Facilitating “outdoor living” is important in a tropical paradise such as Isla Palenque: to come to a uniquely special place such as this and then hole oneself up in an air-conditioned, hermetically-sealed cube would be a shame. Don’t get me wrong, we are producing a luxury product, and A/C will be available in every hotel room and home. But designing conditions so that A/C needs to be run as little as possible not only reduces our energy consumption dramatically, it also creates a much better guest experience, one in which hotel guests and homeowners can better enjoy their tropical surroundings and get in tune with the natural rhythms of the island.
Accordingly, supporting the ability to comfortably spend time outdoors was one of the key goals we gave our architects and site planners. However, when one is as far south as Panama (8 degrees north of the equator), where the temperatures rarely drop below 70 at night and often exceed 90 during the day, creating the conditions that allow people to stay outside in comfort becomes difficult.
Difficult, but by no means impossible. One problem, though, is that over the course of the 20th century modern design became so enamored with mechanical temperature control that the notion of conforming to the climate in which one is building has largely been lost. Yet the principles that allowed people to build and live for thousands of years in hot weather climates remain, and are available to any designer who has the inclination to study them: referred to by architects as “passive design” or “bioclimatic design,” these principles lie at the heart of any truly sustainable tropical development.
Specific design techniques vary widely depending on the climate in which one is building, but in the hot and humid climate of the tropics, there are two essential principles that must be followed: (1) keep people and building elements well-shaded, and (2) allow for maximum possible airflow. Following these two principles, our site planners and landscape designers at Design Workshop included the following sketches and notes in some of their work for us:
We’ll be employing many of these strategies; they illustrate the kind of historically-prevalent passive strategies people used to design and build with, but which have been forgotten by today’s less sensitive builders and designers.
As with most aspects of our environmentally-sensitive design, consistently employing these strategies takes much more upfront work and thinking, but the results will be well worth it: the guest experience will be greatly enhanced and, from what I’ve seen so far, unique for Panama.
So, while we are certainly going to have the ability for guests to air-condition spaces when required (I personally can’t sleep without it, even though I can spend all of a 90-degree day outside if there’s good airflow), our goal is to create spaces that allow guests to be able to be outside, experiencing the wondrous environment of our island as much as possible. And with the judicious use of both passive techniques (like I’ve described above) and mechanical technologies (such as well-engineered fans), we’ll have little problem doing so.