After a passion for sustainability had been set into him at a young age on a school trip to Costa Rica, Jonathan Butler-Knutson made it a goal to return to the country and further explore the culture of sustainability. “After a school trip I learned that Costa Rica is one of the top 3 most sustainable countries in the world, and this spurred my interest to go back and learn more.” After graduating from U of M with a degree in Interior Design, Jonathan joined the professional world and pursued the NCEF scholarship to make that trip happen.


“After a school trip I learned that Costa Rica is one of the top 3 most sustainable countries in the world…”




The 7-day trip included a variety of tours, sites, and exploration in the cities of La Fortuna and San Jose. Jonathan also ventured out to an entirely self-sustaining, rural resort near the rain-forest.




After flying into San Jose, Jonathan spent the first part of his trip staying at a local hostel. He visited local markets, restaurants, and architecture, in addition to touring the Simon Bolivar National Zoo and Botanical Garden. During this time, Jonathan began to take in the variety of sustainable initiatives throughout the city, whether in culture or day-to-day life.




It was evident that sustainable practices were normalized and encouraged throughout the country and culture, from water use signs in showers, to food selections, to use of local and renewable resources. Even at the hostel where Jonathan stayed his first few nights, there were notes reminding him to be cognizant of his water usage and he found recycled chairs made from old tires in the gathering area.




For the second part of the trip Jonathan traveled five hours by bus to Finca Luna Nueva, which is a “Sustainable Rainforest Ecolodge” located in the middle of the rain-forest. At this location, Jonathan had his own rammed earth hut at the edge of the rain forest, surrounded by trees and the sound of animals. The resort hosted a number of educational and immersive events such as sunrise yoga, night hikes through the rain forest, and informational sessions about the resorts sustainable operations.


“I woke up at night to the sound of monkeys.”


Finca Luna Nueva is a resort made up entirely of sustainable practices and initiatives. The buildings are built largely from local, renewable resources. The food served at the resort is grown on site. The pool is solar heated and rain water is collected and utilized throughout the resort.


On site Jonathan stayed in a hut built entirely of rammed earth and bamboo.


During his time at the resort Jonathan experienced and toured their farm to table operations. Their farming areas were laid out specifically in patterns and organized appropriately to utilize the space available.  Proper organization allowed the plants to receive the right amount of sunlight, while also protecting and shielding more delicate plants as necessary.


A night hike during his trip showed him the resources surrounding the area, from fast growing plants used for short term shelters to slow growing plants protected by laws and locals. In addition, the excursion showed the various wildlife surrounding the resort and was evidence of how immersed the resort is in their location and it’s local resources.


“Every 1-3 city blocks was an open square park. Everyone was socializing, eating lunch, and enjoying the outdoors constantly.”


During the last portion of the trip, Jonathan returned to San Jose and spontaneously explored more of the area. “It is amazing that Minneapolis is a city known for it’s parks and outdoor areas, but it is nothing compared to the sheer number in San Jose. Every 1-3 city blocks was an open square park. Everyone was socializing, eating lunch, and enjoying the outdoors constantly.”


“Solar energy, use of materials, connection to nature, are all achievable ways to improve sustainability and health in buildings.” 


The trip showed Jonathan that sustainable initiatives, whether large or small, can have impact in so many different ways. He was also inspired by the culture’s focus on the importance of sustainability, nature, and the interaction of those in everyday life and architecture.


“The connection between outside space and inside space is so important, and it requires interiors collaborating with all of the other disciplines in order to make a whole building work together.”


Jonathan was one of many NCEF Scholarship winners in the IIDA Northland Chapter. This is an offer entirely unique to our chapter, and something you can take part in! Follow the link below to learn more.

For Professionals


Emily Degallier – Interior Designer

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