Cerro Osa, Costa Rica - 2013
12. January 2015
OBRA Architects was recommended to our client by a friend of his who attended a lecture we gave at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
This is a vacation retreat for an American doctor and family on the Osa Peninsula, the realization of a client’s lifelong fascination with wilderness and desire for life in proximity of exuberant nature. Located on 98 hectares of virgin rainforest with views east to Golfo Dulce and west to the Pacific, the house occupies a small hill, formerly a mango farm, avoiding the need to destroy trees. Moving down the hill, different wings orient themselves rotating in plan as they descend, privileging with their discrete axes of symmetry multiple points of fugue to structure views of the forest around with silent invisible geometries. Two walled gardens defined by low walls provide transition between “interior” and exterior, outdoor zones safe to use in evenings when snakes freely roam about.
The arrangement proposes a controlled but unstable tension between house as object and space of the forest as site. Rather than freestanding element surrounded by leftover land, or boundary-like architectural arrangement encircling courtyards, it gives neither primacy to object nor space. The house retains integrity of a single architectural volume seen from outside, as the pavilions overlap in depth, flattening perception of spaces in-between, yet as one enters, vistas of forest and sky between pavilions make it hard to discern if surrounded by one structure or many.
1. Desire for a measured, respectful proximity to the forest
2. Definition of spaces for warm climate year-round, protection from sun in summer, from rainstorms in winter
3. Utilizing topography to closely approach corners of the forest, to generate psychological house map with intuitions of Up, Down, Gulf-Side, Ocean-Side, etc.
4. Open architectural plan encircling and framing landscape, allowing winged wildlife to traverse throughout
5. Method of construction flexible enough to create complex roof forms suggested by demands of the plan, the hill and topography, yet simple enough to be built by local labor in remote location.
The most difficult challenge for the project was the design, detailing and construction of the triangulated sections of roof suspended over the ramps and stairs connecting the different sections of the house. The project was to be constructed with the help of locally based workers and the proposed geometry, although not particularly complex, was unfamiliar to their experience. Furthermore, due to the remote location of the site, the building crew would have to camp on location during the construction of the house and have with them all the materials and tools necessary for the successful construction of the project. Frequent, or even sporadic trips to the hardware store were impractical given that the nearest one was located an eight-hour-drive from the site.
The second and final structural system proposed the creation of composite beams for every member. Each beam was formed by two back-to-back steel “C” profiles sized according to their span and connected to each other by steel plate brackets that gave them the desired configuration and that had the advantage that could be bent to the right geometry on the site. All the joists were then fastened to the profile’s flanges.
Three different factors contributed to the final form adopted by the building:
1. Located in an isolated corner of the world, on top of a hill and surrounded by dense forest, we felt the house needed to have some of the variety of choice of personal location that is more typical of urban environments. In other words, the world created by a compact building in the landscape is typically reduced to one of two possibilities, either inside or outside. One of the reasons for the organization of the house in five discreet elements is a desire to use these in the definition of exterior spaces that, lying between them, can contribute to the creation of a more varied range of possible personal locations in relationship to the house and its setting, not only inside or outside but also something like inside-inside, inside-outside, outside-inside and outside-outside.
The desert and the jungle (as in this case) oppose the city as places characterized by an absence or scarcity of social, civic and cultural tradition. Architecture is one of those manifestations that, being a byproduct of dense human occupation, is rather scarce in this remote and wild place. In the void created by this lack of architectural tradition, buildings tend to assume forms that are largely dictated by the weather and other natural conditions. Our project relates to those building habits, as most buildings in the Osa Peninsula, by making very little use of windows, since temperatures year-round are pleasant enough not to have to enclose the space other than for insect protection. Other distinctive elements in local construction that are also present in our project are wide roof overhangs that protect the spaces from rain and excessive sun exposure and a consistent 30 cm step that separates the house from the surrounding landscape in order to prevent unpleasant visits from the many varieties of deadly poisonous snakes inhabiting these forests.
Email interview conducted by John Hill.
Cerro Osa, Costa Rica
New York, NY, USA
Shin Kook Kang
Atsushi Koizumi, Patricia Bohrer, David Karlin, Doreen Lam, Jennifer Lee, Edina Nathania
Robert Silman Associates
98 hectares (242 acres)
375 sm (4,000 sf)