Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Guillermo sent me an e-mail today about a prospective construction company, called Entelligant. They are located in San Diego USA. They specialize, as I am learning, in lightweight, low waste, modular building structures that are designed to be strong, and environmentally friendly.

Each facet of the design and building process has been fascinating. It is such a dense and rich subject. The construction of the house itself is now revealing the layers of decisions beneath it.

Prefabricated materials will also take the onus off the local building crews to perform complex building. Labor costs are the majority of construction costs, so it is to be hoped that the prefab pieces will greatly reduce that cost as well as responsibility.

In short, Entelligant aims to provide improved building materials in prefabricated form that reduce costs and the requirement for skilled Field crews.

The videos on their website showed the basic plan for building foundations. It involved 6 steel piers, driven into the soil, and then a steel skeleton laid over it. They appear to save costs and decrease variability by using automated labor in the construction of the prefabricated sections.

They are already building one project in Costa Rica. I do not know their reputation. There is no other mention of them on the web site. Guillermo is recommending that we put them in the mix while considering our construction options and I think they are quite interesting.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Nosara Civic Association

A call, I would say, from the Nosara welcoming committee. In doing research regarding the availability of property managers for Plan B, I ran into Bobbi Johnson, in the digital sense. She is the secretary for the Nosara Civic Association.

Now, I know a bit about the Civic Association, or at least I thought I did. They used to be in charge of the water utilities in Nosara, and used them to great effect to control developers. I don't know if it was by that leverage, or by other means, but they are in part credited with maintaining the balance between the ecosystem, the native inhabitants, and foreign growth. In fact, that is their stated mission on their web site.

The purposes of the Asociación Civica de Nosara are to promote the material and intellectual growth of all the inhabitants of the area known as "Playas de Nosara", without distinction: to promote the region's progress without interference with the local culture of its prior inhabitants or the area's scenic beauties. It shall furthermore watch over the protection and conservation of the regions flora and fauna, striving to maintain the natural ecological balance.

They sent me a dues bill, and before I paid it, I looked into that to which my dues would go. According to the Web Site:

Your support, both financially through dues or donation as well as through volunteer opportunities, returns to you in a variety of ways:
Helps to maintain the integrity of the local airport
Contributes to the preservation of the beaches
Contributes to the preservation of the green belts
Helps to maintain ecological balance in the area by encouraging the reduction of pollution and garbage
Provides humanitarian support during natural disasters.
Provides a legal fund to support environmental causes and to inhibit improper development of beaches and wetlands
Provides emergency repairs and safety protection of the roads

If all that is even half true, then its the best 175 dollars I have ever spent. But wait, there is more:

Membership in the NCA also provides you direct benefits:
Reduced health insurance rates through the NCA group plan
Provides a channel for member businesses to present products and services
In the future, the NCA plans to expand in the following areas:
Help channel new business to our NCA members
Increase the distribution of NCA's helpful community information booklet
Continue the evolution of the NCA website to provide access to comprehensive information about all of our community and updates of current events

Strange, me being the member of a civic association. What is next? the PTA? No matter. I look forward to seeing what these dues cover, and what the efficacy of the association is like.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A great comment was posted in response to Marco's cautioning on environmental stresses on my place. In case you missed it:

grounded ideas said...
Some of the comments that Marcos has posted are fairly valid IF one has limited knowledge on the construction process, I can not make an educated guess on his background. There are some interesting examples to examine on local architecture that could possibly resemble some of the designs that Michael describes.Nosara happens to be a very humid area during the raining months, a lot more than the northern areas of Guanancaste, it is actually due to its density rather similar the the areas of Puerto Viejo, Limon, atlantic zone.The architecture on those areas represent a rural architecture based on wood construction, large overhangs and breathing roofs. Quite like Bali, vietnam, jakarta, the caribbean etc. Humid rainy conditions over extended periods of time.Such structures in Limon have been standing there for decades, their wood facades are wholesome and colorful and eventhough one can notice the wrinkles generously provided by the rain and sun, they all appear to have a certain longevity that has been punctuated by character.90% of those structures are not sitting on the ground, this condition provides cooling and isolates the possibility from humidity entering the structure.I do believe that the approach described by you on the construction systems could work really well, my only concern would be: 1. Make sure the construction is well detail to avoid insects, (as much as reasonably possible) and animals to enter the structure.Keep your details simple for easy maintenance.2. Your overhangs should at least extend 1 meter away from the periphery walls where possible.3. The maintenance of wood structures is no less or more difficult than concrete, concrete as well catches Fungus, it peels, it chips, it needs sealants etc.The care for wood if well treated t obegin with should not be more involved than its counterparts.It does have some advantages, it is much easier to replace damaged pieces down the line, if the structure were to need it, like changing upholstery to an 15 yr old couch. As long as the main structure is sound, the problems to encounter should not be of more consequence than others.4. The swiss pavilion at the entry of nosara (what i like to call it) has been there for about 9 years, it is all sheathed in wood, it is holding quite well. A good test of time. All the best on your project.

Grounded Ideas, I don't know that I know you. You know Nosara well enough though that you might be a resident or a neighbor. I hope to meet you one day soon when I am living down there. Thanks for the support. I agree that the direction that my place chose, that is elevated from the ground, should control the moisture problem in a similar manner to the elevated homes in Puerto Viejo, or Bali, or even Vietnam. The air circulating underneath should prevent molding and humidity from building up.

It is interesting that so many of your recommendations track the directions that Guillermo and I have been trying to follow- Simple details for maintenance, tight fixtures and apertures for insect and animal incursions. I have expressed to him the minimum overhang that I think is needed for the place, to keep it protected from the sun and water. I think that what the plans indicate are a minimum around 1 meter, but of that I need to be sure. Still, I agree with his point, and Guillermo and I have discussed this.

He is right, that all materials require maintenance: a fresh coat of paint, sealant, varnish, oil. I guess that Cor-ten steel is different, in that it is more or less maintenance free, but the point, as Guillermo once put it, is that a house is like a car---It needs regular maintenance, and care.

Thanks a lot grounded ideas, for, well, er, your grounded ideas.

Monday, May 21, 2007

My good friend Gil sent me

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Well, perhaps critique is the better word. From a Costa Rica BB that I frequent to get valuable information regarding living and building in Costa Rica, and at which I have posted this blog, I received the following, interesting, email from Marcos:

Good luck on your project. But I think your creative ideas will soon collide with the realities of building in Costa Rica. The reason you see 90% of the homes and buildings built with concrete is because that's what's work best with the elements here. It is no fun sanding and varnishing wood every year because of the sun and rain. Don't create any spaces for insects or rodents to make a home or have fun ridding your house of their waste and noise. Open areas?? Have you seen how many insects there are after the first few rains??? And wind. If the wind hits your house when it's blowing full force in January-April, your roof and house better be able to take it or you will see your roof in the waves in the morning!! Most Architects try to charge a fee of 10% of the value of the construction. With all of your consultations, is that about what you are paying?? I would like to see a photo of the final product and how much you ended up paying per square foot of construction. You scored on the lot, so the rest is easy! Enjoy!!

He raises a lot of valid concerns.

First, construction. I am going to guess that if I cannot find a building crew that can accomplish what is needed, that the whole project wiats. Or stops, or changes, but I am not at terribly concerned about that to tell the truth. There are, even in Nosara, increasingly more sophisticated builders available, juding from the increasingly more sophisticated building projects I have seen. There is a house in my niehgborhood which looks about 5-6 meters wide, but is 3 stories, maybe 4, tall. It is a tall column, and so far, looks well built, if a little intrusive.

I believe the outside of the house, and perhaps the interior also, is going ot be largely concrete. Not the floors, but the walls, and the foundation. There will be steel framing for the entire structure, honestly something I am excited to see in practice and in execution.

Pests are a problem. I dont think that I am creating any problems in particular, but I did express to Guillermo that I was concerned about the roof, which has two layers for colling and to decrease the thermal shock of the day heats, might harbor animals. He told me it will be finsihed with metal screens. I think that pests, and animals, are being taken into account in the design.

I am not paying a 10% fee of construction. Guillermo and I settled on a set fee that does not change whether the project grows, or shrinks. this fee compensates him to do the project, without much for profit left over. He a select few projects a year, and chooses them based on how interesting a challenge they present. I have been very pleased with the cost. my friend, who is a real estate developer, was very impressed with the cost.

Using estimated costs, Guillermo's fee would equal just a little over 10 percent. When I compare his work with the buildings in the area, his attention to detail, professionalism and vision, I am, at least so far, very pleased, and think he is a steal. Then agian, I dont think he is doing this project to get rich. I think it is a statement. It is a statement, a dream, for us both.

I would use him agian in a heartbeat.

I will post a picture. I will post images along the way. It is going to be something special, and, as you pointed out Marcos, I got a steal, this is just gravy.

Friday, May 11, 2007

20 years from now...

this is a thought experiment. I am going to try to assume hard environmental conditions, worst case scenarios and hard wear for 20 years on Plan B, and try to imagine what problems would be present in 20 years. In short, a tour through the house 20 years from now, after several owners, spotty maintenance, rains, sun, soil movement, wind, etc... Maybe this will help me identify weak spots.

Lets begin this tour of horrors shall we.

I drive down the drive way. It is crushed rock. Over the years of grading it has developed a sage in the middle, and water pools there. Not a terrible problem. I park in the garage. The concrete footpad is cracked, but still there. The roof over it though has not faired so well. It was shaped roughly like an airfoil, and a high wind lifted it up, and ripped it off. The car, therefore is not shaded when I park. I walk to the walkway to the Gallery. It would be better to walk to my bedroom, but I like this walk. The gallery that horizontally bisects the house is weather worn. It has not been well oiled or water treated, and now it is dry and cracked. [Is that true? What do I need to do to maintain the gallery in its original shape? is concrete a better material than wood? California decks need to be replaced, dont they? I mean, eventually, that wood will get rotted, or dried out, and be cracked. Or maybe not. Maybe this wood is sealed, with a verithane. Maybe this hardwood does not face the ravages of pine. Ok, not to self: Ask Guillermo about this or do research.] The wood no longer matches with the wood that has been shaded, which is still in great shape, and looks like an indoor hardwood floor.

I slide the gate back. It opens part way as the runners have come untrue over the years and the heavy gate has jumped the track. [ I have NO IDEA what the gate will be like and how hearty the runners etc. This is complete conjecture]. ok. Inside...the gallery inside looks pretty good. The roof here is fine. The windows over the sides are ok. There is water damage at the deal between the kitchen and the gallery, where water from the tower has collected and broken through. [This is a part of the plans I cannot discern. How is the water to escape this area. It is probably provided for, I just do not know how.].

The kitchen: I turn left and enter the kitchen. The appliances are a bit rusty toward the bottom from the salt and sea air and humidity. Could this have been prevented by making sure air circulated around them. Ants, of course. there are ants. This is probably impossible to prevent. The hardwood floor near the window to the west is sun damaged. This is because of the late afternoon sun that is not excluded by the roof line. [Note: this is not going to be as big a problem in this part of the house as others. The roof line here will extend between 2.5 and about 4.5 feet when shading the kitchen. Depending on the height of the ceilings, and the angle of the slope of the roof, this is going to provide sun, at worst, until roughly 4 ish in the afternoon]. The rest of the kitchen I will have to return to at a later date as it is still largely undersigned, and I cannot accurately analyze it.

Crossing over into the living room, there is tremendous damage to the floors in front of the picture windows. These windows swing up, and their attachments with the roof line create a sloping backward into the home. On days where the windows were accidentally left open and a rain storm passed, the windows served as a funnels dumping water into the living room.

The trusses/beams are in pretty good shape. I am going to admit I know nothing about roofs, or roof construction and tell you that I don't think anything is going awry with the roof. I hope not.
The windows themselves are shut. The pulley system that was supposed to help them raise and lower is broken. {I have no idea hwy it really would, or would not break. I don't even know what this pulley system looks like}.

Looking at the roof line on the slope facing side of then house, we can anticipate the sun entry to a greater accuracy. Looking at the drawings, I am going to estimate that the roof line will hang over the house 3 feet. I will assume the top of the exterior wall is going to be 9 feet. This is where the math gets worse. I don't know the roof angle, so I will estimate it being 90 degrees. It doesn't really matter, we can still solve for the angle at which the sun will enter the house without it, but if the roof angle is less that 90, which is is, the roof line will hang down a bit. Still, if we take 3 and 9 as the legs of the right triangle, creating a ratio of .33, and take the tangent of that angle, we find that the sun will first strike the floor when it is 18.26 degrees from straight over head. I do not know what time of the day, 18.25 comes out to be, but I am going to guess that you will have light in the house from, oh, 9:30-11. That's because the hill blocks the sun for the morning, and then the sun passes overhead. Bad math, sure, but let me tell you, it sure was fun to dust of the scientific calculator again.

Ok, back to the roof. Some of the beams extend beyond the roof. These, we will imagine in this nightmare, have not been varnished every year, and now are greying, dry, and need replacement. This is showing me that I need to learn about wood care in the tropics, and the degree of exposure to sun and heat and rain that they can endure and maintain their composure.

The gutters may have broken at some point, and the water now courses over the side. gutter maintenance is going to be a regular effort I will suppose. Not that big a deal. this is probably an issue with every house.

Ok, this might be overly horrific, but lets imagine that the slope has moved just slightly. The footers on which the entire structure stands have shifted. Yikes. That happened to a house in which I lived once in CA. My parents yelled and cursed a great deal. It broke the house in a way, and you could see cracks going down the walls. Maybe the steel frame will prevent this. Maybe the fact the footers rest on the soil, and do not necessarily drive into it, will prevent them from being moved with the slope.

The bedrooms face the same problem as the kitchen, sun damage where the sun comes in the window for a great portion of the day. There are trees...perhaps there is enough shade? How much longer must the roof be to prevent this exposure? Do I have any idea what I am talking about?

The tower.

The greatest fear I have is that the stair case to the terrace has become unstable. Oh, maybe not in year 1, or 5, or 10, but 20 years down the line...has the terrace become a wonder place to be, but a nightmare to approach? Those stairs are, currently cantilevered, which I like, but I have no idea about the long term structural integrity. What happens when wet leaves land on them, and the rains soak them. Over time, we have metal fatigue. Metal fatigue is very real, and requires only a very small variation past the flex point.

Which also leads me to consider the metal skin of the tower. Metal expands at a greater rate than concrete. What happens when the skin, day after day, grows further than the concrete to which it is anchored? Do the fasteners break? Is it possible that the wind will cause the skin to vibrate when it blows by? I don't know, but harmonics, while kind on the ears, are hard on building materials.

That's about all I have. No doubt few of these will come to pass, but it is always smart to kick the tires. Let me know if you can think of anything else, and, as always, thanks for your readership.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I am learning a lot about Nosara in the research I am passively and now actively pursuing. Here is a clip from the business plan I am preparing for another project, which gives you a little more information about this place in which this blog is set:


Nosara is a small, inland Tico village in close proximity to several kilometers of Pacific Ocean beaches. Nestled into the beach zones beside Playa Guiones, a gorgeous white sand beach, picturesque Playa Pelada, and the stunning black sand beach of Playa Nosara, is a small community home to a diverse international population, known as the “American Project”. The village of Nosara provides the American Project with several grocery stores, a top notch medical clinic, a gas station, car rental agencies, the Ebais Medical Clinic, and an airstrip serviced twice a day from international airports in San Jose and Liberia. The international American Project provides hotels, fine restaurants, a national bank, internet service, city lights, a natural aquifer providing immaculate water, two world famous yoga institutes, bakeries, cafes, schools, day care, public libraries, and clinics, just to name a few amenities. Nicoya, a large city about 45 minutes away by car, provides residents of Nosara with access to a full hospital, international bus station, and an undergraduate university, in addition to full size grocery stores and all the other services associated with a city.

The beaches of Nosara are considered by many to be the gems of Guanacaste’s Gold Coast. Unlike many beaches discovered by tourists and sun worshipers, the beaches of Nosara remain in their natural state as national parks and sea turtle refuges. The beaches have remained nearly pristine due to the diligence of active expatriate communities that have maintained a twenty-year environmental campaign preventing large-scale, high-density development that would encroach upon the Maritime Zone of the beaches. The success of these conservation efforts is now world famous and noteworthy in itself.

Not many beach communities in Costa Rica have developed so conscientiously nor are set up to do so in the future, however:
[b]ecause the village of Nosara is several kilometers from the beach, and because most of the land near the beach has been zoned primarily as a residential community, Nosara has been spared the sort of ugly, uncontrolled growth characteristic of many other Guanacaste beaches. All of the hotels here are small and spread out, with most tucked away down side roads. There's none of the hotels-piled-on-top-of-hotels feeling that you get at playas Flamingo, Tamarindo, and Coco. In fact, on first arriving here, it's hard to believe there are any hotels around at all. Nosara has long been popular with North American retirees and a handful of Hollywood celebs, and they too have made sure that their homes are not crammed cheek-by-jowl in one spot, hiding them instead among the profusion of trees that make Nosara one of the greenest spots on the Nicoya Peninsula. If you're looking for reliably sunny weather and a bit of tropical greenery, this is a good bet.
-New York Times, quoting Frommer’s guide.

The town of Tamarindo, once prized for its laid back beauty, is now heavily developed, and criticized for having lost its tropical environment to the greed of developers. Malpais to the south, not five years ago an immaculate beach with hardly 100 year round residents, is now crowded with multi-story buildings obscuring the view and marring the beauty of the land. The preservation efforts and the controlled expansion of the area are just two of the reasons why Nosara is likely to retain its value over the years. Nowhere else on the Guanacaste peninsula are houses and structures mandated to be set back 200 meters from the beaches. Nowhere else in the Guanacaste are greenways and parklands deeded into the development to separate the houses and restrain the possibility of future overcrowding. Only in this section of the Guanacaste exists a united and international community ready to defend the value of not just their land, but their idyllic way of life.

Many foreigners have chosen to make Nosara their home. Executive surfers, outdoorsman, fishermen, investors, vacationers, and retirees contribute to the community. They come from Europe and the Americans. Actors Woody Harrelson, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins all have homes in Nosara. The Omega Institute is also opening a facility in Nosara. People who look to buy in Nosara are looking for a tropical sanctuary, and not a quick profit. They are invested in the present and future of Nosara.

The American Project:

Directly bordering Playa Pelada, Playa Guiones and Playa Nosara is the “American Project.” The project was begun in the late 1960’s by an American developer, David Alan Hutchinson, from which it gets its name. Hutchinson intended to lay out a golf course community of some 800 lots, but that development was ahead of its time and never finished. The roads, power and water system, however, were put in place, establishing the initial infrastructure for Nosara. While interest in Costa Rica and Nosara simmered, the trees that had been cleared for cattle ranching grew and matured into secondary forest. Early Nosara residents set aside the area originally planned as a golf course and created “green parkland areas,” which today are full of maturing trees, fauna, water ways and wildlife. These natural green corridors meander between subdivided lots of 1/4 to sometimes two or more acres. The area was first populated by nature lovers and isolationists who built modest homes among the woods and enjoyed this serene and unique ocean side setting.

As idyllic as this may sound to some, the beaches of Nosara remained quite remote, isolated and underdeveloped until very recently. The local economy subsisted primarily as a surfing destination due to the consistent waves of Playa Guiones. Recently, bridges were put in place over all the rivers south of the area making year-round access possible from the city of Nicoya. In April of 2003, a new $35 million bridge spanning the Tempisque River opened, shortening the eight-hour drive from the capital, San Jose, to four hours. The opening of a new international airport in Liberia, a two hour drive to the north, has also simplified access and put the beaches in convenient reach and attention of a new generation of residents and tourists.

Today, a new group of people are discovering Nosara. Some newcomers choose to live year round, others rent their homes to grateful tourists or annual visitors. New businesses are opening to offer services to the next generation of nature and ocean enthusiasts seeking an ocean front lifestyle-community. Europeans and Americans alike are finding the town cosmopolitan, serene, and attractive as a retirement and tourism destination. Everyone enjoys the freedom of this unique setting in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The American project is divided into lettered sections.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My heavens.

Yesterday Guillermo sent me the preliminary 3-dimensional renderings of Plan B. There is nothing new in the design, so I will not make any comments about the structure in particular, dear readers, but I would like to take this moment to adequately describe how I feel about seeing my home in 3 dimensions and in color.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Ugly Parade.

Dear god, I finally found it.

Everyday that I surfed Nosara, Guiones actually, and looked shoreward from the blue waters and pristine beach, like a beautiful woman with a gaping eye socket, the lush and tropical beauty of the land was marred by a house so grotesquely envisioned, so egregiously ugly, so monumentally hideous, that I could not bring myself to take a picture of it if only to remind myself that the end of humanity itself as a species is not necessarily a bad thing.

But I found it on line, and apparently, they are trying to sell it.

Features:Casa Pacifico, with over 3,700 square feet of construction, was completed in 2006 and is being sold turn-key and fully furnished with high-end furniture and appliances, including Euromobilia kitchen and with 10 meters of granite surfaces. The property has been designed and executed with painstaking level of detail not found in the area and is in move-in condition.

"Painstaking level of detail". Absolutely. This design must have caused great pain to the architect unless he simply fell asleep on his autoCAD keyboard and then woke with a terrible hangover and sent it on to the client who was a deaf mute, and building it must have been akin to an execution for the poor tico constructing company that accepted the role of mangling their own homeland. My god.

Apparently even the real estate agent found it advantageous to avoid taking pictures of the outside of the house, but there is one image on line, and I bring it to you, and I beg you: please, please please, unless you are going to cure cancer with the profits, do not ever build anything like this.

No, even this image cannot do it justice. You have to imagine that the owner of this gem owned an entire forested hill overlooking the pacific. His tribute to the land, and the decades of reforestation that rebuilt a functioning ecosystem on that hill was to bulldoze the entire thing, and cut the top off to shore up retaining walls. He paved the whole damn thing, and slapped this monstrosity up there.

The other side of the house has a matching cylinder...thing. I dont know what the point of these are, unless it is to offend God. The other cylinder thing faces the same way. The house is in varying shades of pastel. There was enough concrete used to pave a freeway offramp (which, incidentally, is a far more beautiful structure than this house).

he wants 2.15 million. If I had 2.15 million, I would buy it, then hire a team of Czech explosive experts to blow it up. I would then dance around the smoldering ruins chanting "the wicked witch is dead". I would urinate on the flames. Its hideous.- but I have probably communicated that by now.

Its too much to hope that the new owners will have the good taste to implode it, but again, if you visit Nosara, implore you, for your own sake, avoid looking to the northern side of the beach.
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