Alex Medalla and his Arkinamix team experiment with light

May 30, 2017



Judith Torres

“Start right, never compromise,” Alex Medalla always tells his protégés. “Because when you start compromising, you allow yourself to become mediocre. And that becomes extra baggage you’re going to have to carry for the rest of your life.”

We’re sitting quietly in his Toyota FJ Cruiser, small sounds of nature gradually becoming discernible after the sudden ringing silence when Medalla turned the music off. We had just been about to alight, but the weight of his musings demanded we linger and finish his train of thought.

“Imagine clients getting you because they know they can make you copy this picture in a magazine, or imitate a shape someone else is famous for. It’s gonna be one compromise after another. So start right and you’ll do well. But starting right comes at a cost.”

Looking at the Light Shelf House from across the cul de sac, Medalla counts off its flaws. “Look at that ledge. It hurts because it’s not perfect. The paint. I knew exactly what to use—a very light concrete that looks and feels like suede. The wood. All supposed to be light colored wood, but they wanted dark wood. The door!”

Is he unhappy? “No, not at all, we got the form right. It’s not perfect, but I can live with it. The folds at least are visible. I can read the folds.” Medalla’s mood brightens as he talks about the architectural feature that made this project worth the aggravation of clients installing doors, cabinetry, lamps, and fixtures completely incongruous with the architecture.

“Ah! Our experiment!” Medalla grins broadly and hops out of the Cruiser like a kid. “Ushering light into the spaces in a different manner, that of pinpoint diffused light was the experiment.”

In love with the quality of the light on the hilltop site in Cebu, Alex Medalla and his team at Arkinamix wanted another means of bringing natural light—without the accompanying heat—into the house. They call their solution “light shelves.” But instead of horizontal overhangs that shade the lower portion of windows from direct sun while reflecting light onto the ceiling of a room, the Arkinamix light shelves look more like chimney stacks.

They work. Unlike skylights that let in intense light and heat into a house, especially at noontime, most of the Arkinamix light shelves take in indirect light from the south and bounce it into the house, creating what looks like a soft geometric glow coming from the ceiling.

“At night they give off a very, very distinct ambiance because we put in artificial light and you have these very interesting apertures in the ceiling,” says Medalla.

We ask to go up on the roof deck and take shots of the light shelves. Medalla sighs. We can’t. “There were stairs designed for it, but the owner said ‘Let’s do that at a later date.’ That’s what they always say. The roof deck of the house for me is the most special place of the house. Sayang.” 

This story supplements the article, Different, in BluPrint Vol. 3, 2017.

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