Page 1


EARTH University, La Flor, Costa Rica RISD Wintersession 2014


Contributors Students

Cynthia Darmawan Dana Famiglietti Elizabeth Gregory Genevieve Henry Dakota Linkel Emily Pun Samuel Rosenberg Avery Schuster Hyungjin Yoo Jordan Rich Elsa Carlson


Colgate Searle Jr. Frank Hammond 2

Book composed by Frank Hammond

Copyright Rhode Island School of Design 2014


Contents Introduction Goals Schedule What is Sustainability? EARTH University Farm Tour Research Trips Liberia Finca La Anita Rancho Margot Playa Ostional Design Charrettes Sketches / Images Drawings Site Plan Diagrams Building Materials Exterior Wall + Windows Interior Walls Exterior Doors Rock Drip Edge Final Images Links / Press

Rainbow over Lake Arenal



This Studio is part of an ongoing, collaborative project between EARTH University + RISD. EARTH University, based in Guacimo, close to Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, is at the forefront of identifying, testing, and sharing techniques for sustainable agriculture and community development in the tropics. Since 2007, RISD and EARTH University have partnered to engage in design studios focused on many topics at the La Flor campus in Liberia, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica.


Introduction The building site of this studio is located on the campus of EARTH University (La Flor) in the dry tropic region of Guanacaste, Costa Rica, which has rainfall from May to October, but is generally dry and very warm the remainder of the year. This region is also the most sparsely populated in Costa Rica, and agriculture is still one of the largest parts of the economy. Costa Rican Schools Current building standards in Costa Rica are void of sustainable design principles. Structures are often built without consideration for site conditions, or the resources available in the tropics. This practice adds unnecessary strain to the site and creates uncomfortable interior environments for the inhabitants. In the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, schools suffer from the lack of sustainable design practices. Though Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in Central America, it invests only 6% of its annual GDP in education, and very little of that funding is used to upgrade school buildings. Schools in Costa Rice were mainly built in the 1940s and remain unchanged to this day with failing infrastructure, overcrowding and less than satisfactory environmental conditions. Without funding to make necessary improvements the school administrations resort to raising their own funds through grants, collecting recyclables and community fundraising. Often, improvements or additions are built using quick and cheap methods of construction, which only reinforce the sub-standard conditions instead of improving them.


EARTH La Flor location map

Guanacaste Tree


EARTH University is on the forefront of sustainable agriculture in the tropics. The vision of EARTH over the past few years has changed from a focus in Agriculture, Sustainability and Food Security to a vision focused on Innovation, Technology and Enterprise. Outreach Programs at the EARTH La Flor campus engage the community in solar, wind and hydraulic power technology, sustainable tourism practices as well as social entrepreneurship. As part of this outreach, EARTH has commissioned students at RISD to design and build a classroom prototype that will serve as an example of sustainable building practices in the dry tropics that will inspire and teach local school leaders and communities methods and techniques for sustainable building.



Overview The Wintersession 2014 studio was the culmination of a year and a half of research, the Fall 2012 Innovation Studio, and last year’s Wintersession Design/Build Studio. This off the grid, hi-tech/ lo-tech prototype classroom for rural schools in the dry tropical region of Costa Rica was framed and roofed last year. In the field, RISD students and faculty, along with members of the EARTH University community, will finalize the design for the classroom; build elevations, a cistern/water purification system, doors and louvers, and the landscape. This studio will also explore the concept of “Sustainability” by visiting places that implement these practices, and talk to experts who understand what it means. Design Principles 1. Use affordable materials and labor for construction. Develop methods for utilizing local resources and building practices. 2. Implement replicable and understandable construction technology 3. Employ energy efficient and environmentally responsible strategies for locating the building on site and for controlling the interior environment Ultimately, the classroom, with its inside/outside learning environments, will demonstrate how integrating curriculum, teaching, energy and hi-tech systems, landscape and space will contribute to a transformative learning experience.



January - February 2014 Week 01 Initial meetings in Providence, RI. Travel to Costa Rica Week 01 - 05 Working on the Design/Build Project. Weekend excursions investigating sustainability in the dry tropics. -Liberia -Finca La Anita -Rancho Margot -Playa Ostional -Playa de Coco Week 06 Summary presentations.

The classroom on day one


What is Sustainability?

According to RISD Students:

According to Merriam-Webster:

Sustainability is maintaining balance with ecological, economical, political, and cultural states. Dana Famiglietti

Sustainability adjective 1. capable of being sustained 2. a : of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture> b : of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society> According to the EPA: Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations. Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment. According to EARTH University: Sustainability is teaching students to learn to balance human activities, particularly agriculture, with biodiversity conservation in order to ensure long-term protection of the environment.


Sustainability is working to enhance Earthâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s reproductive cycles by lessening the impact of humanity. Elsa Carlson

Dana Famiglietti Sketchbook Entry

â&#x20AC;&#x153;Sustainability is system resiliency within a symbiotic network, in which the outputs of one process become the inputs of anotherâ&#x20AC;?. RISD/EARTH Wintersession Studio 2012


EARTH Farm Tour

EARTH University is a working classroom from which students can see sustainable principles in action. Farm Fields The campusâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; farms produce rice, sugarcane and mangos (for both the local market and export), hay and beef using sustainable farming practices. These farms are productive for sale, and for educational purposes. - Rice - Sugar Cane - Mango - Hay Biodigester All the fuel used for cooking at EARTH University in La Flor is a 90% pure methane gas acquired from biodigesters on the campus. The waste from the sheep is processed through biodigesters to produce pure methane gas for cooking, and also a nutrient rich manure for fertilizing the fields. Livestock Sheep act as lawn mowers and provide the methane for the biodigesters, horses are for transportation, and other animals are used as a food source, and for sale in local markets. - Sheep - Pigs - Turkeys - Chickens - Horses 14


Research Trips On the weekends the group had the opportunity to visit various local sites to understand the cultural and sustainable aspects of the region.

Liberia is the capital and largest city of the Guanacaste

region in northwest Costa Rica, with a population of approximately 63,000 people. Only a 15 minute bus ride from our home base at EARTH La Flor it was an easy city to explore. Although Liberia is visited by tourists (often en route to the Pacific coast beaches), it is still primarily a city of locals. Founded in 1836 the city still has some nice examples of colonial architecture, and features a central plaza (Plaza Central) surrounded by a large modern church (Iglesia Inmaculada Concepcion de Maria). The oldest church in Liberia at the end of Avenida Central is called La Agonia, and is a great example of a building using adobe construction techniques. The Museo de Guanacaste is housed in Liberiaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s old prison near the center of town and looks like an old fortress surrounding a concrete courtyard.



Finca La Anita La Anita is a ranch nestled in the rainforest that grows a wide variety of products: cocoa, heart of palm, cardamom, tropical fruits and vegetables, medicinal plants and a nice variety of exotic tropical flowers. The owner is a graduate of EARTH University who is committed to sustainable agricultural practices. The four pillars the ranch is committed to are: Agriculture, Environment, Tourism, and Community. During the class visit we took a farm tour through the macadamia, tropical flower, and cacao plantations to learn from the sustainable and harmonious growing practices.



Rancho Margot Rancho Margot is an Eco-Lodge located in a tropical jungle on the edge of Lake Arenal with views of the Arenal Volcano. A model of sustainability, this resort grows its own food, creates its own power, and promotes sustainable practices throughout Costa Rica. Some Sustainable practices and principles include: Chemical-free agriculture Free-range animal farming Permaculture Carbon Neutrality Self-sufficiency The ranch tour allowed the students to see first-hand several of the self-sufficient practices in place: • Generating their own electricity. Two hydroelectric turbines produce more electricity than is needed, without constructing reservoirs or dams. • Cooking with biogas. The organic waste from the pigpens feeds a biodigester which produces methane gas for cooking in the kitchen. • Water heated with aerobic compost. Compost is packed around coils that are filled with stream water. Temperatures in the compost reach approximately 150 degrees, and heats the water to be used for showers in the guest rooms. • Soap making. The ranch recycles cooking oil from the kitchen into soaps and laundry detergent. • Organic and free-range farming practices. 20


Playa Ostional The small town of Ostional, only feet from the Pacific Ocean, is famous for the thousands of tortugas (sea turtles) that lay their eggs on the beach several times a year. Since 1987, locals have been allowed (under Costa Rican law) to collect a limited number of eggs for consumption. The number of eggs collected is a very small percentage of the total, and most of these are the most vulnerable, and would likely not survive anyway. For Ostional and surrounding communities, eating eggs has been a cultural tradition and has served as a means of survival, but there has been opposition from some environmental groups. The RISD students stayed in Ostional for one night, and set off in the evening to look for turtles coming ashore to lay eggs on the beach. In total darkness, except for dim red torches (the turtles are scared of light, but cannot see red light), students walked slowly along the beach combing the sand for any sign of turtle activity. Miraculously, two large turtles were spotted and a sizable group watched as she lay her eggs, covered them with sand, packed the sand tightly, and slowly wandered back to the sea. It was an amazing experience under a sky illuminated with millions of brilliant stars.

Sketches by Dana Famiglietti



Design Goals this Semester 1. To finish the design and building of the prototype classroom that exhibits sustainable building practices in the wet/dry tropics. To design and build: - Install exterior wood siding, and apply stain. - Build and install exterior windows and doors. - Build and install interior walls, and bathroom. - Build and install sink for water purification. - Close gaps in roof structure with screen. - Close gaps in floor structure with screen. 2. With collaboration from EARTH University, to develop a teaching curriculum for the building. 3. To create documentation showing decision making, design, and construction of all remaining components.

Students participate in design charrettes to finalize the design of the classroom.



Design Classroom construction began the previous year (2013), and the main column, roof, and floor structure was framed. This year, core plan design needed to be finalized and constructed. The goals were to supply two bathrooms and sinks, storage, teaching space, as well as an open desk space which would fit up to 22-25 students. The building must protect from the elements (as well as insects and wildlife), and offer shading and passive cooling for the users within the structure. Solar power is collected via nearby photovoltaic panels and stored in batteries to power the buildingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s lights, and other needs. If time allows, water collection designs will be implemented and water will be stored to become a teaching tool, and for use in the sinks and toilets. The main elements to be designed and constructed this year are: 1. Exterior Walls and Windows 2. Interior Walls and Bathroom 3. Exterior Doors 4. Landscaping (Drip Edge) Through a series of charrettes (primarily in the first week), and on-site during the construction process the designs were finalized and implemented. This was a collaborative effort with instructor Colgate Searle leading the pack, and offering his expertise (and hands-on skills) to keep the construction on schedule. Sketches by Jin Yoo



Student Sketches


Sketches by Jin Yoo, Elsa Carlson, and Dana Famiglietti


EARTH University - La Flor


Campus Map

Presidentâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Office

Presidentâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Home

Kitchen Office

Future Dining and Kitchen Dining Hall Classroom Entry Drive

New Schoolroom Apartments Dormitory



















EAST 0M -0.6M







EAST 0M -0.6M




Strapping for siding

Material List

Most of the building is constructed from local lumber. Teak trees grown on the EARTH La Flor farm were milled to create the structure. Laurel, a tropical hardwood found in the region, is used for interior walls and doors. Pine 2x4’s were used for the interior framing. Pine tongue and groove exterior siding was used to enclose the space. Framing

Strapping for siding

NE/SE Corners (4) 2”x5”x 2.1 m (4) 2”x5” x 2 m West Wall (4) 2”x5” x 2.25 m (12) 2”x5” x 2 m South Wall (2) 2”x5” x 2.25 m (4) 2”x5” x 2 m East Wall @ teacher’s room (2) 2”x5” x 3.2 m (3) 2”x5” x 2 m North Entrance Wall (2) 2”x5” x 3.2 m (2) 2”x5” x 2.5 m (7) 2”x5” x 2 m

South Wall (6) 1”x5” x 4.1 m (6) 1”x5” x 2 m East Wall (4) 1”x5” x 3.1 m (3) 1”x5” x 2 m North Wall (5) 1”x5” x 4.1 m (3) 1”x5” x 2 m West Wall (6) 1”x5” x 4.1 m


South Wall (6) 1”x5” x 4.1 m (6) 1”x5” x 2 m East Wall (4) 1”x5” x 3.1 m (3) 1”x5” x 2 m North Wall (5) 1”x5” x 4.1 m (3) 1”x5” x 2 m West Wall (6) 1”x5” x 4.1 m

Total Teak Framing and Strapping Framing - 2”x5”s (4) 3.2 m (2) 2.5 m (6) 2.25 m (4) 2.1 m (30) 2 m Strapping – 1”x5”s (18) 4.1 m (6) 3.1 m (14) 2 m Note: Inch dimensions are actual size.

Additional materials

Several rolls of screen (for doors, windows, and under the floor). Hardware Cloth (for security). Wood Stain Fasteners (nails, screws).





Exterior Walls + Windows





Interior Walls



Exterior Doors 44



Drip Edge













Links + Press Time-lapse Video


Press Photography by: Dakota Linkel, Hyungjin Yoo, Frank Hammond

The sun sets over Puerto San Juanillo 58


RISD Design build Costa Rica  
RISD Design build Costa Rica