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¡Pura Vida! A Taste of Nature, Architecture, Permaculture and Lifestyle in Costa Rica

¡Pura Vida! from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

“¡Pura Vida!” is a phrase used daily in Costa Rica, which means “pure life” or “simple life.” It is not a slogan; it is a lifestyle, a way of being. Although I had initially planned to make a visual memoir as my 100th documentary, I ultimately decided to dedicate this occasion to our family experience in Costa Rica six years ago. Why? To raise awareness for the urgency of the need for a change in lifestyle as needed today. 

Covid-19 has globally brought us to a turning point. As it impacts the minds of billions of people since post-WW-II, the American Dream has reached a dead-end. It is simply non-sustainable. For the planet to survive and thrive, we must collectively change our mindset. Costa Rica offers a model worth studying carefully. 

The 25-minute documentary presented here tells much more than I may describe in writing, so consider this blog complementary to the film. Our trip was a 1,000+ km long drive nine-day vacation on a moderate budget, which we planned to combine between nature, permaculture, and architecture. 

The Trip

Gabby created the initial itinerary after consulting with Gabriel Saragovia, who lives in Costa Rica. Gabriel is the son of my old friend Efraim Saragovia, with whom I studied architecture at Israel’s Technion, and now lives in Florida. The father and son duo became sustainability-conscious developers of resorts in Costa Rica. They built Rio Perdido, an award-winning project, which was one of the highlights of our trip.

Our first stop was at La Ecovilla, a community of forty families from different countries, thirty of which having school-aged children. They focus on permaculture, not just as a source of food, but also as a tool for education. 

Finding La Ecovilla was not easy since the streets do not have names, and no signs were pointing us in the right direction. After climbing a rugged road carved from stone, surrounded by jungle-like vegetation, we found a nicely designed gate in the middle of nowhere. When it opened, it felt like entering another planet: Organic Architecture-inspired homes, homegrown food, and community areas geared towards creating a harmonious life with nature. In other words, a meaningful message for a future based on alternative values to a consumption-based society. 

After spending a few hours exploring La Ecovilla, Gabby navigated the one-lane Route 34 road through a tropical storm to our next stop, adjacent to the Manuel Antonio National Park’s entrance. 

The next morning, we were the first visitors of the day to enter the Park. Following a hike through the jungle, with toucans and sloths, we reached a beach that made me feel like a Spanish conquistador stepping on the soil of the Americas for the first time. Our company was birds chirping, iguanas sunbathing, and monkeys swinging between the branches. 

Our next destination was Malpaís, on the northern side of the Nicoya Gulf. We drove to Puntarenas to board the ferry which would take us to Paquera, a 1½ -hour ride surrounded by a view of islands and the sinuous coast of the Nicoya Peninsula.

The path to our destination was an unpaved, bumpy road through the countryside of small farms and ranches. Occasionally we would see a herd of cows grazing on the rolling hills. 

The hotel we stayed at provided a sense of idyllic peacefulness. Without ostentatious luxury, its sparse buildings were immersed in a tropical garden surrounded by dense jungle.

We first explored Malpaís, a laid-back small village with a rocky shore of bizarre volcanic formations and a jungle forest reaching the shore. The main road that links Malpaís with Santa Teresa was the area’s main street, with shops, markets, and stores. 

After a few hours of walking on the beach and talking to people in the village, I got a sense of the vibe. It attracts young, educated people, escaping the traps of urban life. The crowd was quite international, with a strong American, Argentinean, and Israeli presence, which made us feel like a good fit for the place.

On our third day, we explored Montezuma, a small village known for its multi-ethnic bohemian atmosphere of young people looking for an alternative lifestyle. It is also known for its beaches, rivers, and waterfalls. 

It took us most of the next day to reach Rio Perdido, first having to drive back through the Nicoya Gulf. When we finally got there, our first impression was a sense of overwhelm.

“In the middle of nowhere,” five design firms – C2 Arquitectura, Vida Design Studio, Project CR+d, Garnier Arquitectos, and OUSIA Design – led by Gabriel and Efraim Saragovia, had created a masterful architectural complex with virtually no land movement

In respect to the existing natural land it sits on, the facility includes a unique thermo-mineral gorge with eight hot springs. The hotel’s main area was conceived to minimize the number of columns and ease the view of the surroundings. The prefabricated bungalows elevated above the original topography, give a sense of peacefulness, with a 180-degree view of vegetation. The place also has multiple swimming pools at different water temperatures.

Passive cooling techniques were applied throughout the facility that requires little to no maintenance. An “aerodynamic architectural structure” proved to be very effective in properly channeling the currents during the 4 months of heavy winds that this area experiences. Water use was taken into consideration as part of the reforestation effort for the native plant species. The treated water is directed towards the irrigation of thousands of plants.

Besides the architecture, the Rio Caliente hot water river is in itself, an important reason to visit the place. It is not only relaxing, but also has medicinal properties used by the natives for generations. 

For those in search of adventurous excitement, this ecotourism includes a state-of-the-art Zipline course which loops across the main canyon, tubing through the winding currents of Rio Perdido and trails for walking, hiking and mountain biking.

 Our final stop was at the La Paz Waterfall Garden and Zoo, near the Poás Volcano. This is a lush tropical forest with a huge waterfall, and many species of local wildlife, including birds, insects, monkeys and leopards.

 L.A. 2020

We are currently living during the worst global pandemic of the past century, the worst recession since the 1930s, and now we are on the cusp of one of the most critical elections in recent American history. The future is now, and it is daunting. Costa Rica, besides its natural beauty, is a stable democratic republic with a long list of attributes: it is the greenest country in the world, home to the highest density of animal species; It produces 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, has had no army since 1949, has spends 7% of its budget on education (U.S.: 3.5%.) There is much to learn from this small country.

In short: ¡Pura Vida!

Radio Day A Radio Interview Hosted by Nancy Pearlman

 Radio Day from Rick Meghiddo on Vimeo.

 We went to the open-house day of the “Pearlman Cabin” in Idyllwild, designed by John Lautner.  While being at the event, Nancy Pearlman asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed for her  KBPK 90.1 FM Environmental Directions program. I said, “Yes, when, where?” “Today, here,” she said. “OK,” I answered, surprised.

Pearlman Cabin, Idyllwild. Architect: John Lautner.

Pearlman Cabin, Idyllwild. Architect: John Lautner.

Nancy Pearlman

Nancy Pearlman

Nancy Pearlman is an award-winning broadcaster, environmentalist, college instructor, anthropologist, editor and producer and who has made safeguarding the earth’s ecosystems a career. Since 1977, she has hosted and produced the country’s longest-running environmental radio show: Environmental Directions. 

I thought the main subject of the radio interview was going to be John Lautner. Unscheduled, and spontaneous, we touched many subjects: Wright, organic architecture, sustainability, Lautner’s architecture, the cabin’s integration to nature, Idyllwild, organic architects, Ruth’s Farm Urbana, solar energy, desalination and irrigation in Israel, population growth and a view of the future.  Several weeks later Nancy sent me an unabridged copy of the recorded interview, edited by Robert Payne. I decided to produce an abridged version of it, including relevant images and background music. The result is in the documentary included here.

John Lautner / Bob Hope Residence

John Lautner / Bob Hope Residence

John Lautner is one of the few Frank Lloyd Wright’s disciples I appreciate for his originality. He absorbed the essence of Wright’s philosophy without becoming an imitator of “the Wright’s style.”

I met him once. The encounter was circumstantial. During the late 1980s, a couple of clients we had planned to buy the Concannon Residence in Bel Air, designed in 1960, and wanted us to remodel it. We went to visit the site. The house was in very bad shape. It had been abandoned for more than five years by its owner, and puddles of water from leakings were everywhere.

Concannon Residence

Concannon Residence

Since Lautner was still an active architect, I suggested to visit him and check if he wanted to do the job, or if he had any particular suggestions. We went to his office, on the 7000-block of Hollywood Boulevard. In the middle of the waiting hall there was a huge model of a house at scale 1:20. When we entered his private office, a tall man with a grave voice stood up and shook our hands. I explained to him why we came. Facing my clients, he asked “with whom of you two shall I talk? I deal only with one person. If you have any differences of opinion, you solved them at home.” After listening what they had to say, he decided to delegate the project to us.  Before leaving, he handed to me a complete set of working drawings.

Our clients had indeed different opinions. So much so, that they ended up divorcing before the house was bought, and the project vanished. Recently, thirty years later, I learned from Lautner’s daughter, Judith, that the Concannon Residence had been demolished.

 

Stevens Residence, Malibu.

Stevens Residence, Malibu.

Segel Residence

Segel Residence

The problems ahead of us are not only quantitative, they are also qualitative. The message is how to create spaces for people in tune with resources and Nature.

 

 

 

 

From Architecture to Urban Farming

A Brief Story of a Vision

“While doing research on solutions for sustainable mixed-use urban corridors, I came to foresee the advantage of incorporating a food-growth area integrated to the common spaces of the habitat at arm length of people’s home.”

In a brief story of her vision, Ruth brings us the case of urban farming as a growing movement to tackle problems that the world faces in the 21st century. Her story is personal.  She tells us how her vision evolved from childhood experiences in the Romanian countryside, to her life in Rome, to the mentorships of Zevi and Pellegrin, to her fascination with Wright’s thinking and works, to her practice as an architect, to her discovery of Permaculture, to her new passion for urban farming and local edible gardens.

She posed to herself some critical questions:

  • How can urban farming contribute to make the world a better place?
  • What is the connection between architecture, planning and urban farming?
  • What can each of us do to become self-reliable on the food we put on our table?
  • How can edible gardens become a design component integrated to urban development?
  • How can urban farming provide a stage for social interaction?

 

Some facts may help to put a global problem into perspective:

  1. The First Agriculture Revolution started about 10,000 years ago. As nomads settled, cities were born. Until about a century ago, they were surrounded by farms, which supplied its population with fresh food.

    San Gimignano, Photo: Pablo Charin, Rick Meghiddo

    San Gimigniano surrounded by farms – Photo: Pablo Charin / Minube

  2. As the world’s population grew from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 7.5 billion today, the way we feed ourselves was transformed radically. Industrialized farming brought us ecological degradation, aggravated by the massive use of toxic chemicals. In addition, the path of food from the farm to the city became dependent on carbon-based fuel for transportation.
  3. As the temperatures will continue to raise, climate change is likely to expand the areas of drought hurricanes and floods, diminishing the existing cultivable areas.
    Nwesweek 10/30/2015

    Nwesweek 10/30/2015

    Milano EXPO 2015: Feeding the World, Rick Meghiddo

    Milano EXPO 2015: Feeding the World

  4. Today’s global growth is about 75 million a year. We are likely to reach ten billion around by 2050. Too far away? Not really! That is just “around the corner.” By 2050, children born today will be in their thirties.

    World Population-1800-2050

    World Population-1800-2050

  5. One acre of land is needed to feed one person for one year. By 2050 we will need additional not-yet-existing cultivable land of about 10 million km2, equal to the size of the United States.

How shall we continue to feed the planet? How shall we invent the future while we free cultivable land from the voracious appetite of urban sprawl?  If we want to create a decent living environment, action is needed NOW. Here are some possibilities:

  • Increase mixed-use urban density along urban corridors.
  • Create cultivable areas within residential multi-family buildings, office buildings, schools, factories, hotels, etc.
  • Design common edible gardens as places for social interaction.
  • Design workspaces that provide edible gardens to its tenants.
  • Plan neighborhoods that include collective cultivable areas.
  • Build multi-story farms.
  • Vertical Farming - Rendering: Blake Kurasek

    Vertical Farming – Rendering: Blake Kurasek

    Vertical Farming

    Vertical Farming

 

No single solution can fit all needs. The use of eco-friendly lightweight hydroponic systems that consume 90% less water than traditional farming can be incorporated into the built environment.

On the other hand, permaculture, first developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, brings a holistic approach that combines agricultural and social design principles. By increasing our awareness of “thinking globally and acting locally,” each of us can contribute to make the world a better place to inhabit.

 

Jean Phillipe Pargade Technical and Scientific School, Paris. Photo: Sergio Grazia

Jean Phillipe Pargade Technical and Scientific School, Paris. Photo: Sergio Grazia