A Natural Design
To discover the spirit of the Resort’s surroundings within a dry tropical forest on the rugged Peninsula Papagayo, Costa Rican architect Ronald Zürcher, who designed both the Resort’s masterplan and its architecture, studied the landscape, local flora and fauna, and the region’s pre-Columbian history.
“Nature is the most real and authentic treasure of the country,” Zürcher says of his vision for the Resort. “In this rugged, thickly forested terrain, with a climate of sun and rain, heat and breezes, it seemed we could provide a way of living and building that grows out of the place rather than being imposed on it. To do this we looked around us, remembered the people who came before, and listened to the wildlife that have been here all along.”
“I began to study the colours of the place, the animals around, the height of the trees. Everything has meaning, and everything is registered. There is a way of listening to what the site is saying; you are not supposed to invent, but to answer.”
Set on an isthmus framed by two beaches, the Resort was designed with four distinct components: the main facilities which lie between the two beaches; free-standing suites farther to the west; five privately owned homes scattered beyond the suites; and Residence Club units to the north-east of the main Resort. Because the site is so remote, labourers to assist with construction had to be found at some distance, and half the workers were housed in a specially built compound nearby. To provide for what amounted to the population of a village, everything was brought in, including the 500 tons of rice consumed by workers during construction.
The crew worked to fulfill Zürcher’s vision of a Resort in tune with the landscape. Some aspects of his design were even inspired by wildlife. According to Zürcher, the decision to use the subtle protecting shape of the armadillo for roofs came early in the design process.
“I wanted shapes that would blend with the landscape, and instead of a large single roof on a suite, I used several smaller ones, sometimes oriented differently. From a distance you might imagine a family of armadillos shuffling through the undergrowth – that’s an image that makes me happy.”
Turtle shells also provided an alternative model for designing roof forms. Zürcher says a turtle shell shape gave form to the roofs of the three guest room blocks at the Resort. “They are broader and more readily adapted to sheltering a long form.”
In contrast to the cocooning shell form of the armadillo and turtle-inspired roofs, the butterfly roofs of the Resort’s main buildings seem to hover, and because they open out, they bring the outside in.
The structure of the principal buildings recalls trees that reach for light and create layers of habitat beneath the forest canopy. The complexity of textures, patterns and angles, and the way the buildings are penetrable by breezes and sunlight, is meant to suggest the character of the tropical forest.
In design details, forest-like qualities suggest dappled light filtering through leaves and vines and reflecting off variegated surfaces. The twisting vines in the lush forest and roots of the mangrove are mimicked in railings found throughout Resort buildings. For unique door handles, Zürcher Arquitectos selected a guayabo tree branch and commissioned a metalwork artisan to reproduce it.
Culturally, the peninsula is part of the Gran Nicoya area, which reflects the influence of Mayans to the north and Incas to the south. Zürcher conceived of the Resort’s main structure as a curving vessel whose design recalls geometric motifs on certain pre-Columbian ceramic pots. The parallel between pot and building is abstract, a suggestion.
This kind of subtle reference to a source – be it tree, animal or pot – is typical of Zürcher’s design approach. For example, the geology of the Papagayo area owes much to its volcanic past. With this in mind, the Spa at Four Seasons Costa Rica is conceived around the theme of fire and water, evoking memories of molten rock cooled by the sea. The elevator is a stone-clad column surrounded by light and enveloped by the sound of rippling water.
Everywhere you look at Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica, you’ll see nods to the natural world surrounding the Resort.