San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Nosara recycling center approaches completion

The town of Nosara is famous for many things: proximity to Pacific beaches, multitudes of worldly expats and a whole lot of yoga. By mid-2014, Nosara will also boast one of the most advanced recycling centers in the country.

“The building is built,” said U.S.-based architect Tobias Holler. “The structure is completely erected. It’s very close. We just have to get through some bureaucratic hurtles.”

About three years ago, Holler met with the Civic Association of Nosara. A German native, Holler had spent a lot of time in Costa Rica – surfing its waves, hiking in Coronado and relishing Tico culture. He was looking for a new project, and he wanted to see what the people of Nosara lacked.

“They said, ‘We have a garbage problem,’” Holler recalled during a recent phone interview. “They didn’t think I was going to be interested. But I was very interested.”


Professor Tobias Holler, left, oversees construction of the Nosara Recycling Center. Courtesy of Ayana de Vos

Holler owns and operates Holler Architecture in New York City, where he also teaches at the New York Institute of Technology. Since that meeting in Nosara, Holler has managed to combine his many passions, designing the Nosara Recycling Center and conscripting NYIT students to help design and assemble the structure. This “student-led community” of builders known as sLAB, functions under the umbrella of NYIT and has enabled Holler to help the country he loves.

“The infrastructure for recycling is not in place yet,” Holler said. “The contrast is shocking, between the [eco-friendly] image of Costa Rica and the reality.”

The painful paradox is that Costa Rica, one of the most famously green countries in the world, has no serious national recycling program, and most solid waste is dumped into landfills. Indeed, Costa Ricans produce 2,400 tons of waste every day, according to Holler Architecture, and 250 tons are “dumped illegally into rives and tropical forests.” Less than 10 percent of the total output ends up recycled.

While most Ticos will never see these dumps firsthand, the country is nearly devoid of recycling bins or pickups. Despite some small initiatives, such as recycling collection at the Feria Verde in San José, Costa Ricans are largely unfamiliar with the daily practice of sorting paper, bottles and cans.

The Nosara structure is long and narrow and built mostly from wood; set in the shade of surrounding woods, the Center looks like a cross between a rustic cabin and an elementary school. As described by Holler Architecture, the facility was designed to be “an elongated building form, consisting of three zones (a sorting facility, an open lobby, and support spaces) … a common roof is placed horizontally along the existing slope of the site, minimizing excavation.”

So far, the project has incorporated about 30 NYIT students and countless members of the Nosara community. Among its many innovations, sLAB spearheaded two Kickstarter campaigns, using the online fundraising platform to collect charitable donations. The second campaign ended on May 21, surpassing its $15,000 goal by raising $21,350. Toller makes it clear that the Kickstarter money was not used for construction purposes, but to help transport student volunteers to Costa Rica. German filmmaker Ayana de Vos was hired to document the process.

As for the future of the facility, Holler will soon release the reins. “I’m not involved in the day-to-day meetings,” he said. Indeed, Holler does not plan to visit Costa Rica until January 2014, shortly before the Center is expected to open. In the meantime, he continues to juggle classes and professional projects.

“There’s a big portion of idealism,” Holler said of his busy schedule. “But being a professor gives me some flexibility to do the projects that I want to do. It’s very fulfilling.”

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