When designing homes in Costa Rica, architects not only consider protection from strong tropical rains, but also the effect that these aguaceros will have on the spaces of the home and the people inside. In this piece we take a look at the way that architecture in Las Catalinas factors in these downpours to provide function to the home, create atmospheres in certain spaces, and offer experiences to the people within.
In Las Catalinas, there is a strong presence of indoor-outdoor living, based on the ideas that the elements -- sun, rain, wind -- add life, seasonality, and diversity to a home. For these homes, rain showers aren’t something to wall away and avoid, but rather something to be factored into the overall experience of the home.
Just as each home in Las Catalinas has a unique character, each home also utilizes the rain in different ways.
The afternoon aguacero is a strong and beautiful element of life in town, and there are many ways that homes use these rainstorms, either as a source of energy and life in a space or as a subtle contrasting detail to create feelings of coziness and connections.
Perched up high during an aguacero can create a feeling of immersion with the rain. Water falling around provides a natural cooling effect, the breeze and mist are allowed to flow in, while vaunted roofs deflecting heavy downpour away from the space. Closer to the edge of Casa Indigo’s terrace (above) adds the direct sprinkle of the rain, a contrast to the center of the space, or a spot like the swinging couch of 36 Plaza Carlota.
Some of these homes, like Casa Encantada (above), have uncovered portions, offering the chance to step out into the elements while elevated above town in the center of the afternoon shower.
With a similar focus on elevation in a rainstorm, homes with cozy monkey towers can flip the feelings of the storm to enhance the feeling of tranquility and connection within the home. Ranging from single rooms like 32 Avenida La Antigua up to large social spaces like 20 Plaza Carlota (above), the contrast of warmth and close connection against the activity of the storms outside enhances both, creating a feeling of a cozy haven.
Impressive about these homes is that departure from these monkey towers brings completely different feel to the rain. The storms are active elements, not something to be afraid of, but the natural feeling of contemplation and comfort given by being inside is still powerful.
Somewhere between the two concepts above are the semi-permeable spaces found in 11 Camino Flats and 31 Camino Flats (Above) and on Casa Blanca’s covered terrace. These areas are semi-sheltered, spaces that blend some of the natural coziness of monkey towers while embracing the cool temperatures and refreshing mists of the afternoon rains. Similar to the covered terrace in their flexibility, where different positions bring the aguaceros into the space in different degrees, but with a heavier interest on peace and tranquility.
At the other end of the spectrum are town’s homes with covered pool patios and terraces, which offer moderate up to total immersion into the natural energy and rejuvenation of a rainstorm, and create social spaces where rainstorms are a desirable and enjoyable addition to the day, like in Castillo del Mar (above), Casa Azul, or in Casa de los Sueños (shown below).
In the covered spaces of these terraces, the effects of the rain are more mild, featuring gentle mists, white noise, and cool breezes. Beyond, stepping out into the rain to sit on the pool deck or slip into the water offers a chance to feel enveloped in the storm.
In addition to bringing people both into and out of the rain, architecture can also use different techniques to invite the effects of aguaceros themselves into the home.
For ground floor apartments or multistory homes, one way to bring a rainstorm into more internal rooms of the home is through a shaft courtyard. Featuring in Casa Estrella and 10 Plaza Carlota (below), these tall open air courtyards bring aguaceros into the very heart of the home, ensure a lively connection to the elements even in these more enclosed spaces.
During a rainstorm, these shaft courtyards bring the energy of the outside into what would traditionally be quieter, more enclosed spaces, changing their dynamic. These shaft courtyards also serve a functional purpose, providing fresh air that helps to cool the flat.
Open-air garden courtyards follow a similar concept to shaft courtyards in welcoming the elements straight into the center of the home, but execute this strategy differently. Compared to the shaft courtyard, which focuses more on bringing the subtle influences of rain to surrounding spaces, garden courtyards are meant to be a space of their own, a dynamic place within the home where the natural elements come together with thoughtful design.
Greenery, fountains, pools, and sculpture all change in different ways when it is raining, bringing new life to these spaces. The scents of the garden and wet soil fill the air as plants and earth spring to life, traces of trickling water trace sculpted contours like in Casa Tom (below) bringing a new dimension to art and design, and the sound of rain as it falls on foliage, earthwork, fountains, and water like in Posada San Rafael (above) is different in each space.
Homes like Casa Cielo and Casa Tom (above), StuCasa (below), have large doors to outdoor porches and patios, which easily welcome sounds, the smells, and the general feel of the elements into the heart of the home. These porches are generally semi-public spaces, naturally social areas to watch the street that also add a passive connection to life in town via the sounds of the street.
In a rainstorm, nature and the rhythms of the town life are still welcomed, but are distinctly different. Temperatures are lower, and the senses floating in from the outside are more muted, punctuated at times by spikes of sound from life and play.
One more way that architecture can use an aguacero to change a home actually takes place in the stillness following the rainstorm. As showers give way to sunshine, the views emphasized on outdoor terraces like the rooftop terrace at the Santarena Hotel(above) and the porch deck at Casa Ventanas (below) fill with rainbows arcing across the sky in the daytime or many-colored sunsets in the evenings, all set against a sky full of clouds. Thanks to their open air nature, these spaces welcome in the mists still hanging in the air, the scents of fresh earth and foliage, and the quiet that comes over town, creating a powerful sense of peace.
Each home in Las Catalinas engages with the rain in a unique way, and the best way to experience this thoughtful blend of manmade and natural is to come visit. Town is currently approaching late green season, when these afternoon aguaceros are most common, so there’s no better time to see how each aspect of town turns rainstorms into one of the most interesting times of day.
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