It is rare to come across places where architecture, particularly contemporary buildings, complements a beautiful natural setting in a decidedly positive way. Most locations are appreciated either because of the landscape, or the architecture, not both. Buildings designed by world-class masters tend to be built in stark contrast to the landscape they are surrounded by, and if we were asked to take a perfect shot of a gorgeous view anywhere, we would most likely make sure that nothing manmade gets in the way. These two contrasting worlds are successfully brought into harmony at Bahías — Antoine Predock's latest masterwork at Costa Rica's famed Peninsula Papagayo.
By Vladimir Belogolovsky | February 27, 2021 | New York
Real Estate

Framed by back-to-back bays 250 feet above the Pacific in the Papagayo Gulf, this pristine eco-paradise on Costa Rica’s north pacific is being adorned by an architectural wonder. An intercalation of concrete, stone, copper, and glass into an inviting canopy of tropical dry forest. Predock calls his creation here the necklace.

Antoine Predock (b.1936 in Lebanon, Missouri) was a natural choice for this dream project; unlike most leading architects he works predominantly outside of urban centers. Practicing out of Albuquerque, New Mexico since 1966, he developed his unique sensibility, characterized by poetic bold forms, seemingly emerging right out of the local geology, effectively blurring distinctions between the manmade and the natural. The winner of the Rome Prize and the top honor in America – the 2006 American Institute of Architects Gold Medal – Predock realized over one hundred buildings all across the United States, Canada, China, and Qatar. I caught up with Antoine Predock over FaceTime between New York and Albuquerque to discuss original intentions and inspirations for his unique vision.

Vladimir Belogolovsky: What attracted you to Costa Rica?

Antoine Predock: Throughout my life Costa Rica has been a mythical dream country to me. Yet, I never visited until this opportunity with Bahías. I traveled in the region and I thought I had a sense of what it would be like. But it really surprised me, especially the culture of peace and feeling you get from people here. When Ticos greet you, instead of saying buenos días or good morning in Spanish, they say pura vida, which literally means pure life. There is a feeling of such exuberance here. So, of course, when we were asked to do a project at Peninsula Papagayo, we immediately agreed. I was very excited.

VB: You feel a heightened intimacy with nature on this site. Could you talk about the relationship of your architecture to the landscape?

AP: What drives my work is the soul of a place, both physical and spiritual. In Costa Rica, nature is a dominating force. When you come to Papagayo, you are not merely looking at nature, you are in it. We wanted to create a fully immersive experience that would honor the cultural landscape – not to bring something predetermined, but to derive our design out of the place itself. Treading lightly on the land was imperative.

Setting of the new Bahías neighborhood on Huevos Bay.

VB: Preserving natural features can be a delicate balance. What were some of the challenges here?

AP: What took me by surprise is that right away, once you enter the site you find yourself immersed in the jungle. The sheltering tree canopy is overwhelmingly beautiful. You get a feeling of being protected by a hovering umbrella. There were many landmark trees to protect. The area is known for its volcanos. On a clear day you can see the iconic Arenal Volcano. There are tufa strata emerging from the slopes, outcroppings of some of the oldest rock formations in the country, and large boulders throughout. These stones, the tree canopy, the sky, and the Pacific Ocean became the anchors of my architecture – earth, air, fire, and water are all there.

I wanted to dance here

Antoine Predock

VB: Architects are known for inventing their own worlds. What were some of your initial thoughts when you saw the site for the first time and what kind of place did you want to turn it into?

AP: The feeling of exploring this place is very cinematic. I wanted to dance here! I imagined a choreographic event on this beautiful ridge, which is kind of schizophrenic because it sits between two very different worlds – vast Pacific Ocean on one side of the ridge and Culebra Bay on the other. It is such a beautiful site; such wonderful topographic variations must be celebrated. The ridge is very dynamic – gently sloping away one moment and abruptly plunging off toward the ocean the next. The site itself assured that all 13 houses would be very different, adjusted to very specific nuances of the landform.

VB: Your inspirations often come from geological formations and unique typologies. What was your overall design vision for these 13 houses?

AP: First, I don’t see Bahías as 13 houses, but rather a single continuous event. One vision brought together by roof lines, a gentle canopy, a shade of green. That’s why I chose blue-green color copper for all roofs flowing, undulating, like the surrounding forest. These roofs float independently, they don’t touch each other, but they are all tied together in a continuous flow. And as these roofs hover above, there is a necklace of stone that anchors all the houses below along the ridge lane that links all the houses, like a dance that’s twisting and turning. Every volume, space, and terrace are a part of a single continuity flowing like beads dancing along the necklace. To me the connection is spiritual. The reason for selecting copper is malleability. What metal yields? What metal bends and curves? I had a vision of manmade foliage, a gentle roller coaster. And the color is green because I love green patina color of European cathedrals or Buddhist bells in Japan. We will freeze the oxidation process to achieve the precise green color to harmonize with the trees and the ocean.

VB: You once observed, “A building is not what’s standing there, it is the process that went into making it alive.” Could you take me through your design process?

AP: My design process for Bahías involved deep research and investigation about local history, culture, geology, and the Pacific Coastal ecosystem. But more importantly, to be on the site, feel it, smell it, photograph it, and sketch it. I drew every detail of the site.

VB: Do you see these 13 houses as a family of siblings, or is each unique?

AP: That’s a good word – siblings. There are 13 houses on 13 unique sites. Each homesite has different conditions, shapes and sizes. We had to find a personality profile for each site. Each offers something unique – stone formations, a boulder, a special tree, a variation of a view. It was the topography that really defined each house. They all have different personalities, and each is entered differently – by climbing up, descending, and so on.

VB: I understand these houses will be second homes — trophy properties for collectors of exclusive luxury real estate around the world. How did you address that?

AP: Honestly, this is not how I see these houses. To me they are homes where people will live. I don’t see them as vacation houses. These places are very site-specific, very much rooted in this magical place. I haven’t done anything like it before. I never built in the jungle before. This experience is totally new for me. The intention here was to design the kind of architecture that comes out of its place, reflecting our time, and responding to the environment all around. The idea was to build something that will, with time, acquire an authority and permanence on its own. And we are using very solid substantial materials – mainly concrete and stone – to achieve longevity. Our concrete will be pigmented and wonderfully rich and layered by integrating the color with soil and beach sand.

VB: When you talk about architecture, you use such words as landscape, dance of light, poetic encounter, magic, optimism, spontaneous, procession, choreography. What words would you use to describe this place here?

AP: I would use all these words and add – the atmosphere of sensory saturation. There are all kinds of sounds – from the ocean, birds and animals, rustling of foliage of the tropical dry forest, and gusts of wind. It is like nature being unleashed.

VB: What about the words escape and refuge?

AP: I prefer another one – exotic adventure. It implies an escape.

VB: You have said before that your architecture is an adventure, a fascinating journey toward the unexpected. What will it be like for the people who will live here? How will these houses feel to live in?

AP: I want people to wake up here, take a deep breath of fresh ocean air, and savor the magical atmosphere that is all around. And I promise you – they will feel blessed and happy.

To see more of Bahías, go to explorebahias-cr.com.