RESET, A Norm for Sustainable Architecture in the Tropics

RESET, A Norm for Sustainable Architecture in the Tropics

Certification of sustainable buildings has become a prominent trend in architecture over the last couple of years and while most people can agree on the importance of sustainability in building, how to achieve it leaves copious room for discussion.

For those working within the sphere of urban planning and architecture, the most logical first step has been establishing legislation that builds on architecture's knack for finding and supporting viable and accessible solutions. To achieve this, it was necessary to establish new norms and nowhere was this more evident than within the architecture within the tropical zones. 

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© Tormenta Cerebral

“Sustainability with more architecture and less technology” is the mantra of the RESET formula. In other words, focus on design rather than falling back on technology and use technology in moderation only when it is absolutely necessary. For RESET's purveyors, technology should support design, not replace it. By focusing on the design element, sustainability can be achieved on a microcosmic level, supporting local economies, independence, skills that take into account a place's climate and socioeconomic conditions. 

RESET's defining principles center on just this--building for and in sync with the local climate and economy by using home-grown renewable resources and labor.  This approach to contemporary architecture promotes, not only a community's economy, but its local culture as well while allowing it to strengthen it's own architectural traditions. 

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© Sergio Pucci

 Driven by the belief that the building sector's environmental impact will decrease only when the majority of structures achieve sustainability certification, RESET was created as a norm for large scale construction, which represents the highest percentage of new constructions in the world. Because of this, RESET's norms cover everything from low-cost social housing to more complex structures. 

With  their vision defined, a team from the Institute for Tropical Architecture, a non-profit organization founded in Costa Rica in 1994, wrote the RESET norms and regulations in order to apply them Costa Rica's modern architectural practices.  

RESET, A Norm for Sustainable Architecture in the Tropics - Image 7 of 7
© Sergio Pucci

The tropics encompass the territories of over 108 countries and house nearly 50% of the global population, 70% of the Earth's forests, covers nearly 40% of the Earth's habitable surface. What's more, more than 100 countries within this zone are classified economically as developing.

This fragment of data brings us to the conclusion that sustainable development cannot be achieved on a global scale without taking place in countries within the tropics, a fact that drives the creation of the Institute for Tropical Architecture's norms. 

RESET, after being created by the institute, was donated to the Federated College of Engineers and Architects of Costa Rica and to INTECO (The Technical Standards Institute of Costa Rica). With the support of these institutions, the RESET rules became national regulations in May of 2012. INTECO oversees their application with the help of various committees that evaluate buildings seeking the RESET approval. To date, RESET, INTE C 170:2020 remains active. 

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© Bruno Stagno

For Costa Rica's architects and engineers, it's possible to receive a license in RESET Consulting from the Federated College of Engineers and Architects. So far, over 60 professionals have been certified. What's more, several government institutions require the RESET standard for their buildings; however, RESET remains an optional method of certification. 

To receive RESET certification, a Context Form must be filled out to determine a building's impact. This form evaluates, among other things, the surrounding area's overall development, its population density, and proximity to public services and public transportation. A grade is attributed to each of these factors, forming the overall impact rating: White is for single family and multi-unit residential buildings, Yellow is for smaller buildings, Orange for large buildings, and Red for buildings with a large environmental impact. 

To achieve their impact rating, buildings needs to score at least 70% in the criteria assigned to each category. For White, there is 40 criteria, for Yellow, 61, for Orange, 97, and for Red, 120. In all, there are 120 criteria for the RESET certification.  

RESET, A Norm for Sustainable Architecture in the Tropics - Image 2 of 7
© Bruno Stagno

RESET has seven chapters: #1 Spatial Quality and Wellbeing, with 27 criteria, #2 Surroundings and Transportation, with 24, #3 Socio-Economic Aspects, with 11, #4 Grounds and Landscaping, with 19, #5 Materials, with 15, #6 Water Use Optimization, with 15, and #7 Energy Optimization, with 9. 

It's worth nothing that Chapter #7 has the least amount of criteria. Although RESET standards promote saving electricity, they don't focus as much on this category since Costa Rica's electrical power generation is already low-impact, with 97% of electricity coming from renewable sources. In other countries, however, it's likely that this category will be weighed more heavily.

Throughout the certification process, RESET-licensed professionals compile data that demonstrate a building's compliance with each of the following categories: project design, construction, or building operations. Later, this data is presented to  INTECO for final evaluation and certification.

You can download a printable copy of the RESET regulations at the INTECO website as well as the digital version at the Institute for Tropical Architecture's website.

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About this author
Cite: Stagno, Bruno . "RESET, A Norm for Sustainable Architecture in the Tropics" [RESET, una norma para la arquitectura sostenible en el trópico] 05 Feb 2021. ArchDaily. (Trans. Johnson, Maggie) Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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