Working in Costa Rica’s beach towns can be bittersweet. On one hand the towns are vibrant, with exciting new projects coming to life, but on the other hand, areas are often being cleared for new development. As much as we strive to minimise the impact of the new projects that we plan and design, we love working with some of our long-time clients and their strategy of renovating instead of starting from scratch. Their interest in the region’s history means we are on the same page when it comes to drawing inspiration from and reinforcing the local identity, not changing it.
South Australia. From the bluest of blues to the reddest of reds, the driest state on the driest continent is often not on the radar of visitors in comparison to the well beaten path along the East Coast. This meant plenty of space to clear Louise’s mind over the break after another busy year at VIDA. South Australia is home to some of Australia’s best wine regions, the incredible outback and Flinders Ranges as well as the Eyre Peninsula’s amazing remote beaches which you rarely have to share with anyone besides the occasional emu, kangaroo or dolphin. Interesting note, contrary to other Australian cities, its capital Adelaide was not settled by convicts.
There’ s no getting away from the fact that when design works, people not only want to use a space but they want to tell their friends on Instagram. And so it is with Arenas Del Mar. VIDA, in collaboration with the operations team (including Cayuga Collection) and SPHERA, recommended a refresh that included a new lobby area and bar (MIA Design Inspiration) new roof structure, transformation of the pool and surrounds, and the creation of new usable spaces and decks separated by pockets of landscape; all with only six weeks for construction. When working with hotels, there is a specific window where we can work around the low season and reservations. Thanks team, that was a big, Insta-worthy effort. Apparently… Read more about it here
The Adelaide Zoo in the city’s parklands, a green fringe around Australia’s ‘best planned city’, was an ideal setting for the 25th Global Eco Asia Pacific Tourism Conference hosted by Ecotourism Australia . Fresh in from Costa Rica, we were Welcomed to Country in a ceremony by the traditional Kaurna owners. While outside temperatures hovered just under 40 degrees over the three days, we shared our project in Seychelles, as well as how we got to where we are today, working on projects with shared values and client visions. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear from and mingle with like-minded operators and professionals in the industry. We will definitely be back to next year’s event in northern Queensland. Closing drinks alongside meerkats and towering giraffes was also a highlight.
In the name of 'research', this year’s VIDA retreat was at the conveniently cool beachfront hotel in Costa Rica’s northern Pacific beaches called El Mangroove operated by Enjoy Hotels. It was a great opportunity to pause with the team after back-to-back busy periods, to discuss studio life and projects at VIDA, take a behind-the-scenes tour of the hotel (since we do design hospitality projects when we're not actually on the sun beds) and managed to sample some of the drinks served by the fabulous staff. Purely research, of course.
You are probably aware that Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries on earth, bridging the North and South American continents. But you may not know that a lot of where we work in Costa Rica is defined by two very distinct seasons: very, very wet and very, very dry. Given our line of work, these extremes present us with some not-insignificant challenges as we try to find the balance between conveying the reality of the zone we are in, without compromising the guest experience with dusty deciduous species. On the other hand, we have to design for the torrential tropical downpours that come with the ‘green season’, where months of heavy rain follow months without a drop.
Did you know that around 47% of what we throw away is organic? Our beach town of Santa Teresa is facing some waste collection issues so there has been a push towards working together as a community to compost in order to recycle unwanted organic materials and turn them into nutrient-rich soil for the garden. Cami visited local boutique hotel Flor Blanca to learn about two types of composting boxes: the classic ‘lasagna’ where the layered components in the box of ‘green’ (providing humidity like ground coffee, veggie and fruit scraps, egg shells) and ‘brown’ waste (providing carbon, like dead leaves, straw, cardboard, napkins); and the ‘takamaka’, which is able to compost meat, oil, and many other daily household waste items. With dirty hands and a new understanding, Cami now just has to wait for her compost box to be ready to return to the garden.
As VIDA's writer, it's my job to paint pictures using words; to articulate what's important and interesting about VIDA's projects and our team. But, on my recent trip from Australia to visit the studio in Costa Rica my words were a disappointment to me. Because there's a warmth in Costa Rica - in its people and its places - that are hard to capture without sounding like a paid-up member of the tourism board. Sure, there are issues [5 minute beach cleanup] and good people working in the right direction [Nicoya Peninsula Waterkeeper]; like anywhere. But there's an energy in Costa Rica that makes things feel possible. Perhaps it's all those shades and shapes of green that stretch up and over the ranges between the Pacific and Caribbean oceans? Or that some plants can grow 30cm a day? Or that you can regularly wake to the sound of howler monkeys planning their family's movements? Or the fact that you can ride pinto horses on remote, black sand beaches, or spy hummingbirds (that you mistakenly thought were butterflies) in the garden beyond your bedroom window? It's hard to say. But I can say that spending time with the team on site and in the studio (and at parties, on car ferries, long dusty roads with potholes that could swallow a car, and dining highway-side with an indelicate combination of lounge music and stray dogs) it was a great reminder that this is a team who live our passion. Full stop.
“A temple of nature, home for wilderness, silence of mind.” This was a quote from one of the participants in a design workshop that VIDA facilitated at a beautiful property in San Mateo, Alajuela. In addition to our traditional, but essential site understanding, our metaphysical analysis process is one of the steps in our planning process that differentiates VIDA as planners. Using our senses to define a place – to anchor it in time and space – only takes a couple of minutes but it helps owners, clients and other professionals to feel instead of think. We know from experience that this process helps to instill a sense of responsibility and custodianship in our clients and decision makers. This is a methodology that we learnt by working for many years with Hitesh Mehta of HM design who is considered one of the pioneers of ecotourism planning, and we have continually tweaked the technique to extract and document our best outcom es.
Our work strives to identify and understand the key factors that shape a place or make it special. This understanding helps our team work towards regionally-responsive solutions that resonate with the local community, play a positive role in shaping or reinforcing a region’s identity and create a genuine memory-of-place for those that use or pass through the spaces we plan and design. We understand that these are ambitious goals and each project is our opportunity to test this methodology and refine our craft. One method we use to help us understand a place is photography, and our team are encouraged to document and share their experiences via photos. These photos were taken by Matthew Flynn for projects spanning several continents, with the goal of understanding a place and in search of regionalism through its people's personalities, colours and textures.