Thinking about a small sustainable pre-fab project?

For those of you wanting to build a small size vacation home, small apartments or cottages and bungalows, there’s some innovative ideas that I have applied to some projects, with great results and I’d like to share.

Let’s take the typical ‘beach or mountain cottage’ as an example. This would be a smaller detached home with approximately 1000 living sq ft ( 120 sm/ 1291 sft, 2 to 3 bedrooms, living room, kitchen, 1 or 2 levels) on  a budget of 60k to 70k (good quality construction)  in a beach or mountain
When creating your dream ‘cottage’, one can accomplish staying within budget, aesthetics, and functionality by using new life style concepts, new materials and new thinking overall. If you take ‘change’ as part of life and can deal with a few, you’ll be good to go. My philosophy is that ‘the river is not the same river, it changes with every second that passes by’, and I like to apply that to my designs. I have accomplished the ‘tropical living’ in many designs and have stayed within budget by incorporating some, or all, of these ideas and construction materials in the tropics:

1. Roof as envelope.
In Costa Rica, due to it’s geographical location, a home’s roof is in charge of reflecting the sunlight back to the atmosphere, protecting the interior from rain and providing insulation. So here’s an idea: use the ‘envelope roof design’, which looks like an open envelope with the living space inside. Here are some examples of houses built like that in Europe, Brazil and one of my designs in Costa Rica.

Kettlewell Residence in Escazu, Costa Rica

RR House by Andrade Morettin Architects. Great example for roof envelope

Silvia’s Apartments by Gloriana Mejia. Roof envelope

Aarcus roof system. Imagine living spaces inside.

2..Pre-fab structures

If size allows transportation, while you are working on footings on site, the structure assembles at the same time at a workshop.This reduces construction schedules significantly.

Todorv Residence blueprints by Gloriana Mejia.Pre fab Steel frame system

3. Less walls, more open spaces.
If Minimalist Architecture is our guideline, the project will be less pricey by modifying some of the materials selection. MDF boards, mesh, corrugated zinc sheets, local wood and  fiber cement boards are less expensive options.Modular panels on PVC for roof and walls, EPDM or steel finished with expanded poliesthirene and grilles are more costly but provide great insulation to the house. Open floor plans are a favorite when dealing with a tight budget.

Casa Deck by Felipe Assadi. Example with small size bedrooms and open floorplan.

4.Less square footage means higher ceilings.
In the tropics you need constant airflow. Cross ventilation is a passive strategy that provides the best comfortable interior spaces with no need of AC.If  windows and doors are carefully placed and designed taking location and landscape into consideration, the final product will be a home that will have fresh air all day and night. Consider airflow in between the roof and ceiling, and underneath the floor. High ceilings were a strategy used in many (if not most) of the homes in the Caribbean side of the country. This style works perfectly in many local climates in different areas around the country.

5. Bedroom Solutions
Mezzanines and  bunk beds designed to provide comfort and privacy , are a good idea for saving on  square footage. The idea here is to create a flexible, tiny, cozy place for visitors.

House in Denmark, by Ole Holst. Mezzanine bedroom

6. More opennings in the facade for a sense of larger spaces.

If you “open” your house into north facade preferably, and locate sliding doors, folding doors, even garage doors,it will appear to you that the space you are in, is bigger. You will have this feeling  because you are making the exteriors part of the indoors. Beautiful Costa Rica nature deserves to be observed at all times. Worried about bugs? These panels or doors can be made out of mesh, you can plant mosquito repellent trees, install  mosquito screens or buy a device that emits very low sound frequencies not heard but humans but annoys mosquitoes.

Safe house by KWK Promes Architects. Garage doors example.

How an open house integrates more space than you expected.

Any project requires an overall strategy, with a conceptual idea that emerges from the local context and transforms into a unique built space. Design ideas  from an architect combined with a client’s open mind are key to achieve great little projects that need to stay within budget and that want to accomplish that tropical feel.
Architects have some very useful ideas that might surprise you at the beginning. Let them help you, you will not regret it.

Let me know if I can be of any help for these or other ideas on your mind and/or construction material consultation.

  1. I like your dissertation on modern architecture. Are there any large or medium scale development projects that adopt this sort of modern tropical architecture? I only ask because I’ve always found this sort of architecture appealing but I wonder why there aren’t more development projects adopting these idea. At least I don’t know of any.

    • Hi David. It is a shame there are not much developments that follow tropical contemporary architecture. I recently visited Nosara and I now know of one. Contact me if you need more info.

  2. Trista said:

    Great post. I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed! Very helpful info particularly the last part 🙂 I care for such information much. I was looking for this particular info for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  3. Rick Macnab said:

    How do I connect with you to discuss the possibilities of you designing for my wife and I? We own a lot in the escalares area near Dominical.

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