by Jerry ElengicalJan 09, 2023
Peering over the crest of a hill in the jungles of Costa Rica, local practice Studio Saxe has conceived a sprawling yet intimate retreat whose gentle impact on its context is a stylish, contemporary take on organic architecture. The firm, led by architect Benjamin G. Saxe composed this clandestine sanctuary by centering their design on curated 'moments of contemplation' along the course of the site. Guided by these parameters, in addition to the climatic constraints posed by the location in the northwest of the country, the unassuming form of Raintree House, as it has been styled, seems to melt into the thickets that envelop it, with only a few hints of dark coloured projections and wood-panelled surfaces peering through the forested landscape.
Building on a sloping site is never a straightforward approach, with inventive structural design and programmatic innovation always being a necessity in resolving level differences for these kinds of scenarios. Apart from this proposition, the architects also had to address the desires of the clients, who were originally from abroad, and had commissioned the project as an archetype for more sustainable lifestyles grounded in the act of establishing deep ties to nature. In their own words, the clients reveal, "We wanted a home that felt like it had always been there, hugged by the canopy, dancing with the jungle.”
In response, the architects relay in a statement: “From the very beginning, our common vision was to explore the possibility of blending the architecture with its jungle surroundings, keeping every single tree and adding to the habitat; while also capturing a framed view of the ocean and sunset.” To fulfil these requirements with minimal compromise, the residence’s architectural footprint was devised with a strong foundation and a dynamic structure, which would allow much of the main volume to hover over the forest with minimal supports. While eliminating the need to uproot trees, this measure also allowed the plan to follow its own course without being hindered by the terrain itself. As the main prefabricated steel frame structure projects over the incline of the topography, an asymmetrically loaded concrete foundation braces it to impart stability.
The staggered arrangement of the home's volumes may not be too apparent on first glance, given the dense growth of vegetation obscuring its façade design, but this strategy serves to enhance vistas of the rugged terrain, while allowing light and ventilation inward, mediated by the need for shading. In essence, the living spaces and master bedroom—the focal points of the zoning—were arranged on the first floor, which slightly cantilevers over the level beneath it.
At the entrance, a semi-outdoor space accommodates the main stairwell of the residential design, neither inside, nor outside the enclosure of the home. Surrounded by a paved walkway with a bed of pebbles at its base, the staircase design features light wooden treads mounted onto a black metal frame. To one side, a large wall of framed glass panels bathes the space in light, affording it views of the forest in the vicinity. Woven pendant lights droop down from the space’s high ceiling to illuminate it, as sculptural ornamentations to the otherwise restrained ensemble. The underside of the staircase’s stringer also hosts a swing, pendulously oscillating above the bed of pebbles. Three bedrooms along with a small seating area and lounge make up the program on the ground floor, where much of the space is left open, to take in views of the surrounding terrain.
Fusing an earthy tropical modernist feel with industrial-style detailing, the interior design blends these two divergent aesthetics through the clever treatment of material contrasts, sprinkled with flourishes of greenery that make the space come alive. Close ties between Studio Saxe and Saxe Interiors allowed the collaborative process to investigate every material selection in extensive detail, to make this prefabricated steel structure and earthy finishes harmonise in a single composition. Finally, a palette of burnt wood, teak, hand-made hydraulic tiles, woven lamps, and other finishes incorporate local craft sensibilities into the ensemble. Durability was a major consideration throughout the process of selection, as the residential building would also double as a rental property, alongside its purpose as a private home.
Rising to the first floor, the main living spaces feel the presence of the forest canopy to a greater degree, given their heightened elevation above the floor of the landscape. This also serves to frame views of the ocean in the vicinity as well as sights of the setting sun, building relationships between the interior and the natural phenomena it is witness to. A pool and accompanying deck stretch out along one edge of the plan, beyond the dining room. On the other hand, the other extremity of the first floor plan is where the master bedroom has been placed, connected to the staircase by a hallway at the front of the house.
Contextual design and bioclimatic principles were other significant influences on the residential design of Raintree House. "Overall, we blended ancient and local techniques with modern technology to create a sustainable design that is rooted in the past but looks towards the future,” reveals the team at Studio Saxe. The roof structure, which has been described as an 'umbrella,' spreads out over the majority of the first floor cantilever, allowing rainwater to easily run off into catchment areas for reuse. As mentioned earlier, a core concern throughout the design process was sustainability, and the provision of solar panels to supply some of the house’s energy needs serves to reinforce these ideals.
To conclude, the architects share, “The result of combining contemporary building techniques, for speed and durability, with local know-how creates a unique expression of architecture that marries a modern aesthetic imprinted with local textures and craftsmanship. This allowed us to create a language of architecture that is honest and reflects a distinct process of understanding local capabilities and harnessing them to meet international standards.”
Name: Raintree House
Location: Nosara, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Area: 750 sqm
Year of Completion: 2022
Client: A + D
Architect: Studio Saxe
Design Director: Benjamin G. Saxe
Interior Design: Saxe Interiors
Landscape Design: GreenGo
Structural Engineer: Guidi Estructurales
Electromechanical Engineer: Dynamo