From the start, architects Ding Asuncion and Isabel Berenguer-Asuncion knew exactly they wanted a modern oasis if they were going to build their own house. “We always wanted a small house in a big property, because we wanted a lot of outdoor space,” says Isabel. After a long search, they found the perfect spot in Loyola Grand Villas—a 900-square meter lot that offers views of the mountains of San Mateo in the distance; perfect for a house that incorporates elements of tropical architecture.
Finished in 2009, it appears from the street as a simple white bungalow with a one-sided roof slanted at 30 degrees. There is generous space between the house and the fence, making for a wide lawn out front; an understated appearance at best. But if one knew the topography of the lot, one would know that there is more to the house than meets the eye. The street lies at the border of the village near the Marikina River, where the terrain slopes downwards and ends at the riverbank.
Ding and Isabel are the principal architects of Asuncion-Berenguer, Inc., an architecture and interior design firm that integrates “physical context, unique function and aesthetic goals” in their projects. They carried this philosophy over to their own home, which they wanted to have a tropical yet contemporary appeal. During the design process, they made sure the house would respect the topography of the land. So what appears to be merely a bungalow is connected to a split-type two-storey structure behind it, where the lot descends.
From a bird’s eye view, the composition of the house is of two horizontal structures joined together in the middle by a staircase. The one fronting the street contains the guest room and family room/studio, while the two-storey one combines the common and private areas.
Breaking it up into two separate structures proved more costly, but doing so allowed their vision of a modern tropical home to materialize. “We’ve always wanted to live in house that has a resort feel, where we can be relaxed after a long day at the firm,” says Ding. Of the 900-square meter lot, the house footprint takes up about 350 square meters only. By scaling down the size of the house, pocket gardens and open timber decks that amount to a total of 120 square meters were created. The direct result is more open spaces for air to pass through, and more light to infiltrate as many areas inside as possible.
The proximity to the river, notorious for rising and for its swift current during rainy season, poses potential problems. However, the 25 meters between the riverbank and the house’s retaining perimeter wall, as well as the elevation of the lot eight meters above normal river water level, were deemed sufficient distances away from the possible dangers of an angry, overflowing river.
In the interior, a combination of large windows and glass sliding doors that connect the inside with the outdoors create transparency between the different areas, which also allow the natural shifts in the sunlight and shadow to keep time in the course of the day. Going through the main door, one experiences a sense of drama—the foyer is dim and compact, but the hallway points the eye ahead to the double volume stair structure leading to the main house.
At the height of afternoon, light and shadow cast their magic on the staircase, which branches out to the ground and second levels of the second structure. The ground level contains the living, dining and kitchen areas that open out to the outdoor decks, while the second level hides the bedrooms.
Ding and Isabel sought to maintain purity in the interior’s color scheme, opting for a predominantly white palette. Breaking the monotonous whiteness are a collection of paintings and sculptures by Ding himself and from selected contemporary artists. “We kept the interior simple with whites, creams, a little bit of color,” says Ding. “Because in our jobs, we deal with colors all the time! So when we get home, we just want it to be quiet, serene and relaxing.”
Familiarity with the site, an intimate understanding of their needs and preferences have helped Ding and Isabel Asuncion design a house that fulfills their vision of a modern oasis tucked away in the suburbs, where they can relax in when the urban landscape has become too tiresome.
This article first appeared in BluPrint Vol 1 2013. Edits were made for BluPrint online.
Photographed by William Ong and Ed Simon