Costa Rica 2015

During our first year, Tropicality ventured into the homes and listened to the stories of several Costa Rican families from different socio-economic strata; from the slums on the outskirts of San Jose, to social housing in a rural community, to new, gated high-end suburban communities in the surrounding hillsides. Each one of five groups of students made a 2-5 minute film, designed a diagram that compresses the spaces and time of the film into one frame, and wrote a short thesis. Rooted in the voices and stories of seven women, each film and diagram tell a particular story of home and together describe a larger framework of shifting material and immaterial relationships against a backdrop of radical change in Costa Rican society. When seen during a final presentation, it was clear that the project is illuminating when viewed as a whole.

We recommend that you view all five films and diagrams to fully experience what was for us was an unusual and revealing immersion into a beautifully complex society through studies of its homes. Please also see the brief which guided the workshop below the exhibition of projects on this page.



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Los Yoses

The project Los Yoses documents two women’s homes and their parallel stories of conscious rejection of a popular idealised lifestyle being pushed by marketing agencies and developers. They have returned to the city centre neighbourhoods of their childhood and have modified and re-appropriated houses there.

The Home is a concept constructed by and from within a technological, cultural context and in contemporary consumerist Costa Rica, the common ideal of home has become a myth crafted within popular culture and the market apparatus. Emerging from the scuffle of a society busy pursuing the popular idealised home, some consciously pursue alternative modes of dwelling, many reclaim largely abandoned neighbourhoods. All seek meaning, identity and belonging within their domestic space.

– Lucila Ortiz and Sergio Nicolaas with Andrew Houston



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The project Zuruqui, explores a personal account of the loss of a childhood home and family structure partially initiated by religious differences and the asserting of individuality. It is a story of isolation and estrangement from within a gaudy new exclusive condominium suburban neighbourhood on the outskirts of San Jose.

When the strongly defined and defining traditional Costa Rican family structure deteriorates, individuals search for alternative sources of identity and purpose. The commodification of everything and in particular the home, means that pre-packaged lifestyles are now for sale. The suburbs surrounding San Jose, Costa Rica’s largest city, expand with the construction of fortified suburban islands defined by walls topped with barbed wire enclosing fields of mass-replicated neo-colonial style houses.

House is not home

– Kristhel Ulate and Roberto Soto with Kevin Fernandez



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The project Cartago  tells the story of a devoutly religious woman living with three of her siblings in one house. She discusses the social roles within the house and correlating appropriation of objects and space. She reveals the visitor-conscious choreography of objects, furniture, and light and that there are some places which she will not permit any guest to go.

The display of objects with religious and emotional meaning, and the choreography of light and shadow within the internal spaces of the home, communicates thresholds between spaces of control and between areas which subtley convey whether they are public and private, mine and yours to both those who live in, and visit the home. Areas open to the visitor are arranged with conscious awareness that they will be observed and judged, and present the image that the inhabitant wishes to project an imagined observer, whereas other areas  are kept private away from the judgmental eye.

– Rosaura Montoya and Mariela Quesada with Sofia Blanco



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Carpio y Puriscal

The project Carpio y Puriscal tells a story of two families, the first of which is an impoverished countryside family, for whom the government of Costa Rica built a house. In an emotional account a teenage daughter conveys her conviction that family is all that matters. However, in seeming contradiction to these sentiments, she explains that nothing mattered when they were previously living in a shack, and that she will soon leave for the city to provide for the family. The second story is that of a family in El Carpio, considered San Jose’s most dangerous slum. The woman relates the problem of illegal land occupation, her sense of homelessness and a longing to return to the countryside.

Meaning and belonging is found in the immaterial, however the security of material ownership seems a pre-condition to the realisation of this idea.

Migration to the city in Central America’s tropical countries propelled by the restructuring of economy and idealization of the urban lifestyle, is forcing migrant workers to build illegal neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city. The ensuing loss of home, equilibrium and displaced feeling of self contributes to the violence and aggression within these barrios. Lacking ownership of the land beneath their home, migrants live in a precarious state of uncertainty and indifference and long for a ground of their own.

– Cindy Rojas and Rolando Madrigal with Esteban Vargas



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The project Cipreses explores the story of a grandmother and her home, a separate yet attached apartment to her daughters and now grown-up grandchildren’s architect designed house. Her story reflects a wider tendency amongst Costa Rican youth towards a dismissive attitude and increased separation from the care of and interaction with the elderly.

The elderly, the loss of purpose and independence within an increasingly individualistic society.

Traditional roles within family and structures of home are challenged by a rapidly changing society in which people increasingly define themselves as individuals. As one ages they become more dependent on the care of others again, however having grown up in a time when family was at the centre of ones responsibilities, social life and identity, some experience a loss of purpose traditionally found in their family as their children and grandchildren now define themselves through their individual and separate lives.

– Manuela Bucce and Sheryl Arias with Esteban Vargas





Year 1 Brief: San Jose, Costa Rica. Saturday 1 – Saturday 15 August 2015

Our immersion into Costa Rica will begin on the first day with a pilgrimage, or Romeria, to the Basilica of  La Virgen de Los Angeles. A small indigenous figurine carved in black wood was found by a native woman at the site of the Basilica on the same day, 370 years ago. Legend has it, that she took the statue to her home several times, but each time it disappeared, miraculously reappearing at its origin. We will see the same figurine enshrined at the destination of the Pilgrimage. This story, not unlike many others which we will encounter, is interwoven within magic realism, and the eccentricities of this unique place.

Tropicality is a new visiting school programme which seeks to exfoliate the seeming to expose patterns and resistance in tropical dwelling through architectural stories about home, culture and place. During the course of the two week workshop, students will make a short film as a narrative composition of images (form, space, light, colour, materiality) and sound (voice, story, city, nature). This film intended to become a unique and perceptive form of architectural construct.

Students will work alongside tutors to formulate interview questions and set out to rouse and record the stories and experiences of those who live there. Based on observations, insights and documented stories, you will then compose your own story about architecture, domesticity and place, devising a diagram and drawing as a plan of action to then record and film sound and images of people, houses, streets, neighbourhoods and the city. Editing together of the collected images and sound into film will evolve through conversation with tutors.

The purpose of this workshop as an experiment is to cultivate extraordinary design insights, hone your compositional abilities as a designer and to refresh an architectural sensitivity and sensibility to the interrelationships of material organisations, space, and human perception and reaction.






Zona Roja #139 (Box Set Edition)





Special Thanks 

To our hosts, VERITAS University School of Architecture & Film School

the wonderful team at Veritas: Luis Diego Quiros Pacheco, Juan Carlos Sanabria, Jorge Loira, Gustavo Sanchez, Mike Smith, Adrian Aguilar, David Valverde, Esteban Vargas, Sofia Blanco, Kevin Fernandez, Octavio Rodriguez, Andrea Ledezma & Isabel Meza Araya 

Year One Researchers: Cindy Rojas, Kristel Ulate, Lucila Ortiz, Manuela Bucce, Mariela Quesada, Roberto Soto, Rolando Madrigal, Rosaura Montoya, Sergio  Nicolaas & Sheryl Arias.