The challenges and advantages of building and developing green
By Jonathan Jucker Original Print Publication: September, 2008
Ecological design servicesand books: oasisdesign.net
Sustainable architecture: michellewis.com
Huehuecoyotl Eco Village: huehuecoyotl.net
Permaculture Institute: permaculture.org
Regenerative development: regenesisgroup.com
Loreto Bay: loretobay.com
Playa Viva: playaviva.com
Mexico Green Building Council: mexicogbc.org
US Green Building Council: usgbc.org
At a place called Playa Viva near Juluchuca, Guerrero, about thirty minutes south of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo International Airport, a new resort has opened that takes sustainable development seriously.
The Playa Viva project is the brainchild of husband and wife team David Leventhal and Sandra Kahn, who purchased eighty hectares of land, including a 1.2 kilometer beach, and began planning a resort community with a different business model.
They were inspired by a talk given by Bill Reed of the Regenesis Group, a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based consultancy that specializes in "Regenerative Development." According to Leventhal, "Building green is doing less damage; building sustainable is net neutral, building in a regenerative manner is making [your environment] better."
This philosophy has prompted Playa Viva to work to revive coastal forests and wetlands on their property; preserve and restore a nearby archeological site along with INAH (Mexico's national anthropology and history institute); and work with the local community to try to spread sustainable practices (see Permaculture sidebar).
An early challenge Leventhal and Kahn faced was how to build on beaches and dunes without destroying the subterranean plants that hold the sand in place and prevent catastrophic erosion. Together with master designer Ayrie Cunliffe, they settled on a solution that is at once radical and simple: mature living palms were transplanted into position on the beach to serve as structural anchors, and the development's casita residences were built treehouse-style among them. The trees' root system shores up the sand against erosion, and as a building material they are entirely renewable.
Treehouse expert Michael Garnier of Oregon was brought in to help with the design of the units-floors are a few feet above ground level, and the structures have been successfully tested to support nearly five tons of weight, more than enough for even the large three-bedroom units. The palapa-style cabins are well ventilated by ocean breezes, eliminating the need for air conditioning.
But don't get the wrong impression: these aren't rustic accommodations for backpackers looking to hang out on the cheap. Playa Viva is riding out real estate troubles in the US by focusing its marketing on hotel guests instead of fractional buyers, and is fully booked. Even in the heat of summer, guests are lining up to pay $285 USD per night for the luxury casitas.
It turns out that building green can be smart business.