sLAB Costa Rica: building a recycling center for Nosara

Design-Build project, currently under construction, 2012

Project Leader: Tobias Holler, Assistant Professor of Architecture, New York Institute of Technology, Principal,

HOLLER architecture

Student Design Team: Eiman Alsakha, Vinny Ciaramella, Crystal Eksi, Karen Gomez, Jessica Jardinel, Karolina Kopiczko, Michael Koutsoubis, Dimitrios Malliakas, Wagdy Moussa, Austin Reed, Alfonso Rodriguez, Omar Serrano, Timothy Severance

Student Construction Team: Crystal Eksi, Austin Reed, Dimitrios Malliakas, Karolina Kopiczko, Michael Koutsoubis, Karen Gomez, Alfonso Rodriguez, Jessica Rose Jardinel, George Holz, Victoria Torres, Daniel Horn, Kelly Kuplicki, Janeille Calnick, Chris Goodwin, Keven Melara, Elizabeth Weintraub, Sean Dickens, Andy Christoforou, Kris Pomilla, Ted Solages, Adriana Martinez, Talha Kirmani, Cindy Chan, Natalie Jaggernauth, Xingmei Ni, Samuel Lee, Alex Alaimo

Architect of Record: Salagnac Aquitectos, Nosara, Costa Rica

Costa Rica, known for its biodiversity, national parks, and a thriving eco-tourism sector, has a severe municipal solid waste management (MSWM) problem, threatening the health of local communities and destroying a fragile ecosystem whose well-being is of critical to those who live there as well as to the planet.

Starting in 2009 when I visited the village of Nosara for a research project that focused on the biomimetic potential of the dry tropical forest ecosystem in Northwestern Costa Rica, I’ve been hoping to develop a design-build project that would have a positive impact on the local community and that would involve my students from New York Institute of Technology.

sLAB Costa Rica is that project. The design-build initiative of the School of Architecture and Design at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) is lead by my studio, Holler Architecture. Based on our research we developed designs in the Fall of 2011 for a communal recycling and education center in Nosara, Costa Rica– to be built by my students over the summer 2012. To jumpstart this under-funded community project, we designed a student competition featuring an innovative online-voting process on Facebook, reaching over 43,000 people from 19 countries within one week and setting the stage for the next phase, a web-based fundraising campaign. To aid in the student’s expenses for food, housing and making a documentary film about the initiative we set up a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $21,000 in four weeks.

Developed in close collaboration with local community leaders from the Nosara Civic Association, and the Nosara Waste and Recycling Association, the Nosara Recycling and Education Center project is a key component in the long-term solution to the local waste management problem, enabling the diversion of valuable resources from the waste stream. The project has the potential to become a model of sustainable waste management practices for communities in all of Costa Rica, and other tropical countries. It is also a wonderful design problem for architecture students, forcing them to become “recycling experts” along the way. Moreover it is a project that is educating and inspiring the community about environmental stewardship, which is probably the most important contribution to any community designers can make.

To bring in many different ideas, I organized a school-wide design competition for the project in November 2011, as part of the sLAB (student-led architecture build) community service initiative at the School of Architecture and Design at NYIT. A group of nine winners, partially selected through an public voting process on the project’s Facebook page, was sent to Costa Rica in January 2012, to present their initial design ideas to the local community, and to solicit feedback. We also visited two existing recycling centers in San Jose, documented the project site, and reviewed the student’s designs with Salagnac Architectos, the local architects for the project. We presented the project at Veritas University in San Jose, who serves as the local academic partner for the project. In the Spring 2012 we finalized the design, and completed the construction documents, collaborating with NYIT engineering students and faculty, and organized the fundraising campaign on kickstarter.

There is tremendous momentum and support for the initiative in the local community. The land to build – adjacent to the existing garbage dump – was donated by the local Civic Association, local construction professionals are offering their services pro-bono, and funding is available to begin construction, with more fundraising currently underway.

Over the course of a ten-week period this past summer (June 15 – August 31), more than 35 students traveled to Nosara and donated their time and skills to help build the project. Each student stayed approx. 2-3 weeks, at different times during the overall duration of the project, so that at any time a group of 10 students was working on the construction site, under the supervision of local construction professionals. The students paid for their own flights, but accommodation and food expenses were paid for with the proceeds from the kickstarter fundraising campaign, thus enabling all interested students to participate, including those with lesser financial means. In addition to helping build a much needed community service project, they gained invaluable construction site experience. We were able to complete site grading, foundation and concrete block work, and began the installation of the wooden roof structure. While we are now back in the US for our Fall semester, the local construction professionals continue to build the project, and we are planning to join them again during our Winter break in January 2013, to help finish the construction.

The building design

The final design is decidedly modern, but inspired by local passive tropical design strategies. An elongated building form, consisting of three zones (a sorting facility, an open lobby, and support spaces) under a common roof is placed horizontally along the existing slope of the site, minimizing excavation, and impact to the site. An open entry lobby with a wall made out of up-cycled aluminum cans, and a landscaped seating area with views into the recycling area will enable the community to engage with and become knowledgeable in the process of recycling.

The sorting facility will be equipped with a compactor for plastic, metal and cardboard, and a crusher for glass, which the center can then sell to companies that trade in recyclable materials.

The building’s narrow plan is oriented to maximize passive cooling through cross ventilation. The roof geometry is optimized to capture prevailing breezes but protect building from the Papagayos, seasonal gale-force winds. The high ceilings and reflective roofing materials will further reduce heat buildup. The building’s structure is made from local pochote trees sustainably grown and harvested on the project site, and processed in the local sawmill. Salvaged wood and corrugated metal will be used whenever possible for the walls and roof. During the wet season, rainwater will be collected on the large roof, and stored in cisterns, for 100% of the facility’s water needs.


More info and project updates can be found here: