Costa Rica’s new modern homes are built to float above the landscape. This wave of elevated housing is designed to minimize environmental impact while working with varied terrain. Aiming to become a carbon-neutral country, Costa Rica is transforming its housing market as it experiences a growing demand for more residential buildings.
Located in Central America, Costa Rich shares borders with Nicaragua and Panama, as well as the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The sovereign state’s progressive environmental policies have influenced and shaped the built environment, including how projects are tied to diverse energy sources like geothermal, hydro and solar. The Green Building Council Costa Rica (GBCCR) has taken a number of steps to help in this effort and address the residential sector of the building market. Sited in steeply sloped and forested sites, many new homes are built atop shifting topography and dense vegetation.
Today, Costa Rica’s modern homes are opening up to nature and the ocean as the country works to mobilize the residential market towards greener building practices. The following projects showcase some of the elevated housing that has been created over the last five years, including a number of houses with smaller footprints built atop stilts. They feature a range of building programs and scales, but share a common approach to Costa Rica’s rich landscape.
Costa Rica Treehouse is inspired by the jungle of this densely forested site on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Built entirely of teak wood harvested on-site, the retreat engages with the jungle at each of its three levels: at the forest floor, the middle floor is nestled within the trees, and the top level rises above the tree canopy with views of the surf at nearby Playa Hermosa beach. Designed as an open-air surfer hut, the project engages the Costa Rican landscape, from the vegetation accessible just off the main floor, to the larger weather and surf patterns one can experience on the top level.
The House sits on a mountain top in a remote beach town called Playa Negra. It is a vacation home for a New York couple that was interested in a home away from home that not only adapted well to its surroundings but was instrumental to understanding them. The house takes cues from local vernacular constructions of the area that insert themselves in what Gilles Clément calls the third landscape; going with rather than against natural conditions.
The Gooden-Nahome family wanted to create a home on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and they found an incredible site overlooking the ocean. The biggest challenge the team encountered was that their plot of land was predominantly comprised of a very steep slope, and the view of the ocean could only be seen from the upper-mid portion of the site. The team saw this as an opportunity rather than a constraint, and immediately considered an architectural response that was appropriate for these conditions.
In the Papagayo peninsula, placed on the tip of an seaward pointing, and slightly downward sloping ridge of a peninsular shaped lot, with forest on both sides ( one a natural reserve), is the house named Indios Desnudos. It is named after some of the most characteristic trees on the lot, indio desnudo (naked indian) they make up a focal point of the house, especially in the main living area.
This project was conceived as part of a plan with other houses that will be built in the future. It is located in the mountains of Malpaís, Costa Rica, in a property with vegetation typical of the tropical, dry forest. The house was located in a way that is not going to interfere with the view of other houses that are projected in the master plan. Using this location, the existing trees were not cut and it was possible to take advantage of the amazing view of the north Pacific coast.
This project was designed around an existing Ficus and to highlight the surrounding place. Programmatically, “it’s a place where one can enjoy the view and spend afternoons and part of the evening with friends and family.” The location selected had a slight slope towards the east and a bonsai-like tree that resembles the ones grown by its owner. In turn, the view of the San Jose city with the central volcanic mountain range was central to the design, with the Escazu mountains and its Pico Blanco or White Peak.
The client commissioned Studio Saxe to create a dwelling in the jungle that brings the outside in. The property was composed of a slope that went down into a beautiful creek that overlooks the jungle. Studio Saxe decided to create a large triple height space to be able to see the sky all the way from the bottom of the jungle floor and to appreciate the full scope of every tree that surrounds the house. This volume of space enclosed in glass is a powerful moment that brings shadows inside, natural ventilation and provides a place which is always surrounded by the jungle.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 1, 2019, and updated on July 19, 2021.