Las Catalinas Beach Town and Plaza Central Building Win Design Excellence Awards | Urban Guild Awards 2020

December 31, 2020

Incredibly, two of the five worldwide Urban Guild Design Excellence Awards have been won by projects in Las Catalinas!

The first is for Las Catalinas itself – the town.  The guild says “All elements are arranged to create a series of wonderful, walkable public spaces interwoven with nature. The architecture is adapted for outdoor living, a constant ebb and flow of residents and visitors enrich the scene, and every street leads to scenic overlooks.”


The second award is to the Plaza Central Building, designed by Robert Orr & Associates.  The Guild says “Couched in a unique organic master plan, the building extrudes upward from its irregular property boundaries and skillfully accommodates steeply inclined topography and incorporates localized symmetry to address multiple distinct urban frontages.”


The prestigious Urban Guild focuses on successful principles of architecture and urbanism to create and promote design of places that people love. To advance these principles and continued innovation, they share techniques, tools, and examples of great design. 


The Design Excellence award celebrates built design work that applies timeless design principles integrated masterfully into an urban context.


Here are some of the key design principles that contribute to the success of Beach Town:


Beach Town is Car-Free.

An arguably radical idea that received pushback even from the initial design team, our car-free town seems now to be the most natural and preferred way to be.


Natural sociability is achieved while any trip or adventure begins on foot and you are able to meet your surroundings and neighbors at a human pace. We tend to measure distance in steps or front doors, and you are guided by natural and architectural landmarks rather than stoplights. Often, walks from home to the rocking chairs at Pura Vida Ride, for example, are marked with multiple stops to chat with new and old acquaintances. The day-to-day experience is more meaningful when you’re able to slow down and interact with Beach Town using all senses.


One huge benefit of being car-free is the Kid Freedom made possible by the security of public spaces absent of motorized vehicles. Young residents and guests can safely discover their own independence, learn, play, and grow ambling about Beach Town. We’re reminded of this every time we come upon a town-wide hide and seek game or see a child walking out of Copper & Stone with a gallon of milk to run back to the house. Not only does Kid Freedom create a better town now, we’re learning that the long-term effects of a safe and free childhood allow for a more creative, resilient, and active future.


Beach Town is Compact.

Designing for people, not cars, enables a more sustainable, compact urban fabric. We’re able to achieve a density of 12.76 Front Doors per acre among residences, guest homes, and hotel rooms. Comparing this to other successful New Urbanist projects (Seaside, Florida for example achieves 6 dwelling units per acre), it’s clear how much livable area is forfeited to motorized vehicles even in the best urban context. 


As a compact village, Beach Town offers more opportunities to preserve the tropical dry forest and in turn sets up an extraordinary nature-urban transect. The contrast of a dense urban village can be seen clearly from in town, in the ocean, and on our trails. And this same juxtaposition of opposite ends of the natural-urban spectrum intensifies the experience in both realms. Town isn’t a concrete jungle, divorced from nature; the actual jungle is right out the door. You can hop on your bike as soon as you are alerted that someone has surpassed you in the Strava ranking - and be back for an afternoon conference call. Beach Town’s minimal footprint creates a sustainable infrastructure not just for the natural environment, but also for an active and healthy life full of natural, human, and architectural beauty.  


Beach Town is Timeless.

With the exception of temporary buildings or light market structures, everything is built to last centuries. As such, Beach Town has developed a vernacular of tropical traditional architecture that stands up to heavy rains, intense sun, trending tastes, and our own rich and intricate urbanism and topography. The architecture is predominantly simple and consistent, achieving harmony without uniformity. Small details at the human scale make for a delightful walk while allowing general architecture to be the backdrop. 


We are guided by the philosophy that there is always beauty in what is truly practical. Our materials are locally sourced and crafted and everything is authentic - no structure or material poses as anything other than itself. Outdoor living is highly desirable in our climate and our residences and commercial spaces celebrate natural ventilation and outdoor rooms. 


The architecture and urbanism respond to each other and the environment. By accommodating new technologies without prioritizing them, we have created a timeless construction and architectural language. The consistent choice of natural, authentic materials allows for buildings to age gracefully. So you get a sense of place not time in Beach Town. It is a town created from and for our home coastline of Costa Rica. 

Illustrative Master Plan Oct22

This year marks ten years since we began vertical construction in Beach Town, and we’re proud of all of the public spaces and buildings that have made our first village an excellent example of timeless design. This award means a great deal to us as we complete Beach Town and look ahead to our next phases.


In lieu of the traditional award ceremony at the Congress for New Urbanism 2020, we were invited to present Beach Town in a virtual lecture. The presentations are now live online and you can see Charles’s presentation below.  Architect Robert Orr presents the Central Flats building here.




In recognition of all of those who have contributed to Beach Town, here is a list of designers and thinkers who share in this award:

Charles Brewer, Town Founder

Douglas Duany, Master Plan 

TSW Design, Master Plan 

Neal Herman, President and COO 

James Berry, Former President and COO

Jaime Rojas, Director of Infrastructure

Diana Cascante, Director of Construction

Luis Diego Calzada, Former Director of Construction 

Andres Gonzalez, Department of Infrastructure 

Sara Picado Bega, Senior Town Architect

Ricardo Arosemena, Architect and Member of Architecture Review Committee 

Anthony Way, Architect and Member of Architecture Review Committee

Ryan Nelson, Former Town Architect

Juan Carlos Avelar, Former Town Architect

Alonso Piedra, Owner Alfa Construction 

Juan Carlos Nuñez, Civil Engineering 

Deplan, Civil Engineering 

Notre Dame School of Architecture, Student Design Studios


Architects & Urbanists with Built Projects in Beach Town: 

Arosemena & Way 

Robert Orr 

BCV Architects 

Castillo Arquitectos 

Michael G. Imber Architects 

Jeffrey Dungan Architects 

Via Chicago Architects 

Lake Geneva Architects 

Garrison Foundry 

Lew Oliver Inc

Julia Sanford

Gary Justiss

TSW Design

Douglas Duany

Sara Picado Bega

Juan Carlos Avelar

Neil Hoyt

Andrew Krizman

Andrew Petrovsky

Lauren Richa

David Hayes

Rodrigo Bollat Montenegro 

Lucas Rivera 

Richard Muller

Abraham Valenzuela 

Letelier & Rock Design