NYIT Students in Costa Rica

Students do work in Costa Rica as part of a design-build initiative.

NYIT student volunteer working on construction site of Nosara Recycling Center, August 2012

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about sLAB Costa Rica, the design-build initiative at the School of Architecture and Design at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), with my studio, Holler Architecture, taking the lead. Back then my students had just finished the design of a much needed Recycling and Education Center for Nosara, a small community in northwestern Costa Rica. This past summer the project made a huge step toward reality. Funded in part through a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter over 30 NYIT architecture students traveled to Costa Rica during July and August and volunteered on the construction site of this important community project. In order not to loose momentum the students have set up a second Kickstarter campaign to help finish the project this coming January.


More from Metropolis



This past summer under the supervision of local construction professionals we were able to set up the construction site, complete the site grading, concrete foundations, and concrete block walls; and even built the first wooden roof truss.


Assembly of first roof truss, made out of pochote trees sustainably harvested on site, August 2012


The project is far from completed. Much work remains to be done before the building is ready to help with the local waste management problem. Today local workers continue to build the project, but without help from the student volunteers, the pace of construction has slowed considerably. In order not to loose the momentum of this important community project the students hope to return to Nosara for three weeks in January to continue to help. To aid in their expenses for housing and making a documentary by Ayana de Vos they launched another Kickstarter campaign to raise $9,000 by December 13.


Lacking appropriate infrastructure and policies, over sixty percent of Costa Rica’s waste is put into open, unregulated dumps

Costa Rica has a severe municipal solid waste management problem that stands in stark contrast with its eco-image. Lacking appropriate infrastructure and policies, over 60 percent of waste is put into open, unregulated dumps and 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.


Current hazardous and unsanitary working conditions at Nosara dump

The Nosara Recycling Center will collect, compact, and sell recyclables for the future transformation into new uses, greatly reducing the amount of waste currently arriving at the dump, and eliminating the unsanitary, hazardous, and inefficient recycling practices currently in place. The center will also provide communal education on proper waste management. The project has the potential to become a model of sustainable waste management practices for communities in all of Costa Rica, and other tropical countries. In the weeks leading up to our first trip to Nosara, I have to admit I was worried at times about the progress we would be able to make during our stay. As a practicing architect I knew that there are a million things that can prevent any building project from being built on schedule, let alone one in a foreign country, in a rural area that’s lacking many basic infrastructural services. Would our client, the non-profit Nosara Waste and Recycling Association, really come through with providing the funds, building materials, and permits required to begin construction…? According to my friends in Costa Rica, building in this country requires time and patience, above all. What if my students arrived in Nosara, eager and ready to work, and there would be nothing to do for us? Well, we remained optimistic, continued to push the project forward, and it worked out wonderfully. As soon as the first group of students arrived, we were able to set up the construction site, complete the site grading, concrete foundations, and concrete block walls, and even built the first wooded roof truss, made from pochote wood harvested from our building site several weeks earlier. The students gained invaluable construction site experience, working under the supervision of local construction professionals.


NYIT student volunteers with local workers Daniel, Gustavo, Marvin and Pablo, August 2012

This would not have been possible without the amazing support we had in Nosara. Our clients devoted much of their time to get the construction process underway.  A local architect, Lucca donated his time and expertise for design consultation, permit drawings, and now the site supervision. Many construction professionals donated time and equipment to the project. Those and many others helped make this past summer’s success possible. While the students worked on site German filmmaker Ayana de Vos documented every one of their moves for her film project about waste management and sustainability in Costa Rica, shooting over 60 hours of footage, with multiple cameras, and conducting countless interviews with the participants. Since we now have this incredible local support system in place, we are confident that our next trip in January 2013 will be also be a success. Please help us help Nosara! Pura Vida! The building design


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 with a wall made out of up-cycled aluminum cans, 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 is made from local pochote sustainably grown on the project site, and nearby. During the wet season, rainwater will be collected on the large roof, and stored in cisterns, for 100 percent of the facility’s water needs.


Follow the project on facebook and twitter.

Tobias Holler, AIA, LEED AP, is an assistant professor of architecture at the New York Institute of Technology where he teaches environmental design and technology. A registered architect in Germany and New York, he is also the principal of HOLLER architecture, an independent design practice in Brooklyn, New York. In his research and design practice he is interested in the relationship between architecture, urbanism, landscape, and technology with an emphasis on using environmental performance as a generator for architectural form. HOLLER architecture is one of seven firms chosen for NPNY 2012 (New Practices New York) through the AIA New York, an award that recognizes and promotes innovative and emerging architecture firms within the city.


First Concrete pour, July 2012

Recent Projects