sLAB Costa Rica
Costa Rica, known for its biodiversity, national parks, and thriving eco-tourism, has a severe municipal solid waste management (MSWM) problem. Lacking appropriate infrastructure and policies, over sixty percent of the 2,400 tons of waste produced daily are put into open, unregulated dumps and less than ten percent gets recycled. 250 tons daily are dumped illegally into rivers and tropical forests, polluting ground water, threatening the health of local communities and destroying a fragile ecosystem, whose well-being is of critical importance not only locally but to the planet.
Over 30% of the materials that currently end up in the Nosara dump could have been recycled, and 50% is compostable organic matter. By collecting, sorting, compacting, and selling recyclables for future transformation into new materials, and by educating the community about proper waste management practices, the Nosara Recycling & Education Center is estimated to reduce the amount of trash in the local dump by over 80%.
The project is realized within the framework of sLAB Costa Rica, a design-build initiative at the NYIT School of Architecture, led by assistant professor Tobias Holler. To jumpstart this under-funded community project we organized an NYIT-wide student design competition in November 2011 featuring an innovative online-voting process on Facebook, reaching over 43,000 people from 19 countries within one week and setting the stage for two crowd-funding campaigns on kickstarter.com, which raised over $30,000.
The funds enabled over 40 students to volunteer on the construction site for 11 weeks in Nosara during two trips, in July/August 2012 to set up the construction site, and again in January 2013, to give the project a big push towards completion. Funds were also used to include the project in a documentary film about waste management and sustainability efforts in Costa Rica by German filmmaker Ayana de Vos. The Nosara Recycling and Education Center has the potential to become a model of sustainable waste management practices for communities in all of Costa Rica, and other tropical countries, and the film will help share this important initiative with a larger audience.
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 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 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 and exterior walls are made from local pochote wood sustainably grown near the project site. During the wet season, rainwater will be collected on the large roof, and stored in cisterns, for 100% of the facility’s water needs.