steel beams width up to 1.5 feet of a wall before the front wall. The front wall, completely glass. the right wall should mirror the left. Without the staircase, it can be done. Woodflooring to the glass. A person, sitting on a cushion before the window, will be surrounded by the view. As if completely out of doors. Like the human head, eyes on each side, and the best view straight forward.

This seems to break the riddle of the tower to me. Tell me what you think.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Brass tacks---check.

ok, now onto details.

The tower was 9 feet wide. In a ridiculous episode involving me laying down on the floor of our room in the Guilded Iguana, and W marking 9 feet with a coffee sack, I tried to imagine, and "walk" in my tower. I do not use drugs regularly. I do this comepletely sober. So there I was, "walking" in my tower that exists only on paper and in a model I could squash with a converse high top, and though to myself...this is not quite right.

I brought this up with Guillermo in San Jose. Strangley, Guillermo immediately got up, measured out the distance on the grounds, and "walked" it with me. Guillermo doesn't do drugs either. This, apparently, is something architecture makes you do. So there we were, hanging out in an imaginary room, when it hit me...too small. we measure 13 feet. too much. Guillermo was right about that. Again. I am beggining to hate that. Thank god, however, that I am not trying to build this for myself. Still, it was not quite right. I imagined standing at the window with Ken and Pickle, and I thought...we need a little more. When Guillermo measured out 11.5 feet, it just felt right. personal, intamate, but in better relationship to my size. 11.5 by about 16 feet. That is interior space. It works.

The tower has evolved through the DatumZero team. The terrace is now approached by an outdoor stair case. It feels right. To get to the top, one has to leave the house, and merge the outdoor and indoor spaces. I have some interests in that stair case though. You see, Guillermo and I liked the idea of a mesh stair case, so you could see down, and it would appear light, and porous. Guillermo proposed cantilevering it from the side of the tower. I love it. I, however, am not afraid of hieghts. Sharks, yes, snakes, sure, boredom, definitely, China, sure, the rise of ethnicity as the defining force in America, well hell yes, but heights, no. But people are. People I like. People who I want to sit with on the terrace. A handrail is going to help them. I will have to think about that final design.

Speaking of the tower. I saw Corten steel. Guillermo had a sample. He and I did a little material review. Largely this involved Guillermo showing me materials and me saying "oooooh YES". Light wood floors...great. teak rafters sustainable harvested in Nicaragua...thats great, slate blue metal roof with air pocket underneath,and foam insulation....beautiful. But I am still on a Cor-ten fence.

I love the idea. No maintenance. Light. Strong. Interactive with the environment. Its exactly what I asked for. But in execution, I am not sure.

Indulge me.

this is Corten Steel.
This is a pretty nice image of it. See how it naturally corodes.?I like the red hue, I love the interaction. See how it becomes indivudual to any site? See how it reflects its environment over time?

But...stay with me....what is everyon's first impression?

Say it with me...

"Its all Rusty".

Everyone gets there. Everyone looks at this and asks who abondoned this steel and let it corrode like that. These are some pretty good images I took from the web, and still, the immediate response from 9 out of 10 observers is...

Its rusty.

Play with me.



Now, this one I like a lot. It looks weathered, but not completely encrusted in rust. How did they get this finish? Is it new Corten Steel? Likely. Is it treated? Possibly. Is it a modern, or improved, version of Corten Steel? Maybe. Maybe. If they are making an alloy that is less corruptible, and still takes on the environment, I would like that better.

So what are the options? Anodized copper was another recommendation. I love the color. I love the feel of it. There is a Chilean building in this months Dwell Magazine which uses anodized copper to great effect. It recalls Spanish tile roofs and dilapidated timber.

But copper is a heavy metal. Could it leach into the soil? Am I creating a biohazard? Will it pollute the drinking water, or god forbid, the Nosara aquifer? I dont know enough about copper. I know they use it in maybe it is safe. I don't know.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Lets get down to brass tacks shall we? How is the design shaping up?

In case you have not read, or did not recall, the basic plan reflects the organic proposal, Proposal B, below. For this reason, I will henceforth refer to the project as Plan B.

The organic approach meant a single horizontal volume, with a master bedroom anchoring the structure to the ground on one end, and a series of steel piers on the other. The house is a light, and airy, and leaves a very small footprint on the earth. It is long, 5 modules long, each module being 5x5 meters. The total length of Plan B, therefore, is 25 meters, the length of a regulation swimming pool. The vertical element intersects the horizontal volume at the bedroom, making the home now 4 modules high as well. It is not an L, as there is a car port to the south of the home. There is a terrace on top of the vertical volume, the tower, that makes a 5th floor. Thus we are 5 long, and 5 wide. The tower, however, is thinner than the master bedroom and the kitchen, which make up its lower levels. This slenderness is makes the vertical push elegant, and the interior space, intimate.

While we all walked the land, Guillermo, Alex and Natalia discovered what W and I had the day before...the land is more versatile that we had previously assumed. The grade is not unpleasant after an initial drop from the road, and then maintains a very meandering slope until the bottom of the property. Alex pointed out that the plot lines seem to echo natural instruments, the road, the creek, and several large trees.

The second observation made by DatumZero is that the house should be oriented more westerly. we walked out the site orientation and the house will now genuflect to the setting sun. The land supports the long raised horizontal volume like this without too much length added to the supports.

Noticing that the view to Playa Pelada is a lot more access able than previously expected, Guillermo pointed out the height of the bottom floor and that the bedrooms on the northern end of the house, should go to sleep and wake to views of the beach. The trade winds will sweep directly through the house, west to east.

The tower, on the other hand, should be in a position to see over Howie's land to Playa Guillones. This is very important to me. Guillermo estimates that from the mezzanine level to the upper level, I should be able to see the white sands of Playa Guillones. I don't know how he knows this. I would love to be able to get to that height to make certain, before we plan, but the fact is that the tower will have an amazing entree to the beaches at Pelada, and more interestingly, will watch the coast line snake north to Nosara and Ostional, and by turning east again, I should be able to look into the valley, seeing thunderheads mount up in the wet season, and seeing the santa cruz mountains in the dry season.

That should give you a basic idea of the plan. From here we can talk about the details.

As I said, we reoriented the house itself, to face the west. The house will be constructed between the large Pechote and Cocobolo trees in the middle of the property. I thought I had a picture of this, but I cannot now find it. Guillermo discussed with me the driveway, eventually focusing on an approach that will smooth the line from the road to the house, and the driveway tot he south of the house. Yik drive ways. necessary, but generally ugly, especially up in the mountains where I will need something to get to the beach, even if only an ATV. I doubt it thought. I will need a truck. I want the range to surf Marbella and see Costa Rica.

The rest of the details I learned on a long, long, long trip into San Jose. Without belaboring this blog, note: the trip to San Jose takes at least 7 hours when you are stuck behind trucks through the mountains, and stuck in traffic through the city. We got their late, and Alex and Natalia had understandably already retired for the evening, through Guillermo stayed and we talked from 7-10. [note: this caused W and I to miss our dinner plans across town with mohit and Eliana. I will have to make it up to all three of them one day]. I will tell more later. For now, I have to get back to the practice that is funding this enterprise.

Good neighbors make a good neighborhood. Like minded people, with a sense of integrity and trust, can avoid that zero sum cocoon that I seem to find myself in as a American. In Boston, I have have never even been inside one of my condo mate's flats. People steal my Internet signal, and I do not even know who they are. In Costa Rica, I have met my western neighbor, and now, I have met my neighbor across the street and to the south.

While the team was scrambling around on the land, looking at angles, thinking about orientation, noticing the shades and winds, a gringo shouted down from the street level. He called down "Are you my neighbor?" and I ran up to meet him.

He was nice enough to invite us to his house to see his place, have a beer, and see the view. Of course he was understandably concerned that my building would obscure his view. We pointed out to him where the top of the tower would intercede in his line of sight, and he noted that anything under the transformer on the phone pole was out of his beach view.

He bought his land three years ago, and built 2 years ago. I saw his house last time I was in Nosara in 2005.

We watched the sunset from my neighbor's place across the street. From there, you could imagine you actually could hear the surfers yelling to each other.

Pictures never do this justice, but here we go...

and for a finale, this is looking north from his property. This is the area where I should be able to look over the shoulder of the hill and the coast line all the way up to Ostional.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Something funny happened to me on the way to the show...

isn't that how the old set up goes?

Seriously, anyone who reads this regularly and thinks of moving to Costa Rica, check this out, and send the link on to anyone you think would be interested.

The K-house project is not just a house. It is part of a larger picture. I dedicate the approach to Nosara, hoping that through example I can encourage people to develop their plots in flattering fashion. I am not a pioneer. I owe a lot to the crusaders who fought for the 200 meter set back from the high water mark, and those that fought to maintain the green spaces and park lands that make Nosara unique on the Guanacaste and guarantee its continued beauty along side the unrestrained shotgun developments further north and south. Indeed, I could have bought, when I did, in Malpais, or Samara, or Marbella, but I chose Nosara because of its tradition of conservation and balance.

The project is also intended to generate value in the land against which I can borrow. I am not looking for a fast buck, but rather a good profit while developing an area in a responsible manner. I planned to finish the house, and then to look for another good investment, and to develop that land with a harmony between nature and homes.

This is nothing new to me. I have been fascinated and involved in development for a long time. My emphasis has been on alternative development. Places like SeaSide, in Florida, that leave the cookie cutter mold, and dare something new, and particularly suited to living, and in the end leave people with a great living experience. I love the co-housing approach, also known as intentional community, which seeks to engineer neighborhoods, instead of housing developments. Places where neighbors interact, with great open spaces preserved for their use.

In intentional community development, houses are grouped together, to allow land density variations and great open spaces. Instead of 8 houses with a quarter acre yard, the houses are private but in close proximity and share a 2 acre yard. I believe that this approach is particularly well suited to Costa Rica, where to magic is in the land itself.

It was during a description of this approach, and a discussion of its application in Nosara that I was approached by a man selling land. He owned dozens of acres for 15 years, and loved their pristine beauty so much, he deeded them to the Costa Rican Government. Today they are the registered biological preserve at the mouth of the Rio Nosara, and Playa Nosara. He held several small properties on the boarder of this preserve, and it was these, upon hearing my approach, he discussed selling to me.

His land is located in an area known as the “Pura Zona” development, one of the last stands of virgin hardwood forest left in the Guanacaste. The land itself is bordered on three sides by Biological preserve. That means that no one ever can encroach upon the peace and beauty of the land. No noise, no large ugly buildings, no dust kicked up by passing traffic. And the land is magical. I know. I spent a long afternoon hiking in it, and another dawn watching it light up.

The area is flanked with lush green foliage and loaded with birds: woodpeckers, ibises, seabirds, herons, egrets, and even parrots. The forested area is home to monkeys, coatis, armadillos, deers, wild cats, butterflies and iguanas. I saw the small black monkeys up in the trees and they called down at me. The river opens up one view, and in the distance you could see the Santa Cruz Mountains. The high water mark from the 15 year flood is still a couple hundred feet from the property.

The area was dense with virgin hardwoods. This makes it almost completely unique in Costa tropical forest, only a 10 minute walk through a biological reserve to a beautiful surfing beach, without the possibility of losing your privacy. Still, you can get in a car and have access to all the amenaties of Nosara, restaurants, massages, yoga studios, Gionness beach, in under 5 minutes. I drove it four times and timed it.

So, I spoke with this German gentleman who has owned this land for 15 years and left it untouched, who has saved dozens of acres of forest for the continued enjoyment of the citizens of the area, and sold him on my vision, of 16 units, nestled in the forest, with views of the river, and elevated walkways through the trees. No clear cutting, no deforestation, no massive mansions. A community, hidden in the woods, but walking distance to the beach, and minutes from town. He was sold, and gave me a deeply discounted price.

So I am looking for investors. I am not looking to save a piece of untrammeled Costa Rican beauty. I hope that eventually my friends will buy some of the houses I will build, and we can sit on their porches and listen to the waves, and get up early, and surf alone on the beaches of Ostional. I propose to handle the purchase of the land, the work with the architect, and be on site every day for the development of the houses to be built in the forest. There is, and I have looked hard, nothing left in Nosara under 300k, and even then, you are going to fight your neighbor for the possibility of a peek of the water. On the other hand, of it fits you, and you are interested, you can live in a protected zone, look out over the Rio Nosara, live in peave and silence under a canopy of hardwoods, walk to the beach, ride the river, and enjoy the serenity of Costa Rica as it was 20 years ago.

Something funny happened on the way to the office...

Drop me an email if you want more information. I believe in this project, and I would love the chance to tell you about it, but I will only do it right. If its rushed, or not a good fit for everyone involved, I move on. I wanted to save a piece of Costa Rica, something left of its pristine beauty. This chance came earlier than expected, but hey, opportunity knocks.

Monday, April 09, 2007

So after our respective cold beverages, we bounced up the dirt road to EE-25. With the trees cleaned back, one could get a better sense of the view that was going to be obtainable. From the road, one could see a straight shot to the beach to the west, and again all the way down to the hotel playa de nosara. One could even see a slice of Pelada peeling away to the north.

Now, there was not much to be seen to the west, at least not at street level. This is because Howie's house blocks the view. Hoiwe's house blocks the view because of an impressive earth moving project he must have done years ago. When I bought my land, I thought that Howie had a land on the spine of the mountain. now I realize that spine is man made, specifically bulldozer made. Howie, or the previous owner, must have built a massive retaining wall, and then pushed dirt down the hill to fill it up. The result is a million dollar view for Howie, and an obscured view for me.

Guillermo pointed out what had been done, and what nearly every property owner might do in my place: Build a retaining wall on the western border of my property and then fill it all in and build two stories on top. Nope. Not going to do it. We walked my property. There are exotic hardwoods all over it. There are gullies, and a season creek. The The land has a personality, one that I will preserve. I may be seen as leaving money on the table, but I think that someone will see what I see in the land. Its not enough to hope that your neighbor is responsible and leaves his property green for you to enjoy. It must be your commitment. I will show people that one can have their view, and leave the land unspoiled. That said, the thought of the view obtainable with land fill did make my mouth water a bit. I will freely admit that. Not to be tempted would be an ignorance of another type. I cannot think of a home in the area that did not do substantial land moving to improve their view. I have a feeling that will not be necessary for me though. Or at least this is a measure that I am unwilling to consider. Oh, this will mean no infinity pool, no flat lawn, but when you see what it will look like, a house peeking out from under a canopy of hardwoods, it will be worth the time and effort to preserve the land and its signature on my building.

On to the bad news.

Despite two strongly worded instruction e-mails from me, one more from Alex, and a phone conversation with Alex, Ashley White's husband, who I paid to clean my land, failed to follow instructions. We were clear to the point of rudeness that no tree, with a trunk over 8 inches, was to be cut down. Alex worked with him over the phone and was adamant. Yet when we visited the land, next to a pile of Imperial beer cans, we found a cocobolo tree, nearly 2 feet in diameter, cut down, and sawed into logs.

Here is that tree. You can see the unique dark interior rings of the mature tree.

"Cocobolo is a hardwood from Central America yielded by two to four closely related species of the genus Dalbergia. The best known and probably the species contributing most of the wood in the trade is Dalbergia retusa, a fair-sized tree, reported to reach 20-25 m in height. Because of its great beauty and high value, this species has been heavily exploited and the tree is now in danger of extinction outside of national parks, reserves and plantations."


I am upset and angry. There was no reason to cut this tree. The directions were clear and simple. It actually took more effort to kill it than it did to leave it alone, yet the chainsaws mowed through it all the same.

I dont think of myself as a tree hugger, but the needless destruction of hardwood trees is inexcusable. And this was needless. I wanted the tree. I was willing to pivot my house in whatever way necessary to preserve it. Wendy and I and the Datum Zero team were all effected and gathered around the tree. It must have taken minutes to cut. I wonder how long to grow another one.

When I asked Ashley White about the tree, when she was calling for payment for her husband's work, she told me that he told her that the tree had fallen. Fallen. Apparently in Costa Rica, trees generate a lot of saw dust when they fall. They fall even when completely healthy. Sometimes, it seems, when the fall they break off at sharp and straight lines.

And the worst part? He did this three times. Three trees. Three trees "fell" in this peculiar Costa Rican fashion with piles of beer cans and saw dust surrounding them. Three cocobolo trees.

Lord I am sounding like a hippie right now, but I had a project and a vision. My dream was to prove on did not need to insult the land to live on it. I am building a three bedrooms home. But I have no intention of displacing other living things homes to do that. I can sound like a capitalist also if you prefer...those were my trees. I owned them and paid to have them preservered. They made the land more valuable, as anyone can flatten land and put a concrete pad in, but hardwoods take time and care, and I expect to one day sell my land to someone who values these things.

This was hard to see, and is still hard. Guillermo declared that the cocobolo would be worked into the final design of the house. In this way, it will not be wasted. It was not my first choice...but three cut trees are now what I have. We talked about making them into handrails for a walk through the garden. Maybe furniture. I don't know. This, however, seems to be symbolic of the mangling that walks hand in hand with rampant development, something I hope to confront, even if just on my one acre in the hills of Nosara.

Friday, April 06, 2007

So it was two sundays ago that Guillermo, Natalia, and Alex drove down from San Jose to Nosara to meet me and Wendy and to walk the land. Guillermo was in Costa Rica on another business trip, but extended the stay for a week to make our meeting possible. Then he was nice enough to rent a car and drive out from the capital, a drive Wendy and I would later learn was Ullysian in its length.

We all met in the open air patio of the Guilded Iguana and drank beer, batidos, or water according to our thirsts.

Guillermo asked me how I felt about Nosara in my return. It had been 8 years since my first visit, and almost two since Ian, Jmer and I visited it again. In my first visit, Nosara was a sleepy little beach town. I recall flip flopping up dirt roads to Cafe de Paris, and how the howler monkeys would take an interest and inguanas would scurry away. I would stash my board in the plants, and eat breakfast and drink coffee for an hour or more. I recall living under the ranchitos, and surfing sun down alone. I recall the quiet at night, and the stillness in the forrests. I remember how polite everyone was, and how isolated and primitive the area was.

Time has changed Nosara. Originally, I wanted to begin a post on this subject with the line "Its done. Its was grand while it lasted, but Nosara is over". After further reflection, I do not think that is the case, but the character of Nosara has changed, and not all for the better.

The distance between the ticos and the gringos has grown and deepened. I do not know how to measure this, but the feeling is there. The Americans and other foreigners who visited this place in 1999 where all similar in a way. They were tan, and lean from walking, and had wanderlust in thier eyes. They came for the rough edges, for the lack of electrcity, for the iguanas, for the crabs, for the bugs, for the thuderstorms, for the solitude, for the electric energy from nature. The modern visitors seem fat and comfortable. They seem to want to have thier old lives here with them in Nosara. There are now Banks, and massages, and souviener stores, and the markets stock american foods. People scream by on ATVs and everywhere everything is for sale: "Se Vende, Se Vende, Se Vende...". The land, the air, the water, it seems everyone is in a rush to sell what they have. You want to buy a beach? A finca? A forrest? Its all for sale, only cash though, but few questions asked.

And the foreigners seem eager to buy. And once they buy, they get the bulldozers running. They crush the soil, and bury the trees, and tie the land in fences. They erect monuments of concrete, and crushed rock, and granite countertops, and airconditioners. Originally, I intended a photo essay of the ugliest monstrosities in Nosara, but I became depressed and overwhelmed by the candidates. Aparently, if you have an acre, you should build an acre size house. There is no temperment, no unified design, no subtlety. Cut the trees, build the retaining walls and up goes an Italian villa, designed to fit in jersey, or Nabraska, or anywhere. I wish I could tell you that it was all US designs, but I know a lot of it is local. (I am looking at you Gecko Architecture).

This is supposed to pass for architecutre.

I take all this personally. This is the most biodiverse land per square meter of any on the planet outside the amazon. It stuns with natural beauty, yet the best people can muster in thier haste for "beach front proprty" "ocean views" or "walk to the beach", are these hideous architectural monoliths that I could design with a grease pencil, 15 minutes, and a .08 blood alchohol level if only my consciounce would let me overcome years of training in taste, balance, and harmony.

It takes no more effort, though a little more time, to build something sensitive. Sensitive to your environment- the land, the animals on it whose homes you just bought, and to your nieghbors.

I fear the developers are killing the golden goose. The views are spectacular, but people are flocking to Costa Rica for La Pura Vida. The good life. The good life is a byproduct of the land, and what grows on it. It is those green spaces, that unspoiled aquifer, that exotic hardwood, those monkeys, those parrots, that fish that create the values of these homes. In an effort to snatch and grab as much profit as possible in as short a time as possible, the developers are quickly snuffing out the very reseource that drives those profits. Soon it will be gone, and the developers with it, and the Ticos will be left with a land paved, and chopped and buried.

Its not the developer's fault particularly. There is no incentive for them to do anything but build as much as densely as possible. Cut acre plots into 1/8th of an acre. Condos for houses. Develop develop devlope, and let the next guy sacrifice his profits for greenlands.

But all is not lost yet.

Nosara still has something special in it. It has a population that prides itself on environmental sensitivity. That population agreed to deed the planned golf courses into green space. It petitioned for the beach to remain a reserve for 200 meters past high tide. There is a feeling there, a community that might, MIGHT, stem the flow of development.

Dont get me wrong. I am not advocating halting development. I advocate for sustainable, responsible development. I am not overly concerned about the earth...the earth will look untouched by human hand about a thousand years after the last human dies. The earth, and life, is far stronger than we. What I am concerned about is my relationship with that earth, and my childerens. It is ultimately very selfish. I dont want to live in LA. I dont want Cota Rica to become Miami. I like the vibe there, and I want to preserve it, even extend it.

My house is an experiment in doing just that, responsible development. No retaining walls. minimal earth moving. piers so that the widlife can pass under the structure. Minimal square footage, passive cooling, open air, open light. Cisterns for water, cells for power. It is not rocket science, it simply requires repulsing the urge to build as big as you can.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Wendy and I visited the property, EE-25, by accident one day trying to get home from the super la paloma. Instead of driving into town, we found ourselves climbing up into the hills and decided to chase that trail and find my property.

We were pretty awkward about it, as I had no map and Wendy had never been there. We bungled around, irritating construction teams asking them if they knew where EE-25 was. I figured, all we had to do was find views, and then it should be near by. I was not far wrong, and with a couple false starts, we finally located the property.

The land was cleared, cleaned I should say. My ire was immediately stoked when I realized my neighbor had fenced in some of my land. Now, ordinarily, one could chalk that up to negligence, or mistake, except that that portion of my land was previously the subject of an offer to buy from said neighbor. He offered me 10k for the land, with a beautiful tree on it that sheltered his view, but I declined and gave him my word the tree would not be felled. Well, apparently my word was not quite good enough, so he decided just to take the land anyway. He tied my land with a barbwire fence, and fenced the tree on his side. What an asshole.

I was mad, but walked my property. I discovered that the decline was not as sharp as I had recalled. That was probably due to the fact that my initial, and sole, entry onto the land had come at its steepest area. From the road, I could see water shimmering through the trees. One could see, clear as day, Hotel Playas de Nosara, and the beaches of Playa pelada. I stood on the road. I stood on the rental truck (sorry thrifty). I took pictures. W has those pictures.

W discovered something amazing, the view was actually better to Playa Pelada from the bottom of the property. I had heretofore assumed that there was no view to be had from that part. But one could stand nearly 50 feet below the entry point and look out on the beach.

The wind was blowing in and I could hear the surf crashing on the shore. I don't know how far I am in a straight line from the water. maybe a half mile? not much.

There was more exploration to be done with Guillermo, but I am keeping this blog in a semi-chronological fashion, so I will describe that another day.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Just got back from Costa Rica Sunday morning at 1 am. Spent 10 days in CR, most of it in Nosara. I spent a lot of time on the land, and had several meetings with Datum Zero. There is so much to recount, but for the moment, let me leave you with some images of the team.

Here is Guillermo and Alex discussing project orientation. Guillermo is out of his NYC personal, and into shorts and flops. Alex is part of the San Jose office and has been working on the project. He made some intersting observations while on the site.

Wendy and Natalia walking at the western border of the land. Natlia is also in the San Jose office and has been part of the team. She was hiking through the land in an ankle length skirt, which wins both style and dedication points.

Again, more later, when I find time.
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