Costa Rica Treehouse

Architecture firm: Olson Kundig

Location: Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Category: Three

Project site: Not previously developed

Building program type(s): Residential - single-family detached

Built for environmentalist clients who surf, this carbon-positive house is inspired by the jungle that surrounds it on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The home is made entirely of locally harvested teak, and it engages with the jungle on each of its three levels. It was envisioned as an open-air surfer’s hut that allows ocean breezes and ample daylight to permeate its spaces.

When staying at the house, the routine of the clients and their two young children revolves entirely around surfing. They move back and forth between the property and the water, from morning until night, underscoring their intimate relationship with the incredibly bio-diverse jungle.

At the start of the project, the clients introduced the design team to their temporary home, a tent that sat atop a wooden platform in a small natural clearing. Originally built by the mother of one of the clients, the tent’s double-canvas layer offered protection from the elements, while the platform elevated them above the activity of the jungle floor. The tent informed the clients’ vision for a new home: a simple but  more permanent fixture in the landscape.

In the new home, the ground floor opens to the jungle floor, while the middle level is nestled in the trees. The top level stands above the tree canopy, offering the family sweeping views of surf at nearby Playa Hermosa beach. A series of wooden screens—hand-operable to foster active engagement with the context—on all floors allow air and light into the house. As a result, the quality of light shifts throughout the day as framed and filtered views respond to the interplay of light and shadow.

“The natural-formed trees as columns work very well here. It’s cool that it is entirely wood and that the exterior expression fits right into the jungle.”– Jury comment

A generous roof overhang functions much like a tree canopy, offering shade and rain protection. A 3.5 kW solar array on the roof supplies all of the home’s power during daylight hours and also powers the pool’s circulation pump. During the rainy season, all water needs are met using a subterranean rain catchment system.

In many ways, the home is a large solar umbrella sitting on four live-edge teak logs and enclosed by porous screens. Though it is not an indigenous species, teak grows quickly in Costa Rica, and much of the wood was sourced locally. The home was built by a local builder and craftsmen, using as much local material as possible.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2017

Gross conditioned floor area: 2140 sq. ft.

Project team

Design Principal: Tom Kundig, FAIA, RIBA

Principal: Kevin Kudo-King, AIA, LEED® AP

Project Architect: Martina Bendel  

Associate Architect and Structural Engineer: Daniel Sancho

General Contractor: Dante Medri Gizmo

Design: KB Architectural Services

Landscape Architect: Vida Design Studio

Lighting Design: Niteo Lighting

Mechanical and Electrical Engineer: Energetica Soluciones y Consultoria


Chandra Robinson, AIA, (Chair), LEVER Architecture, Portland, Ore.

Katherine Hogan, AIA, Katherine Hogan Architects, Raleigh, N.C.

Chris Baribeau, AIA, Modus Studio, Fayetteville, Ark.

David Corban, AIA, David Corban Architects, Naples, Fla.

Madhubala Ayyamperumal, Assoc. AIA, Gensler, San Francisco

Image credits

Costa Rica Treehouse 3

Nic Lehoux

Costa Rica Treehouse 4

Nic Lehoux

Costa Rica Treehouse 5

Nic Lehoux

Costa Rica Treehouse 6

Nic Lehoux

Costa Rica Treehouse 7

Nic Lehoux