Playa Viva—

Juluchucha, Mexico

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Project Summary

  • A regenerative resort, built using locally-sourced and locally-inspired materials and designs
  • A reframing of the role of development, to increase connectivity between the resort and the local community, as well as to reconnect community members with their past

Project Description and Client Aspirations

Located 60 minutes south of Zihuatanejo on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, in a sleepy coastal fishing and agricultural village, the Playa Viva sustainable resort & residence community sits on over 200 hectares.  The site includes pristine beaches, a private nature preserve, turtle sanctuary, ancient ruins, and a natural estuary that is home to over 200 species of exotic birds.

The Master Plan for Playa Viva includes 60 Casitas, 13 single lots, a town square and a boutique hotel. 160 of Playa Viva’s 200 acres have been set-aside as a nature preserve and turtle sanctuary, and the development makes use of salvaged and eco-friendly building materials and recycles 75 percent of its construction waste (local artisans turn leftover wood into furniture for the casitas). Solar energy will supply 100% of its energy needs. The development will donate 1% of all revenue back to the community and is beginning an organic farming program that will create jobs for local farmers. 

The goal of Playa Viva is “to create a highly successful model for sustainable and regenerative resort development…revitalizing and nurturing the land they’re built on and the community they’re surrounded by.”

More Than a Sustainable Development

At the time Regenesis started working with the developers, they had recently purchased the land, a former coconut plantation. Committed to green building, and with a history of positive community engagement, the developers were looking for ways to bring together these values with the creation of a financially successful resort community. A major insight that Regenesis provided was the idea that development’s primary goal should not simply be to minimize degradation, but to in fact improve the site and the surrounding community.

By introducing them to the concept of Regenerative Development™ and, through an Integral Assessment™ and Story of Place™, Regenesis helped them build an understanding of how life in that place worked as a whole and the depth of the roots of Juluchuca.  Regenesis enabled the development team to reframe significant climatic, geologic, archaeological, and economic constraints inside of the over all context of the potential for the place.  Regenesis and the development team then translated this understanding into an integrative framework, and created team resonance and direction within that framework.

The Regenesis team then led several design charrettes in 2006 and 2007 to develop the master plan, design concepts and resort theme, along with concepts for how to integrate activities that improved the socio-economic as well as cultural lives of the area inhabitants.

Playa Viva opened in November 2009 using a living systems framework of adaptive, co-evolutionary growth. The development has become the genesis point for economic, environmental and social development in the community. As well, it has developed infrastructural and human resource capital (for example, stabilizing the road so it does not require maintenance and input). By engaging with community groups through educational projects geared towards sustainability, Playa Viva is focused on capacity building within the community and developing frameworks for development that are self-developed and self-sustaining.

One example of this is the development of permaculture design and recycling workshops. Another example of this is the adoption of a salt co-op with the local industry representatives to not only ensure fair trade, but also to create an economy that is integrated with the community such that it will continue to be viable for years to come. Yet another example is the relationship that was formed with the local coconut plantation. By looking at the whole resource stream, they have identified areas in which to create value-added products from the waste (e.g., coconut oils and charcoal cleaners from the husks).

More importantly than creating jobs, these community based projects created a cumulative program of resource development, where community members had broader, more marketable skill sets. This is all framed under the idea that the more connections you create within a system, and the stronger these connections are, the more resilient that system becomes; and this was the framework for the entire Playa Viva Project.

By focusing on a Story of Place™, Playa Viva was able to uncover a rich and amazing history that had largely been forgotten in the area. Through public education regarding this history, Playa Viva has enabled members of the community to recognize their history and to feel, rightfully, that they have a say in how their community should evolve in the future.

Your work was genius, the more time we spend with it the more we appreciate it.

— David Leventhal, developer, Playa Viva, Jolochuca, Mexico