Friday, August 13, 2010


Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica

SPG Architects was approached by our client to re-consider the incomplete structure that he had previously erected on a remote Costa Rican coastal hillside. The all-but-abandoned steel framework and concrete slab construction was being reclaimed by the forest yet the prior investment in time, materials, and money was considerable. Although the structure was beautifully sited, it needed considerable re-thinking to become a viable and beautiful home. As architects we were convinced that salvaging the existing structure was not only feasible but also the right thing to do, for both the client and the environment. The dual concerns of accommodating the needs of the client and preserving the natural landscape shaped the design and construction process from that point forward.

With footings, frame, and slab already in place, the greatest impact on the rain-forested site, which overlooked the Pacific Ocean, had already taken place before SPG Architects’ work began. The existing geometry required minor reconfiguration of the perimeter to improve the massing and use of the house. Sheer walls, bracing, and enhanced connections were required to reinforce the frame for seismic activity. Neither of these activities further degraded the site.

Further impact on the site was reduced by the decision to make the house self-sufficient in terms of energy and water use. This both eliminated the considerable expense of running electrical lines 18 km from the nearest town and avoided the inevitable suburbanization of this sparsely populated coastal area that doing so would have risked. Upon completion, this house had the largest domestic solar array (18.4 kW) in Costa Rica, which provided enough energy for lighting, appliances, and miscellaneous equipment. In the future, this solar-derived power will also provide for the needs of a complete and state-of-the-art recording studio, for which space has been designated at the ground level.

The solar panels, both photovoltaic and hot water, sit on a reflective & insulating, chemically inert & microbial-free, ceramic-based roof coating that both minimizes solar heat-gain and provides a clean source of water for the house and the pool. Roof water collects in a 75,000-gallon cistern, precluding the need for well water and eliminating any impact on the water table. No air-conditioning is required since natural cross breezes are exploited to maximize comfort in each room. The house incorporates movable and adjustable louvered and screened panels in each living space and movable glass walls that allow the rooms to fully open so that indoors is completely merged with the outdoors.

Cabinetry was locally fabricated from trees originally harvested from the foundation area and all materials were locally sourced whenever possible. High-efficiency appliances, light fixtures, and plumbing fixtures all contribute to the environmentally responsible approach to co-existing with nature in this very 21st century home. Casa Torcida provides all the comforts that the client required, making it clear that a well-considered resource-responsible approach does not preclude a commodious design that is visually appealing and functionally uncompromised.
Many thanks to James at SPG for the text and images...
Photos by Charles Lindsay


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