Obra Architects

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Female, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander owned

New York, NY


Casa Osa

This is a vacation retreat for an American doctor and family on the Osa Peninsula, 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.

Stretching from entry of the property at the top of the hill down to the very edge of the bush at bottom, the different wings orient themselves according to the contours rotating in plan in relationship to one and other as they descend and privileging with their discrete axes of symmetry multiple points of fugue that structure the views of the forest around with silent invisible geometries. Organized this way, the sequence of arrival takes place descending the hill through the house itself, alternating between the stasis of the rooms articulated as simple boxes open to the benign weather on all sides with traditional double-sloped roofs and the connecting stepped ramps protected by a more complex triangulated surface. The house proposes as intimate as possible a collaboration with nature, defining the space as it often does as a sequence of descending gaps opening in different directions.

The house encloses two walled gardens as it descends the slope. These are defined by low walls connecting the ends of alternating wings. Providing transition between “interior” and exterior, the walled gardens are outdoor places that can safely be used in the evenings when deadly poisonous snakes come out of the forest to 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.

With its remote location and tight budget, the house was designed to achieve the following five main points:

—Desire for a measured, respectful proximity to the forest

—Definition of spaces for warm climate year round, protection from sun in summer, from rainstorms in winter. 

—Utilizing topography to closely approach corners of the forest, to generate psychological house map with intuitions of Up, Down, Gulf-Side, Ocean-Side, etc.

—Open architectural plan encircling and framing landscape, allowing winged wildlife to traverse throughout

—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.

Due to its remote location as well as its extremely tight budget, the house is built with local well-known materials the Costa Rican builders are well acquainted with: walls are white stuccoed CMU with reinforced concrete structure, floors are polished concrete and ceilings and fenestration are wood from locally harvested already-dead trees. The roof in painted corrugated metal is structured with composite metal beams configured out of “C” channels connected with steel plate brackets bent on site, a system that allows a complexity of folding form easy to achieve on a site eight hours away from the nearest shop or hardware store.

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Status: Built
Location: Cerro Osa, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica