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  • Writer's pictureArch. Jose Herrero

From the Origin: The Value of Locality in Sustainable Architecture and Design

Often, as architects or designers, we have heard about the environmental benefits and sustainability that comes with working on architecture or interior design projects with local producers or suppliers.

Personally, as the director of a design studio, I have experienced a significant change in how I choose suppliers, ever since I set out to understand why collaborating with local actors is a sustainable practice. Additionally, I have committed to explaining the reasons behind this choice to both the people I work with and the clients of the office.

Here, I share some of the reasons why this practice makes a project sustainable:

Reducing the carbon footprint:

Perhaps the first and most logical reason is the reduction of the carbon footprint that comes with working with producers who are in the same community, region, or country where the project is being developed.

By opting for materials or resources found nearby, long-distance transportation is minimized, resulting in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, simply reducing the mileage required to build a project not only benefits the environment but also has a positive impact on the project's economy. Fewer miles traveled translate not only into environmental benefits but also into cost savings and reduced energy consumption during the transportation process, resulting in significant reductions in the energy and economic costs associated with the project.

Kitchen and fixed furniture in Hotel Bauma project crafted by Palmares supplier
All the kitchens and fixed furniture for the Hotel Bauma project were made by a supplier from Palmares, Alajuela.

Boosting the local economy:

One of the reasons I appreciate the most is the opportunity to collaborate with local companies and witness how they can benefit from the development of a project in the locality, especially if they are small or medium-sized enterprises. This type of collaboration offers a series of significant benefits, such as job creation and the economic growth of local companies. Additionally, it promotes autonomy and economic resilience in the face of fluctuations in the global market, which, as we all know, are commonplace.

One of the most notable benefits of projects that promote the local economy is the strengthening of trust ties among the various actors in the community. This mutual collaboration creates a sense of trust and belonging that contributes to a better reception of the projects within the area where they are developed.

Construction process of ceramic lamps by Salvar Ceramics
Salvar Ceramics, a national artisan company specializing in ceramic pieces, crafted all decorative lamps for the hotel

Preserving local identity:

Preserving cultural and architectural identity should be a fundamental aspect when developing a design project. By using traditional materials and construction techniques, a harmonious integration of the project with its surroundings and the community is achieved, which denotes a deep respect for local history and culture.

Additionally, working with traditional construction techniques from the area promotes the transmission of knowledge from one generation to another, thus defining local architecture and design. This preservation process contributes to the continuity and enrichment of cultural heritage, establishing a connection between the past, present, and future of the region.

All beds at Hotel Bauma were crafted by furniture producers from Santa Rosa, a rural town located an hour away from La Fortuna.

Countering gentrification processes:

Finally, preserving local identity can counteract the gentrification of localities. In Costa Rica, areas such as Santa Teresa, Nosara, and Tamarindo face increasing gentrification that threatens to erode their cultural identity. This complex phenomenon has radically transformed the social and economic fabric of these areas, unfortunately displacing low-income residents from their homes and communities.

However, it is possible to mitigate this negative impact by collaborating closely with local producers, respecting their traditions, and promoting inclusive development that preserves the diversity and authenticity of the local community and promotes them to be part of the region's development they grew up in.

Santa Rosa carpenters crafting hotel doors near La Fortuna
Carpenters from Santa Rosa, a town near La Fortuna, working on the construction of the hotel doors

I conclude this article by inviting readers to see sustainability in a different way than they did before. In architecture and design in general, sustainability is a responsibility that goes beyond energy efficiency and waste reduction (something important that I would like to discuss in the future). By working with local producers and suppliers, we not only promote the regional economy and reduce the carbon footprint of the projects we develop but also consider and integrate the local actors who are part of the region.

It is important not only to consider the value of each material and element that is part of the construction but also to consider the human value of the people who are part of the construction development. This is essential to build a future where the sustainable concept not only encompasses ecological issues but also considers the social sphere, resulting in the creation of spaces that reflect the diversity and authenticity of communities."

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