Working with the Leatherback Trust Organization to design a marine biology station Playa Grande, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica, the studio explores new opportunities for architectural performance within social, cultural, political and environmental context.

A gift of a 14 hectare site in Playa Grande to TLT offers an opportunity to move the existing station from protected public land at the beach. The new site has been previously grazed, resulting in an eroded grassland condition that is partially in an estuarial watershed. Guanacaste province is a dry tropical forest making water a precious resource and a principal deterrent to occupation of the site. The studio will design a new marine biology station with biology research labs, classrooms, overnight and living facilities for resident biologists, EarthWatch volunteers, school groups. In addition, to living spaces and labs, the Trust will provide a separate public building for the community, guides and tourists to use.

Pollution, industrial fishing, climate change and large-scale coastal development have reduced current population to just .01 percent of their historic levels. The Leatherback Trust has been actively protecting turtle populations on the Playa Grande beach since 1993. The Trust is not restricted to leatherback research and preservation but also necessarily engages social, economic, and political activities. The Trust has a history of Playa Grande citizenship as well as a conservator of natural resources. The studio will investigate how architecture can create cultural opportunities on the site while reducing the impact of the center on the consumption of energy and water.

The studio intention is to raise question of what roles architecture might play within both the visible and invisible contexts of its site. Beyond the physical site, what does location mean in architecture? If know that architecture is a result of political will, how do we build architecture that enhances TLT’s role in the social, economic, cultural and political context of Costa Rica? How does architecture respond to a cultural context more than superficial cultural knowledge? What kind of interactions can we explore between each of these layers of context.

Travel and schedule

We will work with the Leatherback Trust leadership to envision the operation of the Playa Grande Station architecture within the physical, social, cultural and environmental context. We will visit with one of the two founding scientists, Dr. Jim Spotila, on of worlds leading sea turtle reseachers and conservationists, in Philadelphia at the offices of Susan Weiler, landscape architect at the Olin Studio, who has been involved with the Trust for many years. During travel week, we will visit Costa Rica, flying into Liberia and staying at the Goldring Gund Marine Biology station (to be replaced by the new station we propose) where will have the opportunity to meet with Dr. Frank Paladino, co-founder of The Leatherback Trust with Dr. Spotila, and other members of the station operations.

The proposed studio schedule for the semester includes nine visits, with the balance of studio meetings led by co-studio leader, Surry Schlabs. As yet unscheduled is a trip to Phildelphia to Olin Studio.

All Semesters

Fall 2020
Advanced Design Studio: Thirdspace
Peter Eisenman, Elisa Iturbe
Fall 2019
Advanced Design Studio: New Tools
Francis Kéré, Martin Finio
Fall 2017
Frank Gehry
Frank O. Gehry, Trattie Davies
Fall 2016
Newfoundland Food Institute
Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, Andrew Benner