The best houses in the world are a many-headed collaboration between the architect, the client, and the contractor, and some measure of serendipity. The tiny window through which happenstance—whether driven by the site, the budget, the client’s or other circumstances—is allowed to take its course lets in a touch of magic and uncommon sense that the architect could not have injected. And so the best architects (and clients) are the ones who know when to open this providential window that often results in designs that truly work.
Edwin Uy is one such architect, particularly in the case of a house he designed in an exclusive village south of Manila. He describes the overall design as something that just “came together,” but thanks to the strength of Uy’s aesthetic, the end result looks neither haphazard nor half-hearted. Construction started in 2012 and was completed two years later due to budget constraints. Earlier this year, it was cited for merit by the BCI Asia Green Leadership Award 2016.
Uy did not set out to make this house a “green home,” but his clients’ tight budget (only P4 million!) and request for a low-maintenance house—practically the only directions they gave him in the beginning—compelled him to execute modern design solutions that inevitably led to an environment-friendly and affordable home. But it wasn’t an easy journey; Uy flexed his problem-solving muscles overtime to stretch every peso and still deliver a home his clients would appreciate and enjoy.
Firstly, the site was sloped. Edwin Uy always makes it a point to respect the natural characteristics of the sites he works on, so instead of leveling the ground, he raised the house on stilts, which helps cool the house from bottom to top and will continue to do so even as neighbors start building beside them, restricting air flow from the sides. The air circulates through a light and ventilation shaft Uy inserted right in the middle of the house. The square-shaped void pierces through the first floor, the second floor, and the roof, and is lined on all sides with jalousie windows.
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Uy also lined the back wall of the house with these small windows. Besides being much less expensive and easy to clean, the glass louvers allow more air in than sliding glass doors, which can only be opened halfway. Hot air never accumulates in the house. In fact, there is always an enjoyable breeze wafting in, refreshing the interiors, and exiting out and up the core of the house, where everyone’s gaze tends to linger because of the refreshing greenery. The pole bamboo Uy planted in the ‘silong‘ of the house has since grown a few feet past the first floor, its lissome branches reaching for the sky.
There is something poetic about the heart of the home being a space of light and air and green, but Uy and the couple say there was no intent to make a statement. “It was a logical solution and response to the site,” Uy avers. The wife, for her part, derives great pleasure from the feature particularly when it is raining: “I enjoy the sound of the rain falling on the leaves.”
It was in Edwin Uy’s choice of materials where he really made a difference in savings. “The only way to get around the tight budget was to make the structure itself lightweight,” he explained. This would help save on load-bearing materials such as beams and columns. His solution, the south-facing side of the house, which never fails to capture the attention of passers-by, was inspired by his clients’ personal story. The wall is made of lightweight plastic oil containers from Shell, where the couple worked and met before they embarked on a life together (the husband’s father also worked at Shell). “That’s our love story so it’s really the soul of the house,” Uy’s clients said. Besides saving on construction costs, the plastic wall perpetuates sustainability through upcycling, and perhaps more meaningfully, offers a tiny window into the lives of the owners before one even enters the home.
For the front (west) façade, Uy resisted the modernist predilection of using extensive glazing. Many local architects foolishly clad houses in inoperable expanses of glass, purportedly to save on electricity by letting an abundance of daylight in. Doing so unfortunately also traps an abundance of heat inside, which homeowners can combat only through air conditioning. Uy’s solution, a cement façade with a few tiny windows, seems counterintuitive in a tropical environment, but the concrete protects the house from the afternoon sun. Besides, Uy positioned the bathrooms by the west façade, so it doesn’t matter that those spaces can get warm in the summer.
The bedrooms, on the other hand, stay cool throughout the day and most months of the year, with windows opening to the north, south, and east. And then of course, the central core with the bamboo provides the means for the spaces upstairs and downstairs to cross-ventilate. The only area of the house that gets hot is the office nook with the one large window facing west. There is also glare coming in from that area.
Because of the small budget, the original plan to have a pool in the lower ground floor was shelved in favor of a play area with a large slide for the kids and their playmates to enjoy. “It was my husband’s idea, much like all the other crazy ideas you see in this house,” the woman of the house said in jest.
One unforeseen benefit of leaving surfaces unpainted and unvarnished is the homeowners’ children have learned to recognize, appreciate, and respect materials, their uses, and their limitations. The eldest son has been using the I-beams in his room as a magnetic board for displaying his scribbles. “He used the space and made it his own with no one telling him what to do with it,” Uy said. The mother also recounted how her son, when showing classmates around the house, would talk about the different materials—concrete, cement board, hardwood, plywood, steel and plastic.
When prodded about regrets, they said they have none, and would not have their house any other way. “Our house is unique,” they said. “It’s the only one like this in the universe.”