Reviving Filipino culture in architecture

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Project Smarthome
Project SmartHome in Marikina City takes its inspiration from the traditional nipa hut.

WHETHER it’s an American country house or a Balinese villa, homes in a Philippine neighborhood have architectural inspirations that are all over the place.

While this “hodgepodge” of themes is being patronized as stylish and trendy, the disjoint does not seem to reflect who the Filipino is and his collective identity.

That’s according to Filipino architect Jason Buensalido whose company is behind projects like Sofia Townhomes in Taguig, the Aqua Boracay Beach Village in Aklan and the nipa hut-inspired Project Smarthome in Marikina.

“It just so happens that most of our projects are in the Philippines, and we found that we’re stuck in terms of where we are in architecture,” Mr. Buensalido, an alumni of the University Santo Tomas, said in an interview with BusinessWorld on the sidelines of the Artkitektura Festival of Architecture and the Arts held last Feb. 3 at the Ateneo de Manila University.

“We found this as an opportunity for positive change. That is why we feel like it is high time for a cultural revival in architecture.”

Instead of passively adapting trends, Mr. Buensalido and his team at Buensalido + Architects infuse Filipino sensibilities — specifically the element of the iconic bahay kubo (nipa hut) — into their designs, together with some global influence.

“If we look back, it all started with the bahay kubo,” Mr. Buensalido said, citing the architectural characteristics of the humble hut that remains relevant in designing contemporary and progressive structures of today.

Although it does not exactly resemble the typical structure and material of a nipa hut, Project SmartHome in Marikina took its cue from that design principle.

CIIT building facade
The CIIT building facade incorporates various Philippine weaving patterns.

Given the challenge of being located in a flood-prone zone heavily damaged by Typhoon Ketsana in 2009, the homes, built in 2016, were designed to be supported by stilts above the area’s flood level to avoid potential flood damage.

“It’s not a literal copy paste of a bahay kubo. It’s not literally using affordable and cheap materials like bamboo or nipa or anahaw, but to extract the principles of bahay kubo like the open plan, natural ventilation, storage, efficient use of space, and then sustainable living by harvesting in your own backyard,” Mr. Buensalido explained.

Apart from taking inspiration from the architectural design of the bahay kubo, Mr. Buensalido also incorporates different types of Philippine weaves into his designs.

“We love being connected to our families, and this weaving is also the idea of intertwining, of coming together. What we try to do with this gesture of coming together is we try to apply it in our architecture,” he shared.

This is exemplified in his project, the CIIT. As a school that values heritage and art, CIIT has a façade that integrates different Philippine weaving patterns.

Through architecture, Mr. Buensalido is trying to start the conversation about the country’s cultural identity.

“What we try to do as a firm is before we come up with any architectural proposition, we take time to research and understand our collective identity as a culture,” he said.

“We’re not saying that this is what should be done. This is by no means prescriptive; this is just sharing what we try to do with our practice. Perhaps you can follow some, or develop some, or even add some to help us have this conversation on what Filipino architecture is.” — Romsanne R. Ortiguero