As all of us who have built homes and live in Los Arboles Tulum will proudly attest, we are true pioneers on several different fronts.
While there are dozens of residential developments up and down the Costa Maya, all claiming to have some vaguely expressed eco-friendliness, our community is unique in the extent to which we are committed to, and practice, environmental stewardship. Our building guidelines, our restricted land use, our bylaws, the research we support, all are designed to optimize our custody of this precious piece of nature in which we chose to live.
When the first houses were being constructed within the community, there was no precedent, no experience, no blueprint, template or handbook to refer to for advice or solutions. This drawback has changed significantly from those early days. Since then, each construction project has offered useful information for the next one;each new resident has benefited from the experience of those who already live here.
The aspiration to safeguard our jungle and create a model for sustainable living as custodians of nature gives us cause to seek out and test not only new and advanced technologies. It also occasions us to look back in history and search the past for ways to enhance our comfort that can still be applied today while,at the same time, assuring that our jungle continuous to thrive and all that live within.
We learned, for example, that air-conditioning in the ancient, pre-electricity world used the cooling effect of evaporation to reduce the temperatures of their living spaces. Over 3000 years ago, houses in the Middle Eastcooled their rooms via ingenious water ‘chimneys’ connected to roof-top wind scoops that channeled outside air to flow across the wet adobe bricks of the chimney’s interior, causing increasingly cooler and thus heavier air to rush out at the chimney’s base and cool the interior. In Pompeii, wealthy Romans built shallow pools in the atriums of their housesto cool the air under the surrounding colonnades. The Alhambrain Granada, Spain, features similar bodies of waterfor no other purpose but to cool the surrounding air through the natural process of evaporation.
Along similar lines, the Palladian design of classic Southern and Caribbean plantation homes was adopted because their floorplan allowed for a central breezeway, while high ceilings, transoms above doorsand sliding windowsthat also opened at the top allowed the rising warm air to escape while manually operated ceiling fans created a cooling airflow.
Several residents in our community have adapted these and other well-proven methods to such effectiveness as to entirely eliminate the need for modern air-conditioning systemsto cool their homes.
We also learned that lime stone gravel reduces humidity and that bare cement walls extract moisture out the air and as well as kill mold. We found out that rooftop tanks pressurize a house’s waterpipes. Wrap-around porches aren’t just for looks, but are meant to keep moisture away from foundations and prevent direct sunlight from heating the exterior walls and radiating this heat into the interior.
We have learned much and surely will continue to advance our knowledge. Local customs, old traditions and new discoveries are the sources from which we continue to draw in our quest to live in rhythm with our environment.
In the realm of technology, the different solar systems of Los Arboles reflect the rapid advance of battery and panel technology. The older homes are still powered by bulky and enormously heavy, lead-plated batteries connected to comparatively inefficient panels, whereas the most recent homes store their energy in refurbished, maintenance-free batteries taken from electric automobiles fed by vastly improved solar-voltaic technology.
Decentralization of power generation and supply is being driven by firms such as Tesla and SpaceXfor purposes far removed from the needs of our jungle community. But it is with us that further applications and adaptations of their technological breakthroughs are tested and realized.
A similar trend towards decentralization is also behind our strict wastewater treatment standards. Technology first introduced, tested and refined in our community led to the formation of a company which, after only two years, treats over 6% of all the wastewater generated by the municipality of Tulum. The notion of autonomous, on-site water generation and treatment has spurred the development of additional technology which not only will be capable of extracting the water we need from the surrounding air but also of performing all the necessary processes to guarantee a constant supply of 100% clean and healthy water.
More innovation is sure to come. De-centralized wastewater treatment, stand-alone power generation and water supply are hot topics in the scientific community, among policy-makers and the investment community. Los Arboles Tulum is both a laboratory and an example for innovation in these areas. We are traveling on the road of progress.
But we are much more than a showcase for off-grid technology. Our explicit stewardship of nature embraces not only the plants and animals of our jungle, but also our human neighbors.
Through our engagement with the greater Tulum community, we are settingan example of social responsibility. No other residential development in Mexico explicitly allocates a fixed amount of its annual dues to the support of charitable, educational and scientific endeavors. From our after-school facility with its rich programs and engaging workshops for local children to hosting international scientific projects and research seminars co-sponsored by the National Geographic Society, Los Arboles Tulum, over just the last four years, has established an extraordinary record of civic, humanitarian and scientific engagement of which all of us can be proud.
Los Arboles Tulum is just in its infancy. Over 80% of the 221 lots are yet to be built on. However, the measured, rather than rapid, growth of the community has been an unexpected boon. While each new home and each new resident brings welcomed new insight, new talent and added resources, nature likes to take her time to adjust to new inhabitants. Our footprint is already small – only 5% of each lot – and we have been adding to it judiciously in intervals that allow our environment to adapt and absorb the impact of new construction and residents.
In the final analysis, it is our deliberate choice to take part in an experiment – one whose very raison d’etre is to live in rhythm and harmony with nature – that is fundamentally responsible for the dynamics of our community. We are a channel that encourages innovation and a seedbed that nourishes discovery precisely because of our own curiosity, courage and mindset.