San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Unspectacular Year Foreseen for Construction Industry

RANDAL Murillo, manager of the Costa RicanConstruction Chamber, summed up his practical and somewhatunenthusiastic prophecy for the year in one sentence:“We don’t foresee big changes.”The Tico Times pressed him for his predictions on constructiontrends and areas of possible growth this year, andhe had some ideas, even some hope for certain areas, butthe overall forecast seemed to be for an average year.“We’re not in crisis, we’re not bad, but we don’t seegreat growth in any area,” he said.“There’s lots of uncertainty on the macroeconomiclevel. In industry and commerce there is great uncertaintyas to whether nationals and foreigners will continue toinvest in Costa Rica. It’s an election year with electoralcampaigns, and a lot of things depend on who wins thepresidency.”THERE is one area of growth, he said, in one region inparticular: Tourism should propel the Costa Rican constructionmachine this year, and it should happen in thetourists’ playground, the northwestern province ofGuanacaste.“There is big development on the level of tourism inGuanacaste.” Murillo said. “There is no big growth in anyof the construction sectors, but in Guanacaste, there is biggergrowth than what is typical.”Where? He mentioned the hordes of construction workersswarming over mammoth projects such as the FourSeasons Hotel and housing development.“Everything is led and thrust forward by the tourismsector. There are zones saturated with commercial development,but other areas are not.”HOUSING is one of those areas that will not changemuch, he said. New zoning plans in Escazú, a western suburbof San José, will block the construction of big buildingsthere, and he foresees a migration of construction projectstoward Alajuela, northwest of San José, and Heredia, northof the capital.Murillo also predicts the beginning of the gentrificationof San José’s downtown.“There could be renovation of abandoned buildings indowntown San José,” he said. “Commuters will move toSan José; it has the best infrastructure, plumbing and so onin the country. People could invest in the city center. Theproblem is, we don’t have enough incentives to entice peopleto come here – there is bad traffic, pollution, other problems– but some projects are under way.”THE chamber manager was hesitant to make predictionsabout changes in architecture, since style and taste arenot necessarily what he concerns himself with for a living,but he mentioned the two styles that are in now.The first is a rustic Mexican style, reminiscent of thearchitecture found in the southwestern United States,spearheaded by acclaimed architect Ronald Zürcher. Theother is best described as tropical architecture, exemplifiedby the equally acclaimed architect Bruno Stagno. It’s astyle that tries to harmonize the design with the natural surroundingsusing open spaces, lots of windows, not muchconcrete, and plants.From the point of view of style, housing, whichaccounts for 60-70% of construction in the country, probablywon’t move beyond cement-block construction andzinc roofing, Murillo said. About 80-85% of houses hereare built that way.“It’s a cultural issue. People think if a house isn’t madeout of cement block, it’s poorly made.Big commercial buildings are often made of prefabricatedsystems in cement, he said.“Big buildings haven’t been made out of cement blocksin years. It’s not practical. It’s not practical in houses,either, but people haven’t caught on yet.”FOREIGN investment has brought European and U.S.influences to building styles and materials. Murillo predictsmore “aggressive and varied” designs as a result of competitionand more international investment.Effects on the natural environment have not been overlooked.Now there is emphasis on better wastewater treatmentand low-impact building techniques that involve lessmovement of earth and fewer trees cut. Some “smart”buildings automatically turn off lights and lower air conditioningwhen the people have left, he said.

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