A Tribute to David Anderson – Architect of Lapa Rios Lodge

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Karen Lewis is the co-owner of Lapa Rios Lodge on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.  This is her tribute to David Anderson, the Architect of Lapa Rios who unexpectedly passed away on December 26th.   

I have known David Lee Andersen since 1990. Having just purchased 1,000+ acres of primary rainforest overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, John Lewis and I dreamed with David about building a wilderness lodge. We insisted the design use locally sourced, renewable building materials plus involve workers from nearby villages. Nothing sophisticated or contrived, an honoring to place. We imagined these design-construction limitations might hinder David’s enthusiasm, yet he was empowered to learn, to help us enroll a community to the benefits founded on the growing movement toward becoming more sustainable.

David, un poeta visionario, coined the 25-year old Lapa Rios Vision Statement: No matter how you cut it, a rainforest left standing is worth more. Thanks to David Lee Andersen, Lapa Rios offers an alternative to socio-environmental exploitation.

Our first day in the Osa (January 1991), seeking sites suitable for building, together David and I walked previously slashed/burned hilltops. We chopped head-high grass, avoided snakes, and ran endless measurements. Then, with limited language skills yet armed with confidence, new friend David discussed traditional building designs with local builders, held and examined available renewable materials, tried to discuss roof slope—untrained builders show angles using hands not prone to use “degrees of pitch.” So, grabbing his sketch book, David drew a main lodge, then a cabin, and garnered admiration and approval. His design used little wood yet bundles of cane, bamboo and palm thatch—materials utilized for centuries. David’s patience with unrefined builders and local suppliers helped strengthen our relationship with the community and increase cooperation. David helped us demonstrate that by working collaboratively both traditional design and building skills could improve.

Not purely focused on drawing, David furnished thought leadership. Early on, he faxed us WWF’s Elizabeth Boo’s 10 Ecotourism Principles, sound practices still underpinning Lapa Rios. Ecotourism, largely an unknown concept in the early 1990s, has slowly evolved to a leading industry due in part to David’s belief in and guidance to doing right with people and the environment. Through David’s early involvement in ecotourism he helped kick start The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). He gave countless hours to building the organization, attended international seminars, shared conference presentations along with onsite consultation. He provided chapters for two How to Build an Ecolodgebooks. His expertise is recognized and honored worldwide; it propelled his independent work in many countries and cultures, shifting mass tourism mindsets toward smaller conservation projects matching the evolving travelers’ expectations.

I will miss David’s instant email responses, his weekly poetry, long phone calls, and clever sketch pen filled with ink+humor. (Sorry, David, still no rainforest Eco-Golf.) What a privilege to have dreamed with and worked alongside creative, caring David, a passionately kind, generous man in love with his family, travel and good Midwest values.

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