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2018 MCHAP

Cave of Light (SIFAIS)

Entre Nos Atelier

La Carpio, Costa Rica

April 2016


Michael Smith-Masis / Entre Nos Atelier • Alejandro Vallejo Rivas / Entre Nos Atelier


Juan Tuk ( Structural Engineer ) Adolfo Mejía / Maderotec (Director) • Name Ing. Javier Bolaños & Ing. Pablo Hernández / MEP S.A. (Electrical and Mechanical Engineer)


Maris Stella Fernandez / SIFAIS Foundation


Ingrid Johanning


SIFAIS seeks social transformation operating upon a highly dense restricted urban slum territory. The program is based on users needs, environmental constraints and limited resources. Thus the design process included key stakeholders, where most important design guidelines pointed efficient constrains related with the budget, multifunctional spaces and effective circulations to facilitate seamless interaction between the different areas, levels and immediate surroundings. The architectural premise required designing a double-bodied 4 level open plan building comprising on a 2690 square feet footprint a total area of 10764 square feet. Ground level undertakes most public recreational areas, amphitheater, exhibition hall and administrative facilities. The second, third and fourth floors contain open-plan multifunctional spaces that can be privatized when required with lightweight divisions and acoustic panels. Furthermore between the 2 ‘bodies’ a system of ramps and staircase generates an atrium, which serves as a gallery, transitional space and guarantee universal accessibility at all levels. The Cave of Light is a project that questions the limits of urban development in our cities. It is a reflection that citizen empowerment and the sum of public and private wills, can go beyond the “formal” urban restrictions in "codes” that often contradict common sense and community aspirations. It is a project that proposes the social habitat construction from a viable, manageable and accessible way, within the complexity of the context-city scale.


The Cave of Light project was designed pro bono, where Entre Nos Atelier became an "strategic partner" of La Carpio community and SIFAIS foundation (Integral System for Artistic Formation) a private nonprofit initiative that promotes personal growth and social integration through the teaching and learning of an artistic and life skills in marginal communities. The development process strengthened a collaborative network among: community, government, NGOs and private enterprises; generating a proven dynamic where over 130 workshops have been taught by volunteers wherever new design challenges are arising. The Cave of Light is not derived merely from the architecture, but from the genuine needs of its users. However architecture has an essential role to ensure and shelter the future of generation’s spaces to provide community support in the largest slum in San José. The center was created to enhance a space for multi -via learning where all participants are beneficiaries of the process; both learning as they teach; those who give, as those who receive; the attendees in their immediate families. The importance of the program and urban requalification, is formalized in the imprint of the wooden building, the largest in the region; located in one of the most socially vulnerable area of the greater metropolitan area, and it is possible to replicate this model in other parts of the country. Furthermore one of the supposedly more "dangerous " places of San José has become the "Cave of light" thanks to the contribution of everyone involved.


The project has led to a series of initiatives and interventions that are causing collateral urban regeneration from human relationships and active citizenship. The effectiveness of an urban acupuncture strategy stands as evidence of users appropriation processes; e.g. when the project was not completed yet, it was used when site conditions allowed it. So far 900 community members of all ages have access to the weekly base programs, incorporating 150 tutors volunteers into an: orchestra, dojo, music school, community center, fab-lab, among others. In terms of the construction, budget constraints required rethinking the structural system into a serial close-repeated laminated wood braced frames rather than concrete & steel as initially conceived; achieving 30% savings based on local wood experts recommendations. It is in fact a vertical wood building local innovation build precedent, located in a marginal community. The environmental design strategy mainly consists on an atrium space for visual comfort and structural frames, which allow incorporating wood vents and operable panels for natural, cross ventilation and daylight. Furthermore the galvanized mesh and sheets in the envelope provided a sense of secure enclosure and rain protection. Since the project does not require complex construction systems due the dense-complex urban urban environment, it is a 100% portable. All timber can be re-assembled or reuse in case of reconfiguration as an important sustainable principle. Additionally all wood accounts 224,000 tons of sequestered CO2 emissions. The project revalues ??its context and serves as a catalyst for new vertical alternatives for site empowerment.

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