Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.


Studying sustainability in Costa Rica

February 10, 2009

In early January, 20 students from Colorado universities joined students from the University of Costa Rica to study sustainable development and green building in Costa Rica, a country that continues to search for ways to protect its rich ecological heritage. The course, planned to be annual event, was created by Institute for the Built Environment and the Department of Construction Management.

The following is an account of the experience, written by Clayton Bartczak and Helene Gotthelf, students from the graduate program in Sustainable Building in the Department of Construction Management.

A wonderful world

"I see skies of blue, clouds of white, bright blessed days, dark sacred nights. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world..."

Studying in Costa Rica…and thus, our trip began. Brian Dunbar, our professor from Colorado State University (CSU), had given us our first assignment - listen to Louis Armstrong, look out among the lagoons of Palo Verde National Park, and breathe in the humidity.

Impact through understanding

During the first morning, we learned we were just two among twenty six other students: eight Costa Rican students (ticos, as they fondly call themselves) and eighteen other students from Colorado representing both CSU and the University of Colorado at Denver. The course was led by two outstanding professors, Dunbar from CSU and Alejandro Ugarte from the University of Costa Rica. Although everyone came from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, it was clear that we all came to make a positive impact on the world through a better understanding of sustainability and green building.

Experiencing nature's classrooms

WildlifeThe classes were amazing. We had a total of seventeen class sessions in eleven different settings. We learned while celebrating the sun at Playa Hermosa, overlooking lagoons at Palo Verde National Park, during a tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest, sketching in an old barn, within forest classrooms and the list goes on.

We were constantly connected to our surroundings in a way that is impossible to achieve inside a traditional classroom. Because we spent so much time outside, we were able to experience a plethora of wildlife. Everyone was "ooing" and "ahhing" at iguanas, spider monkeys, tarantulas, wild pigs, howler monkeys, crocodiles, quetzals, and other fascinating animals many of us had never seen before. Not to mention the variety of fauna, especially at Monteverde. We came to realize the majesty of all living creatures of the world. Being close to such a variety and abundance of life reminded us that we all share the same home and that we must therefore all do our part to protect it.

Lectures applied to group projects

Each of our class lectures were tied together and applied through our group projects. Halfway through the course, Brian and Alejandro split us into six separate teams, each consisting of unique disciplines and cultures. We learned so much from one another, as we all had varying backgrounds (architecture, urban planning, construction management, interior design, business, landscape architecture, civil engineering and textiles).

Studying in Costa RicaOur assignment was to plan and design a sustainable lodging facility for up to forty visitors and the necessary staff. We were to approach our projects through a Charrette-like process, although each group developed design details as well. We were to consider everything we had learned throughout our course: sense of place, connection to region, community, thermal comfort, water, energy systems, site design, materials, sustainable construction practices, and biomimicry. We were given the choice to design for Palo Verde National Park or Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Our group chose to improve the existing structures at Palo Verde. This location was unique because Palo Verde already has grant funding set aside specifically for structural enhancements. It is exciting to know that our design may actually help Palo Verde in planning their facility improvements!

 Assignment presents unique challenges

This hands-on design project was different than any class assignment either of us had done in the past. All we needed to do was step outside for inspiration. It was also unique because of the boundaries that exist within Costa Rica. We were presented with a very limited budget and, therefore, a limited boundary for materials. We were all pushed to think about the design and construction process from a perspective other than that of the United States. This was one of the greatest challenges and assets to the project. Our projects were presented the last two days of class and each group’s presentation demonstrated the immense amount of knowledge we gained about sustainable design and construction.

Making the experience personal

As our final assignment, we were asked to write a personal mission statement along with action steps to complete that mission. Brian and Alejandro asked us to consider everything we learned in the course and consider how we were going to apply it to our education, our careers, and our personal lives. We spent our last class session listening to everyone speaking about their personal mission statements, reflecting on the past eleven days, and committing to live a more sustainable lifestyle in the future. It was difficult to say goodbye to such a beautiful country and thirty beautiful people, but we couldn’t help but smile inside at the knowledge gained, the amazing experiences we shared, and the confidence to move forward with our own goals for a sustainable future.

Contact: Brian Dunbar
Phone: (970) 491-0244