Sustainable Design and Planning Seminar


Costa Rica is arguably a leader in sustainable practices and policies.  The country holds nearly 30% of its landmass in reserve, and is considered a “BioGem” by the Natural Resource Council.  Costa Rica produces over 90% of its electricity through renewable sources such as hydroelectric, geothermal, and wind.  Further, the government has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2021, providing incentives for green investment and conservation to this end.   Reforestation and sustainable timber production has long been a policy focus – the forest cover has regrown from a low of 21% in 1987 to 52% as of 2005.  One could conclude that Costa Rica institutionally places natural capital at the center of its development.  Last, and not least, the country was voted the “greenest and happiest” in the world by the New Economics Foundation.[1]

This course broaches sustainable design through a lens of systems thinking.  It explores each of these systems in the Costa Rican context in order to understand design engagements between the built and natural environments through: water, energy/climate, materials/waste, food, and urbanization.  The work of the seminar connects readings and discussions of the larger issues to local practices in Costa Rica within each of these areas through lectures and field trips.

The course is integral to the pedagogy of this program. The Sustainable Futures program as a whole is designed to offer students an abroad practicum experience in a small rural community on sustainable projects identified in collaboration with the community.  The course is intended to put the professional work done by architects, landscape architects, and planners into a theoretical and international context.


  • To introduce systems-level areas of inquiry within sustainable design, with an emphasis on how they apply to Costa Rica
  • To examine case study examples of sustainable design within the community of Monteverde
  • To reflect on how sustainability is manifested in Costa Rica as compared with the US
  • To synthesize readings, lectures, and field trips into a set of proposed design ideas

The course will be offered during weeks 1-4, totaling 32.0 contact hours.
The course will meet Tu/Th from 10:00AM – 12:00PM, plus additional scheduled field trips.


  1. Students are expected to do a structured series of readings and come prepared to participate in discussion seminars.
  2. Each student is responsible to attend the lectures by scholars in the field and field trips offered by the Monteverde Institute.
  3. Students are required to synthesize readings, field trips, and lectures in small weekly exercises.
  4. Students are expected to demonstrate their understanding of the issues covered in this course through their design work.

In general, I will be looking for the following:

  • Active engagement with the seminar materials: asking questions and making comments during discussion sessions, field trips, and lectures are essential to learning.
  • Active support of peer’s engagement and inquiry into the course materials.
  • Resourceful, creative, inventive yet intentional, coherent and workable weekly design proposals.
  • Attendance and promptness, ability to meet deadlines.

A: Indicates exceptional work, coherently developed insights, and demonstrable mastery of the course content.  The student constructively engages, challenges, and criticizes issues raised in the course.  The student is constructively self-critical, and assumes responsibility for self-development while also encouraging development in colleagues.  The student understands how to seek feedback, and how to provide it for others.

B: Indicates thorough understanding.  The student addresses the issues raised in the course, but may not resolve or follow-through on nascent ideas.  The student is self-critical, but may struggle to resolve conflicting ideas.  The student generally meets project requirements, and understands basic concepts and materials.

C: Indicates latent understanding.  The student struggles to address the issues of the course, and does not follow through on ideas well. The student does not easily incorporate feedback, and needs improvement in critical thinking and communication skills.  The student meets minimum requirements.

D:Indicates unacceptable work. Indicates difficulties in understanding concepts and/ or productively engaging with them.  The student does not meet minimum requirements for advancing.

IU: Indicates work has not been completed and submitted.


See reading list for specific titles.


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