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In the small town of Mal País, on the southernmost tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, the Pacific Ocean brushes the Costa Rican coastline. Between silence and nature’s symphonic sounds, winds bristle as the sea swishes circadian rhythms onto open land. A plot of land sought after for five years, co-creator of Zunya Diego Dosal told us how, from such a secluded sanctuary of tropical nature it came to house Zunya and form the breeding ground for “a regenerative living system” where hospitality meets purpose.
“As we entered the property in February 2019, the sun was setting exactly in the middle of the property and, at that moment, I remember telling my wife, Carlita, that I had no doubt that this was the right place,” said Dosal, the co-creator of the mixed-use development merging hospitality and residential areas with commercial and public spaces in a new and all-inclusive approach to sustainability. “The place where we would build a foundation, a prototype to promote a more regenerative way of living. After shaking hands with the owners, we gathered information on the land which validated how right this place was for what we wanted.”
Brimming with natural beauty, Costa Rica consistently ranks as the highest Latin American nation on the Human Development Index. “It was the first tropical country to ban deforestation, allowing it to grow to up to 54 percent protected territory,” said Dosal. Today, the country has accumulated countless plastic-free initiatives, generates 98 percent renewable energy, and having abolished the use of the military in 1946, can be considered one of the most ecologically conscious and peaceful countries in the world.
“With the huge continental platform of North America above and the huge continental platform of South America below, Costa Rica sits in between like an umbilical cord, the meeting place of species migrating from both the north and the south, making it the most biodiverse country in the world,” said Dosal. Indeed, Costa Rica is home to 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity and, Mal País, populated by a mere thousand inhabitants, provides the perfect haven, housing more flora and fauna then humans themselves.
Alongside such beauty is joined an unparalleled longevity and wellbeing in the local inhabitants according to the Happy Planet Index which disclaims the citizens of the Nicoya Peninsula as their triumphant victors. What differentiates their lives from ours, allowing for such joy and long-lasting health? Much can be accredited to the highly community-focused and holistic lifestyles that are likewise found at Zunya.
“Zunya was born from a desire to help people connect with themselves, others, and nature in the simplest of terms. We want to create a low-density project that catalyzes a positive social, economic, and environmental impact in the area of Mal País, whilst establishing systems that can regenerate the functionality and ecological development of the space,” said Dosal. While retaining 85 percent of the land for conservation, the project contains an eclectic span of spaces from high-end and affordable lodgings to hospitality housing; commercial and public areas; interactive pavilions for the mind, body, and soul; visual art workshops, and creative laboratories; simultaneously outsourcing-low income housing projects for the surrounding community and an experimental schooling concept uniting children of both newcomers and locals alike.
As a “laboratory of existence,” Zunya curates a program combining art, science, technology, sustainability, spirituality, and a collective way of living, some of which is shared via El Parque, the first private-public park and only public space in the area. “I think what differentiates us is that we outsource part of our program into the community,” said Dosal. A sanctuary for travelers and settlers, artists and healers, each with an aligned purpose and philosophy. “Zunya is a prototype, a laboratory, where, through trial and error, we are trying to find out the best way to live moving forward,” said Dosal.
Experiments rotate infinitely at sites such as The Sound and Light Laboratory, the collective forest El Bosque, or The Serpent pavilion, showcasing a variety of concepts and practices. “We want to create spaces where we can have truly immersive experiences that would allow us to catalyze our understanding of the human experience,” said Dosal.
The 2.0 version of the eco-village, the project transpired through “a collaboration between agronomers, anthropologists, geologists, biologists, hydrologists, and archaeologists,” said Dosal, who analyzed the 33-hectare terrain through a site analysis, creating what they termed “the regenerative landscape project,” which would emphasize the natural beauty of the place without generating detrimental effects to the ecosystem already in place. Zunya “behaves like a living, breathing organism,” one that includes contemporary architectural designs by some of the most prestigious architects in Latin America, Alberto Kalach, as well as thermodynamic and recycling water systems, molding beauty, functionality and sustainability in a beautiful symbiosis resembling “a museum immersed in a tropical rainforest,” said Dosal.
He added, “We want to make sure the impact we have is a positive one,” a promise he delivers on countless fronts. Not solely to the fortunate guests and inhabitants or the community he serves but also to the ecosystem itself, increasing the agrobiodiversity through the introduction of endangered species, constructing biological corridors for the wildlife to roam freely and replenishing the soils through water insertion.
A co-creation had spurred the project’s initial form into being, but the collaborative aspect went far beyond that. In fact, the philosophy of the place could be synthetized by just two letters, “co”: co-creation, co-functioning, co-beneficial, collaboration. “We believe we are moving from an I-focused era into a we-focused era,” said Dosal. Through contributors, collaborators, or co-workers, everyone and everything seemed to be valued as an integral part of the Zunya ecosystem, encompassing a connected and co-beneficial symbiotic way of life where neither talent nor resource was deemed suitable to waste.