#25 RESET, the standard for sustainable architecture in the tropics

2996 Last modified by the author on 30/01/2020 - 15:21
#25 RESET, the standard for sustainable architecture in the tropics

Designed by and for tropical countries, the RESET standard is almost unique. Created in Costa Rica by the Instituto de Arquitectura Tropical, it has the particularity of advocating technological frugality. Bruno Stagno, one of its editors, reviews this experience. He is a member of the Instituto de Arquitectura Tropical and one of the most renowned South American architects.

As soon as the first sustainable building certifications were obtained, the need to protect the architecture of Costa Rica became apparent. The first objective was to have a standard that would emerge from best practices and the work of architects to provide viable and accessible sustainable solutions. To achieve this goal, it was necessary to establish a new standard with a specific approach for tropical latitude.

The philosophy of the RESET label

"Sustainability with more architecture than technology" is what guided the formulation of the RESET label. In other words, exhaust the potential of design before resorting to technologies and, alternatively, use them sparingly when they are indispensable. We see technology as a complement to design, not as a substitute. The promotion of architectural and engineering design as an instrument of sustainability leads to cost savings, independence and adaptation to the climatic and socio-economic conditions of the place.

Adaptation to the climate by recovering its attributes and renewable resources, recognition of the local socio-economic reality, promoting the use of local labour and materials, and strengthening the culture that is updated and enriched by contemporary architecture. These are some of RESET's guiding principles.

Convinced that the impact of the construction sector will only be reduced when the majority of buildings have access to sustainability certificates, RESET was created to be a standard within the reach of the majority and within the reach of massive construction, which represents the largest percentage of building surface area on the planet. For this reason, the RESET label is applicable to certify both complex buildings and low-cost social housing.

With this vision defined, a team from the Institute of Tropical Architecture - a non-profit institution created in Costa Rica in 1994 - drafted the RESET label (Requisitos para Edificaciones Sostenibles en el Trópico - Requirements for Sustainable Buildings in the Tropics) with the aim of assigning property rights to the State of Costa Rica, so that its application could be implemented.

Tropical latitude encompasses the territorial extensions of 108 countries, is home to almost 50% of the world's population, includes 70% of the existing forests and covers 40% of the planet's habitable surface, which is a considerable extension. More than 100 countries in the world's tropical belt have developing economies.

These few data lead us to the conclusion that sustainable development will not be possible at the global level if it is not integrated, with the possibility of decision making, with the countries of tropical latitude. These objective data have reinforced the conviction of the team at the Institute of Tropical Architecture to create a standard adapted to this reality and which also exalts the qualities of tropicality. RESET seeks to protect the planetary tropical ecosystem and therefore has a universal vocation.

The creators of RESET have the expectation that buildings certified to the standard will be replicated worldwide. They have therefore made RESET available free of charge to interested parties on the website of the Instituto de Arquitectura Tropical.


A label designed by and for tropical countries

With RESET, Costa Rica has an original standard that is part of its voluntarist environmental policy and allows it to integrate the construction sector and the city into its policies and strategies. The city is considered to be a built complex whose environmental impact must be reduced.


The RESET label was created by the Institute of Tropical Architecture and given to the Federated College of Engineers and Architects of Costa Rica and INTECO (Costa Rican Institute of Technical Standards) so that, with the participation of other institutions, it will become a national standard in May 2012. INTECO is the institution that monitors the application of RESET through building evaluation committees that verify compliance with the standard.


In Costa Rica, training is provided to architects and engineers who obtain a RESET expert consultant licence issued by the Federated College of Engineers and Architects. There are currently more than 60 professionals in this category. Some state institutions suggest and/or require the application of RESET in the design of their buildings.

RESET is designed to be applied to the design, construction and operation of buildings.


Description of the contents of the RESET label

In the first phase of application of the RESET label, a context sheet must be filled in to determine the impact category of the building. The context sheet assesses, among other aspects, the level of development of the environment, the density of the inhabitants of the area, the proximity and capacity of public services, the proximity of public transport, determines whether the project is in an already equipped area. Using a scale assigned to each aspect, 4 impact categories are defined

  • White for single-family homes,
  • Yellow for small buildings,
  • Orange for large buildings
  • Red for high impact buildings. 

Each building must meet 70% of the criteria for its category. This compliance is verified by providing evidence.

  • For the White criteria, there are 39,
  • Yellow 55,
  • orange 102,
  • Red 121.

The total number of RESET label criteria is 121.

The RESET label consists of seven chapters :

  • Socio-economic aspects
  • Environment and Transport
  • Quality of space and well-being
  • Soils and landscaping
  • Materials
  • Optimization of water consumption
  • Energy optimization

Note that Chapter 7 has the fewest criteria. RESET, while promoting electricity savings, reduces the number of evaluation criteria in this chapter, as electricity production in Costa Rica has very little impact on the ecosystem. More than 97% of Costa Rica's electricity is generated from renewable sources.

At each stage of the certification process, professionals accredited as experts gather documentation that attests to compliance. It is necessary to remember that these stages take into account both the construction and the operation of the building. These proofs are then submitted to INTECO for the evaluation and issuance of the RESET conformity diploma.

The constancy of the RESET label is issued by INTECO www.inteco.org. The Instituto de Arquitectura Tropical www.arquitecturatropical.org retains the prerogatives over the digital versions. The Unión Internacional de Arquitectos www.uia-architectes.org is authorised to issue the label in French and English.


Photo credit: Xangello Lopez via Unsplash


Read our previous article : # 24 - The context of the Nianing Church

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