The No Footprint House (NFH) was developed by Oliver Schütte and his interdisciplinary office A-01 as a toolbox for sustainable and affordable housing that can be industrially manufactured in a wide range of models to cater for a broad customer segment. The first prototype to be built is located on the west coast of Costa Rica where it has been adapted to the site-specific conditions, as well as the ideas of its client as to the interior organization of spaces, material use and customized furniture.
Three different models have been designed for serial production: the NFH-36 measures 36 sqm to provide space for one bedroom, a bathroom, and a living room with kitchen corner and terrace; the NFH-81 includes the same program with two larger bedrooms that are distributed over a total surface of 81 sqm; the NFH-108, which is the largest model so far, comes with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large living-dining area with adjacent terraces. Whatever model is chosen, the material of the structure, finishes, furniture and service facilities can be adjusted by the occupant, who can choose from a broad catalog of prefabricated components. All elements and materials are based on a thorough investigation concerning their origin, processing and environmental behaviour. Customizable, easy-to-build, economically and environmentally sustainable, the NFH units are designed for a comfortable and responsible lifestyle in the tropical climate of Central America.
Building one of the models for a Dutch family of four was an excellent opportunity to optimize the series, test and adapt it to real-life situations. The family chose for the NFH-108 to be built on their land in Ojochal, a small village at the edge of the vast tropical rain forests along the South Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Their new house was prefabricated in the country’s Central Valley, which is where the largest urban conglomeration of Central America is located. Logistically, it is the ideal place for a prefabrication plant because of its natural accumulation of industrial services and availability of construction materials, as well its excellent connectivity to all areas of the country. From there, the NFH was transported to its target destination on one single truck. Having a specific client and context was a consequent step for optimizing the model in terms of its spatial layout and details, prefabrication process and assembly on site. The A-01 team adapted the generic layout of the prototype according to the prevailing impact of winds, rain and sun, as well as the existing vegetation and particular activities of the future inhabitants who were actively involved in the process of co-shaping their home.
Given its location in a humid tropical climate, the building design responds to its surrounding habitat by incorporating passive climate control with natural ventilation and solar shading. The NFH is built and organized around a central service core, which includes all machinery, closets, bathrooms, kitchen and laundry area. The concentration of utilities enables an open floorplan all around that core. It also contributes to the efficiency of the building in terms of assembly and maintenance. The core is the rigid center of the building in terms of seismic resistance, as well as its mechanical heart. All service lines enter or leave through a double-layered main wall, which is situated at the center of core and house. The NFH-108 measures 12 by 9 meters, its floating structural cage is rested on 20 concrete foundations. The elevated position supports natural ventilation on all sides of the building. According to the wishes of the client, the house in Ojochal was built as a steel structure with wooden finishes.
Standing off the ground on its raised platform, the NFH is covered by an ample trapezoid roof. The irregular shape is created by the fact that the facades raise from the rectangular floorplan of the building to the varying heights of the single-sloped roof, which ultimately results in a diamond-shaped envelope. The outer timber-slat walls are set at an incline to reduce the direct impact of sunlight and rainwater. Operable panels can be opened to enhance air circulation and connectivity. They convert interior into exterior spaces and play with the indoor-outdoor dynamic of tropical architecture. The more private sections of the house can be closed off with different layers of glass sliders and curtains, allowing for changing degrees of spatial separation or social integration. Towards the ceiling, fixed panels of mosquito netting prevent insects from entering while maintaining air circulation.
The house in Ojochal is connected to the public energy grid, which proved to be the most sustainable solution as practically all electricity is derived from renewable resources in Costa Rica. Only water is heated locally by solar power, which is harvested on top of the roof. The larger catalog of building typologies includes fully independent configurations in terms of self-sufficiency and energy-autarky for off-grid locations. The NFH has been designed to blend with its natural surroundings and minimize the impact of construction on the environment. The project seeks to attain comprehensive sustainability in terms of environmental, economic, social and spatial performance.
The toolbox of the NFH typologies was developed from 2015 to 2016. The prototype in Ojochal was prefabricated and brought on site in 2016. The period from 2017 to 2018 was used to collect data and improve the prototype for serial production, which will be available as of 2020. The project is the first of its kind in Central America.
A-01 is a multidisciplinary network organization. We link different entities for the creation of integrally sustainable solutions in urban and rural development. Our work methodology is designed to break the boundaries of a single profession or perspective in order to allow for a holistic approach that shapes our products. We envision a long-term impact that involves economic growth, a high quality spatial surrounding, a responsible use of natural resources and an equal social development. This complex set of factors that we simply refer to as “the 4 E’s” -Economy, Engineering, Environment, and Equity- is researched and brought into an optimized relationship. A topical focus is set according to the specific project requirements. Each assignment is carried out with a custom fit team of experts and entities, introducing A Company and its non-profit counterpart A Foundation as operational vehicles.