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Located on the biologically diverse Peninsula de Osa in the rainforest of Costa Rica, Casa ISEAMI is totally off-grid using an on-site hydropower system plus photovoltaic s on the roof. The Casa provides headquarters for Costa Rica-based ISEAMI (Institute for Sustainability, Ecology, Art, Mind and Investigation). The house is situated on a hill above the ocean, 30km from town. The area is home to five percent of the world`s biodiversity so it was imperative for the Institute to create a building that has virtually no negative impact on the surrounding environment. The main structure is comprised of prefab steel and thermal panel elements, made from materials that inhibit mold and fungi growth in the high humidity; the all-white structure also easily reveals mold or fungi so it can be eradicated quickly if it forms. Building materials are recyclable at the end of their useful lives. Two micro hydro turbines generate 800 kWh per year and a rooftop solar system generates 10,800 kWh annually. The casa utilizes passive solar design with large overhangs for shade and rainwater collection, orientation to maximize natural ventilation, and large skylights for daylighting. A solar thermal system provides hot water. The casa is the first phase of building houses a multifunctional space for ISEAMI (Institute of Sustainability, Ecology, Art,Mind and Investigation) on the ground level, with the second level providing a residence for the Institute`s director. (Scroll to bottom for additional resources.)
The ISEAMI house is the first stage of the institute, serving initially as a multifunctional venue to host activities such as research, meditation, training, and yoga at the terrace level. At the same time, the Institute director will inhabit the second level. This way, functions are maximized in the smallest possible footprint.
Designed by Robles Arquitectos, the architects used a framework of ten primary evaluation elements for designing an environmentally-friendly building that is also low-maintenance: site, climate, energy, water, materials, environment, atmosphere, cost, innovation with passive strategies, and the implemented processes.
The secluded project site is 30 km from the closest town - Puerto Jimenez – with no public services for electricity or water, hence the requirement for a 100 percent self-sufficient building. A natural potable water source is within the property in the protected forest. The water volume is enough to produce energy with two low-impact hydroelectric generators that generate a total of 800KW/H. The rooftop of Casa ISEAMI is a solar power plant with a production capability of 10.800KW/H from the photovoltaic panels. The roof material is structural allowing access to the roof for maintenance. Solar thermal tanks on the roof provide hot water to domestic uses below. The hybrid energy system provides enough energy to the Casa, the caretaker’s and maintenance housing, and an existing lodge.
The structural and electro-mechanical design was inspired by the exoskeleton of an insect, eliminating interior walls and ceilings to create open spaces that facilitate good indoor air quality by eliminating nooks and crannies that promote for mold growth.
The materials for the house were selected based on durability and low maintenance in the humid, rainy environment, as well as recyclability. Thermal panels (Versawall and Versapanel by Centria) are the main material for walls and roof because of their solar reflectance index, structural and acoustic properties and their ability to provide thermal comfort. Because this material is prefabricated, it allowed the house to be assembled on-site, which lowered transportation costs, lowered the carbon footprint of the institute, and allowed the house to be constructed quickly with minimal labor in its secluded location. Because of the structural capabilities of the panels, the amount of structural steel required was reduced seismic support. Furthermore the thermal panels were light and easy to install, are low maintenance and composed of a mold-resistant material.
Passive design strategies were incorporated to respond to bioclimatic conditions including sun exposure, relative humidity, natural illumination and ventilation. The house itself is elevated one meter above the ground, which helps manage the relative humidity inside the house as well as allow stormwater to flow naturally across much of the site.
The architects configured an ideal southeast-by-northwest orientation of the building on the site for cross ventilation. Two polycarbonate skylights provide ample daylighting with control of sunlight exposure in the interiors of the house, preventing UV to damage the furniture. Large overhangs create shadows all day to help control interior temperatures while providing natural illumination. Recycled plastic louvers (Trex) create a second envelope that surrounds the house, thereby maximizing temperature control and rain exposure within the home. The white color of ISEAMI creates the ability to visualize insect or mold infestation inside the house and its frame, and provides a high solar reflectance index (SRI 100) that helps mitigate temperatures. The roof design allows an “open to the sky” concept. The programmatic distribution of the house provides integration between the interior and exterior, so that nature is part of both.
ISEAMI set a goal of recyclable potential for all materials in the house, therefore all materials are 100 percent recyclable at the end of their lifecycles - mainly plastic, glass and steel. Plastic materials are not included on the interior to avoid potential off-gassing of any toxic compounds. The prefab construction system is also designed to model a simple, adaptable solution that regional community inhabitants might emulate to help improve the local economy using different scales and simple materials.