A Heritage Strongbox: Casa Andaluz by Aris Tan

October 13, 2019



Reuben Cañete

On a hillside of a southern Manila gated village, Aris Tan chose to pay homage to the Californian Mission style of the turn-of-the-century Philippines. Casa Andaluz, as Tan calls the house, alludes to design inspirations such as Juan Arellano’s Perkins Mansion or the Alhambra Palace in Spain. 

Tan replicates but updates the magnificence of Moorish-Granada architecture within a 1,000-square meter lot in a cul de sac corner of a street, with limestone bluffs dominating the site. Preparing the site alone was a challenge. With two noise-sensitive neighbors to placate from noisy jackhammers, Tan had to remove the stone formations on the site via the old-fashioned way: painstakingly breaking up the stones with pickaxes and moving them by hand. Luckily, the onsite “quarry” provided limestone with the sufficient grade to be reused as riprapping walls that stabilize the rear section going up the hillside.

Tan was also gifted with a client who had endless patience, and a firm vision of the kind of house he wanted to live in. The owner is an investment banker with a wife and daughter, and an antiquities buff with an impressive collection of pre-colonial and Spanish period objects. As such, he wanted the appropriate “strongbox” to safeguard his treasures with. “It was the owner who wanted a Moroccan motif for his house,” said Tan. “I was fortunate to have someone who knew exactly what kind of design he wanted. He had even hoarded up antique parts from salvaged house and church structures that he wanted to graft into the fabric of this new house.”

The result is a 3-bedroom, 3-toilet-bathroom (plus the driver’s and maid’s rooms) house that opens out to an expansive ground-level courtyard dominated by a Moroccan-inspired tiled façade fountain. The façade features Romanesque arches at the ground-level garage and basement rooms that end at the third-floor bedroom fenestration, lending a unifying design motif. The simplified and austere semi-circles are tributes to both Peninsular and Californian design sources.

What lends the “Moroccan” character to the house is the second-floor arcade facing the dining room and sala, designed with the trademark horseshoe (otherwise known as Moorish or Keyhole) arches and short Doric columns. These same columns are spectacularly seen in the interiors of the Mezquite de Córdoba, the former mosque-turned-cathedral in Southern Spain. Southern Spain was part of a Moorish caliphate until 1492, called Al-Andalus, from where the current name of the region, Andalucia, came from. 

Casa Andaluz is, therefore, a reference to this double heritage from Spain and the southwestern United States, where Moorish architecture and Spanish builders combined to form a unique style. Its translation into concrete, glass, and steel refers back to the first-generation concrete buildings of Manila, which were overwhelmingly done in the Mission style derived from Spanish Moorish architecture. The comfort often equated with these structures, with their light, airy arcades that can be seen in the rear section veranda next to the living room, where the owners have positioned a lovely cast iron breakfast nook set. 

From the entrance, a flight of stairs leads one to the front door, a 2oth century antique pair from a demolished church in Dumaguete. Beyond is the great hall, another hallmark of Andalucian manor houses, with its winding staircase and flanking pairs of antique wood columns that lead to the living room and dining hall. Light sconces on ceilings and walls in the living room are dressed with inverted Saracen helmet covers, continuing the Moorish motif indoors. The ground floor finish is in Vigan tile, which coheres with the Mission arches in the rear arcade to form that “Il-Mex” variant in Filipino-Spanish design favored by major art collectors like Dr. Joven Cuanang. On the other hand, antique kamagong planks decorate the great hall and the dining hall, and continue on to the third-floor bedrooms, attesting to the colonial-era bahay na bato design that is also integrated to the house’s fabric.

Throughout the house, antiques from China and the Philippines serve not only as décor but as raison d’ etre for the house’s existence. Glass-walled cabinets brimming with curios give the house its treasury value. This is counter-balanced by the needs for modern comfort, as can be seen in the ground-floor “man-cave” of the owner’s den; as well as the modern finishes of the third-floor bedrooms, which hews closest to Aris Tan’s vocabulary. This is where Casa Andaluz proves to be most successful—welding the past and the present together, and pleasing a family that lives with historical treasure and modern convenience.

This article was first published in BluPrint Volume 5 2013. Edits were made for BluPrint online.

Photographed by Ron Mendoza

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