Alex Medalla ditches CAD and BIM in designing an apartment annex

June 28, 2018



Jon Adriel Medalla

“Just sketch away.” This was the client’s instruction to the principal of Arkinamix Design, Alex Medalla, my father. Initially, the client just wanted a ground floor extension of one of his office buildings in a one-hectare compound in a private subdivision in Cebu. Midway through construction, he asked for an extension to the extension—two additional floors of apartment units and a penthouse his senior officers at the company could rent. Having designed the other buildings in the compound in the early 2000s, Medalla had free rein over the project design.

bluprint architecture alex medalla apartment annex cebu
Blue-tinted glass bordered by the aluminum skin provides privacy for the residents, but allows daylight into the interiors. On the west facade (right) is a protrusion from the main volume that carries the stairwell.

The architect took the instruction to heart, ditching CAD and BIM. All architectural drawings were drawn by hand and used as contract documents. “Like painting on a canvas,” was how he described the highly improvisational and hands-on approach to the project. He frequented the site, working closely with the foreman and contractors, testing and executing spontaneous ideas as they came along. One such instance was in the penthouse dining area. Medalla was inspecting the space upon completion, and he had the foreman fashion a cantilevered lighting fixture, and pierce the ceiling with it at an oblique angle.

READ MORE: Visayan Modernism: The Tinderbox by Alex Medalla

The end result is a fluid integration of architecture, interior design and furniture. The first floor eaves of the old office building extend and wrap around the new three-storey apartment annex, becoming the floor of the first level, the wall of the west façade, and the eaves and roof of the third level. The seamless transition between the two buildings make it seem as if the old structure underwent metamorphosis.

bluprint architecture alex medalla apartment annex cebu
The stairwell leading to the penthouse. The large swivel door at the top floor landing is made to look like an extension of the cabinet in wood veneer on the left.
bluprint architecture alex medalla apartment annex cebu
In the penthouse, the doors for the rooms are cleverly disguised among the sculptural partitions clad in wood veneer.
bluprint architecture alex medalla apartment annex cebu
The bedroom in the penthouse is open on two sides, making the space brightly lit during the daytime. Above the headboard of the bed is a transparent glass partition, which looks into the bedroom. The hot tub is situated right behind the glass partition, giving the client the opportunity to watch TV while bathing.

A stairwell at the entrance on the ground floor leads to the apartments on the upper floors. The first two apartment units take up 150 square meters, the penthouse 175 square meters. Medalla’s interior design concept sought to “blur the distinctions between floors, walls and ceiling to create a coherent, seamless and continuous whole.” The best manifestation of this is the penthouse’s customized dining table—the ceiling folds down to form the table surface, and in turn delineates the living room from the kitchen. Because of its sculptural form and integration with the architecture, the dining table becomes the apartment’s centerpiece.

In other areas, console tables and desks protrude out of the walls. The same process is applied in the lower apartments. The beds, desks, and cabinets are integral to the interior surfaces, resulting in spaces with a consistently sculpted look. Most of the apartment surfaces and counters are finished with white, solid-surfacing panels, a favorite material of the architect.

bluprint architecture alex medalla apartment annex cebu
Left: The living room area for the lower floors. The slanted wall serves as a divider between the living area and bedroom, as well as a wall system and console where a television could be installed. Right: Slightly smaller iterations of the cantilevered dining table in the penthouse can be found in the two lower apartments. The hallway to the left leads to the bedrooms.

READ MORE: Alex Medalla and his Arkinamix team experiment with light

The client’s simple brief and trust afforded Medalla the opportunity to explore spatial, formal and experiential ideas of architecture, and indulge his fascination with form continuity and sculptural consistency. He was able to create an aesthetically coherent whole that can be likened to a finely handcrafted object not lacking in detail or quality—a testament to his proficiency in the craft, a level that I aspire to and am constantly inspired to reach when I establish my own practice. 

This article was originally published in BluPrint Volume 5 2015. Edits were made for

Photographed by Ed Simon

bluprint architecture alex medalla apartment annex cebu

bluprint architecture alex medalla apartment annex cebu

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