Like a novel written by a poet, the wild architecture of German artist Mark Huebner is a hand-wrought meditation on place and the senses. Here we wander the winding pathways of Ojo del Mar, the solar-powered “simple life retreat” Huebner created with Niko Fischer, and explore an artful world where human habitat plays with that of howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, and green iguanas.
An accomplished artist as well as author of a cadre of intricate bamboo timber works, Huebner’s vision has truly flourished at Ojo del Mar, where the pegged bamboo structures and hand-made furniture are carefully crafted of and with their jungle landscape.
Ojo has been an experiment in tropical architecture that skips foreign and unsustainable building materials. The elegant result embraces its location on a rugged beach adjacent to one of Costa Rica’s wildest and most biodiverse national parks.
Huebner has learned the hard way that the Osa peninsula’s intense weather swings and aggressive jungle make it a tough place to build anything that lasts, especially if you’re trying to avoid concrete. In order to maintain structures that withstand searing heat and off the charts humidity, endless insects, and pummeling rainy-season downpours, Mark has made a few concrete concessions and replaced some aging bamboo with eucalyptus poles. But for the most part, his “casa grande” lodge, 10 or so guest and staff structures, and all the furniture, are hewn from pegged bamboo and hardwoods grown on or near the property and finished with natural oils.
Ojo’s casa grande hosts a formal dining space, barefoot lounge extraordinaire, open-air whole foods kitchen, and guest library. It’s also a timber-framed shelter and rainforest art installation, a delightful study in both intricacy and economy of design.
Huebner built a scale model to scheme out Ojo’s casa grande, now collapsed and tucked in the shed. Originally built with bamboo, the casa grande’s lengthy timbers were replaced with eucalyptus after a decade or so of tropical living. Huebner prefers building (and re-building) light and temporary, acknowledging the jungle will take it all back in the end anyhow.
Eucalyptus roundwood timber framing in the casa grande lodge. Huebner uses a home made jig to hold joints in place while mortises are drilled.
Niko’s cooking is fresh fish forward, with a yummy and educational emphasis on local fruits and vegetables.
Abundant tropical flowers are grown on site and artfully arranged in all the structures.
A former agricultural area, Ojo has been re-cultivated as an extension of the wild rainforest protected in nearby Corcovado National Park. Structures are small and scattered along winding paths that tour dense jungle gardens. Since the grounds are actually a regenerating ecosystem with a diversity of habitat niches, guests are treated to close encounters with acrobatic howler and spider monkeys swinging through the upper canopy, a colorful company of lizards and frogs sharing the walkways, and a perpetual symphony of bird song and fluttering wings as bright hummingbirds, parrots and trogons go about their daily business.
Huebner has re-thought the western bathroom, replacing it with outdoor showers and sinks, and hand-sculpted, plumbed outhouses.
Bamboo and timber outhouse with a trademark Huebner hingeless door.
Each guest space is unique, but all carry similar elements and are artfully designed and curated for ‘outside in’ living.
Nature’s forms are on display, gallery like, everywhere you turn!
“Bamboo is not only sustainable, it’s sexy,” says Huebner.
Abundant heliconia flowers delight birds and butterflies alike.
What would a Costa Rican lodge be without a yoga studio? Ojo’s beachside studio hosts a variety of wellness retreats.
A sitting area in the casa grande common area.
Each unique guest cabina is open to the rainforest, and located on its own winding path. While Ojo’s typical guests are certainly not of the high-brow wealthy set, increasing Western visitors and expats in a region where people make $3 per hour is creating tension on the Osa Peninsula. Huebner opts to prevent theft through maintaining long term relationships with local community members, as well as individual lock boxes (handmade, of course) in each guest space, rather than the heavy security and barbed wire fencing used at some resorts.
Huebner’s doors and gates show you how to swing with no hinges!
Quiet beaches dot the Matapulo coast, reached by a 45 minute, jarring drive on a pot-holed dirt road from Puerto Jimenez. This one’s a short, barefoot walk down the beach from Ojo del Mar.
With limited wifi (Niko offers her phone as a hotspot when needed) and abundant ocean-view hammocks, guests can disconnect and reconnect.
Thanks to Mark and all at Ojo del Mar!
Photosynthetic Neighborhoods by Henry S. Horn is a piece featured in Princeton’s 2013 Art of Design online gallery. In it, the “artist” – professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton – contrasts the cellular cluster of plant leaves with an aerial photo of an American neighborhood. He writes:
Leaves carry out photosynthesis in clusters of cells locally serviced by end-units of pipes hat deliver water and take away sugar. The cells must be within diffusion distance of pores to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen. Diffusion may set an upper limit on the size of an efficient cluster, and quasi-fractal branching of pipelines may set a lower limit. Accordingly, many species of local woody plants show photosynthetic clusters of approximately uniform size, and these clusters themselves group hierarchically into neighborhoods of successively larger sizes. The photo fields are 4 millimeters wide, except for the aerial photo of human neighborhoods.
Why do these images of seaweed ladies and moss men matter to designers? Because each is mirror and portal. Not of what you should make, but of who you could be.
These indescribably important images come from Eyes as Big as Plates, an international exhibition by a duo of finnish photographers, Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikone.
Singing just past the threshold of what I have tried to say, the gorgeous Laura Mvula offers a brilliant invitation to get outside, get barefoot, and sit in the green garden.
Americans have been busy transforming the east shore of San Francisco Bay since the late 1800s, filling in tidal marshes with parking lots and in the process trading dynamic ecological function with industrial barrens. An ambitious lightbulb-shaped peninsula appeared off the Albany shore in 1963, laid down with construction waste as a future landfill. But legal action halted the flow of trash in 1984, and the “Albany Bulb” was given back to nature, time, and chance.
In the last 30 years or so, wildness has reclaimed this space we reclaimed from the bay. The 25 acre rip rap and rebar base has been colonized by a vibrant succession of plants and trees, many of them “invasives.” But even if you view the non-natives as unnatural (and I hope you will not), you’ll agree the process by which they appear is consistent with “natural” ecological succession around the globe. I know of no effort to intervene and ecologically “restore” the Bulb, likely because its nonlinear history quickly deflates our assumptions about ecological restoration. Restore exactly what to its conditions when?
Early in the ecological succession of the Albany Bulb, some keystone species appeared: homeless humans and Bay Area artists. A small community of semi-temporary dwellings has resisted waves of law enforcement, perhaps helped by the Bulb’s unique geography and cultural ambiguity. It’s now part of the East Bay Parks system, but its free-for-all technicolor murals and rip rap shoreline feel more urban than they do natural or park-like.
Several human-shaped sculptures stand watch over its northern shore, including a 12′ woman with a cascade of tree branch hair, scrap metal skirts, and driftwood arms raised to the sky. Intentional or no, the sculpture embodies the peninsula’s deft meanderings between the worlds of culture and nature: a human made of trash, and of the earth. Where our engineers failed to consider ecological function and biodiversity in the creation of the Bulb, our artists have participated gracefully in its ongoing environmental design.
Spending a morning walking the Bulb’s trails and shorelines, as I have just done, is good for perspective. It’s a place where our world is mixed up on a scale and register we are not used to. Sea water twinkles and swirls around its concrete beaches and tinny music radiates from the tent dwellings, carried by a breeze along the water. The colors of the rainbow are painted on its concrete, rocks that we’ve already ground and processed, built, torn down, and thrown “away.”
At the top of the promontory, on a gentle knob facing Golden Gate bridge and surrounded by thickets of brush, we found an old walking labyrinth. Though many of the chunks of concrete serving as its markers had been displaced by weather or overgrown by lush grasses, the pattern of the spiral footpath was obvious. We added our steps to those before us, transforming the ground as we followed a densely twisting path defined by an absence of forks or choices.