A Citadel of Contemporary Stilt-Dwellings
Architect Diego Levinson
Costa Rica is a marvelous country. The warmth of its people combines with the majesty of nature in absolute reciprocity, able to surprise even the most demanding visitor.
The province of Guanacaste, on the Pacific Ocean, attracts tourists from around the world who come to visit its beaches and landscapes. The hotel offering is wide and varied, and this is where we find one of the most striking and original establishments.
Hotel L'acqua Viva was born thanks to the coordinated and precise work of one of the most renowned architectural firms in Costa Rica and of local investors committed to the development of Costa Rican tourism.
On a dream-like site, alongside a wildlife reserve, this hotel occupies a peripheral plot of the urban plan or “American” subdivision in a sector of the area of Nosara, where you will find accommodations and the most important tourist services.
The approximately one-hectare lot is separated from the sea by nearly 1,000 feet of lush nature reserve that surrounds the project, ensuring a permanent and untouchable green background.
In a setting like this, it was necessary to develop a respectful proposal, sustainable yet modern, comfortable and elegant, in keeping with the concept of boutique hotel. Enrique Barascout and Aimeé Joaristi united their vast experience in the conceptualization of this work, both in its implementation and architectural design, as well as in the selection of materials, finishes and furnishings.
The result is a poetic project, which floats above the ground and mixes elements of tropical world architecture with regional and local cultural components. The textures and colors of natural materials and fibers merge with other finishes to create a warmth that envelops visitors and makes you feel part of nature and the Central American culture.
The architectural layout revolves around central courtyards and open spaces surrounded by small buildings, or bungalows, that house the principal activities of the hotel. Three levels high, these bungalows recreate a typical tropical stilt village where buildings are separated from the soil by one to three meters, utilizing the existing slope on the site, which allows nature to pass below and, in some cases, contains space for support services. The intention of the designers was based on the need to generate the least possible encroachment on nature, minimize movements of soil, and preserve as many trees as possible. To achieve this, they studied different architectural styles from around the world, and although they have distinguishing looks, materials and construction techniques, all have common features, details and solutions.
The almost 4,000 square meters of construction are distributed around this reinterpretation of ancient plazas of pre-Hispanic cultures or the colonial period, and take advantage of the topographical features of the land. The lowest and almost treeless area was ideal to house the reflection pools and the main pool of the complex, which constitute the social and recreational focal center of the hotel. The decks, bridges and platforms that connect the buildings and surround the pools are also elevated to let nature pass at ground level. In this way, it seems the buildings emerged from a pool of water.
The system of construction, traditional and simple, adapts to the topography, climate, and the intentions of Joaristi and Barascout, and enables the creation of small independent buildings that, in the style of cottages, house the 35 rooms and common areas. The gabled roofs are like folded leaves of trees that protect guests from the intense sun and rain.
In harmony with the natural environment, the architecture rises from noble and sustainable materials, minimizing any impact in the short and long term.
Concrete, wood and natural fibers are mixed with metals and synthetic textures of recycled materials to create a unique natural atmosphere. At the same time, the design seeks to reduce energy consumption through the generation of effective shadows and fresh air flows. High ceilings “trap” the heat and allow cross ventilation generated by strategically placed openings, which considerably cools the spaces.
The team of architects, engineers and designers of Joaristi - Barascout sought to use every detail to improve the maintenance of the property. A clear example of this is the development of the mechanical installations that take advantage of the buildings being off the ground to house piping under the floors.
The floors and walls mix concrete and wood in a warm and harmonious style. The concrete columns were made with textured forms that simulate palm trunks. The roof structure of the common areas is bamboo, and cane is present on the ceilings, doors and railings. The exterior walls made with Siding (Plycem) recall Victorian wooden cabanas, which set along pedestrian walkways of stone and vegetation, take us back to the banana plantations of the last century.
At the same time, the materials and craftsmanship of Costa Rica and Nicaragua dominate the scene and are present in the important details of finishes and internal design, full of good taste, warmth and simplicity. The frames and textiles were carefully selected, along with furniture that was manufactured and specially imported under the supervision of the designers who left no detail to chance.
Walls, partitions and ceilings made of natural fibers were sewn and assembled by regional artisans, who sought to symbolize with their weavings the typical indigenous baskets of Costa Rica. This is the most important decorative element in the main building, used to separate the different spaces and enhance the indigenous heritage.
When completing the interior design, the architects sought to create an ambiance that is contemporary and clean and at the same time warm and welcoming. To accomplish this, they contracted a specialized Asian company for the furniture; each piece was redesigned to fit the requirements: to vary from typical Balinese decor and approach a more Central American image. In the gardens and pool area, they used furniture that is contemporary, white and light, to not draw attention away from the beauty of nature and the architecture.
This project has been awarded first prize in the “First Biennial of Central American Architecture, Mangua 2009”, an Honorable Mention in the “IX Biennial of Architecture of Costa Rica” in 2008, and the National Prize for interior design in the “5th International Forum of Interior Design” also in the year 2008.
Landscape and architecture, nature and the human being combine in Hotel L'acqua Viva. The architecture and internal design go hand in hand from the beginning of the project and work together from the same conceptualization. For this reason, architect Enrique Barascout and designer Aimeé Joaristi received praise and recognition for the inauguration of this work that is representative of the tropical and Central American identity.
* Article published originally in Domus Magazine, December 2012 / January 2013