Natura Mountain Retreat Master Plan

In early 2007, Oudens Ello Architecture were hired to provide master planning and design consulting services for an 800-acre, eco-tourism resort along the southwestern Pacific coast of Costa Rica. In partnership with Natura 51, a green development enterprise based in New York City and Uvita, CR, OEA developed a sustainability plan for the 165-unit project showcasing the site’s two most dominant natural resources: water and topography.

Since the beginning of the six-month study, the design team proposed limited development solely in areas despoiled by former cattle ranch and cacao plantation operations. This planning approach preserves 95% of the 800-acre site as pristine, primary rainforest.

The scheme further respects the natural landscape through an innovative response to the site’s dramatic topography and water resources. Development is sensitively planned around the site’s existing streams and waterfalls, with pathways and development clusters positioned to preserve scenic view corridors and natural assets. The existing hydrology also provides all recreational and potable water for the development and serves as a renewable energy source (along with a photovoltaic “solar farm”) for the entire resort. Specifically, two percent of the existing flow is extracted from the primary stream high above the development and directed through a network of aqueducts to collection pools and hydro-electric micro-turbines interspersed throughout the resort. Wastewater similarly takes advantage of the favorable topography, moving without the aid of pumps by gravity to constructed wetlands at the lower reaches of the resort. Within the wetlands, all wastewater is polished by “living machines”, which are intensive bioremediation systems that use bacteria, algae, protozoa, plankton, snails and other organisms to break down the solids and cleanse the water. From there, the processed water is returned to its source far cleaner than it was when extracted.

A further, social component of a holistic sustainability strategy for the development comes in the form of housing and amenities for the workers serving the resort. The scheme opportunistically conceptualizes worker housing as a vibrant local community capable of enriching the resort through authentic civic programs and spaces. By rethinking this fundamental relationship, a reciprocally beneficial coexistence emerges whereby tourists and locals both profit from ongoing economic, social, and cultural exchange.