Built for clients who surf and are stalwart environmentalists, this carbon-positive house is inspired by the jungle that surrounds it on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The home is made entirely of locally harvested teak, and it engages with the jungle on each of its three levels. It was envisioned as an open-air surfer’s hut where ocean breezes and ample daylight permeate its spaces.
When staying at the house, the routine of the clients and their two young children revolves entirely around surfing. They move back and forth between the property and the water, from morning until night, underscoring their intimate connection to the incredibly bio-diverse jungle.
“A beautiful lantern in the jungle, this design is a celebration of time-honored craft and materials.” – Jury comment
At the start of the project, the clients introduced the design team to their temporary home, a tent that sat atop a wooden platform in a small natural clearing. Originally built by the mother of one of the clients, the tent’s double-canvas layer offered protection from the elements, while the platform elevated them above the activity of the jungle floor. The tent informed the clients’ vision for a new home, which they wanted to be a simple but more permanent fixture in the landscape.
In the new home, the ground floor opens to the jungle floor, while the middle level is nestled into the trees. The top level stands above the tree canopy, offering the family sweeping views of the surf at nearby Playa Hermosa beach. A series of wooden screens—all hand operable to foster active engagement with the context—on all floors allow air and light to pass through the house. As a result, the quality of light shifts throughout the day as framed and filtered views respond to the interplay of light and shadow.
“It touches the earth lightly and with respect. A masterfully simple home that elevates shelter to a poetic level.” – Jury comment
“A beautiful lantern in the jungle, this design is a celebration of time-honored craft and materials,” said the jury. “It touches the earth lightly and with respect. A masterfully simple home that elevates shelter to a poetic level.”
A generous roof overhang functions much like a tree canopy, offering shading and rain protection. A 3.5 kW solar array on the roof supplies all of the home’s power needs during daylight hours and also powers the pool’s circulation pump. During the rainy season, all water needs are provided by a subterranean rain catchment system.
In many ways, the home is a large solar umbrella sitting on four live edge teak logs and enclosed by porous screens. Though it is not an indigenous species, teak grows quickly in Costa Rica, and much of the wood was sourced locally. The home was built by a local builder and craftsmen who used as much local material as possible.
Costa Rica Treehouse
Architect: Olson Kundig
Location: Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
Category: One- and Two-Family Custom Residencies
Design Principal: Tom Kundig, FAIA, RIBA
Principal: Kevin Kudo-King, AIA, LEED® AP
Project Architect: Martina Bendel
General Contractor: Dante Medri
Structural Engineer: Daniel Sancho
Mechanical and Electrical Engineer: Energetica Soluciones y Consultoria
Landscape Architect: Vida Design Studio
Gizmo Design: KB Architectural Services
Lighting Design: Niteo Lighting
Photography: Nic Lehoux
Etty Padmodipoetro, AIA, Chair, Urban Idea Lab, Boston
Kenneth Luker, AIA, Perkins Will, Durham, N.C.
Marica McKeel, AIA, Studio MM Architect, New York
Patricia Leigh Brown, New York Times, San Francisco