Habúlan and Ngo Design Studio’s Common Ground joins the World Architecture Festival long list

October 6, 2020



Gabrielle De La Cruz

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced the idea of a new normal, one that demands the continuation of protocols such as staying at and working from home, physical distancing, and the limiting of people within leisure spaces, retail stores, and even public transportation. These situations pose a number of questions on how the near future would be, especially in terms of food procurement, social activities, transportation, and preparing for other pandemics or disasters that may come. Habúlan and Ngo Design Studio proposes Common Ground, an open layout that addresses daily human necessities by employing four main strategies namely self-sufficiency, engagement, isolation, and mobility. 

“Since mid-May of this year, we have been conducting exploratory studies on redefining and reactivating public spaces,” HANDS shares. The studio released the concept overview of Common Ground towards the end of June 2020, following that with the introduction of active modules, which are actual examples of how Common Ground can be integrated into public spaces. “These modules enact the underlying principles of Common Ground into hybridized built agendas,” the architects and designers say. They furthered that their proposal is intended to be a collaboration with the local government–adopting from a micro to a macro scale, ensuring fair opportunities for all, and pursuing meaningful connections despite isolation and other physical restrictions. 

Common Ground was envisioned by HANDS to be a direct collaboration with forward-thinking and innovative stakeholders may it be LGUs, NGOs, private corporations and institutions, or interested individuals, who are in pursuit of innovative and pragmatic solutions for the future. They structured Common Ground as an adaptive framework of design principles that will be flexible in any context, form, or scale.

Neo Markets

“Self-sufficiency addresses the universal need for survival,” HANDS explains. “This entails a shift in lifestyle that is promoted in the architecture of private and public spaces. By creating more opportunities for everyone to thrive physiologically and  economically, they bear a greater capacity to extend this productivity to the community.” The first Common Ground active module that HANDS shared with the public is Neo Markets, a proposed decentralized market model that revitalizes trade and commerce at a sustainable pace while ensuring physical safety. 

HANDS-Common Ground-Neo Markets
“Rather than expansive shopping complexes that monopolize the market, what if these were scaled down and decentralized?” HANDS asks.
A one-way flow of circulation regulates the capacity within the shopping area and signifies the need for physical distancing.

Neo Markets underscores one of HANDS’ main strategies in Common Ground, community self-sufficiency. As COVID-19 exposed several vulnerabilities on food production, the studio thought of responding to these challenges by providing communities with spaces for edible gardening. “Having the means to produce one’s own food ensures the basic survival of every household,” HANDS explains. “This not only eases the financial pressure in buying food but also helps the environment by reducing the carbon emissions and other heavy production systems of the food industry.” Apart from gardening solutions, HANDS also assures inclusivity in Neo Markets by encouraging new and second-hand stores to promote all industries, along with the integration of renewable resources through solar panels and rainwater harvesting to address environmental concerns. 

HANDS-Common Ground-NeoMarkets2
The facade of Common Ground’s Neo Markets is made of recycled PVC and reclaimed wood portals. The studio shared that each boutique is enclosed by modular paneling to accommodate various sizes and layouts of businesses.

READ MORE: Edible Landscaping 101: Creating abundant food sources in the midst of a pandemic

“The garden includes vegetable patches, fruit-bearing plants and trees, hydroponic frames, and aquaponic ponds to enable residents to grow and harvest their own food,” HANDS explains.

The Hybrid Campus

Second to Neo Markets is The Hybrid Campus, Common Ground’s active module for intersectional working and learning. This module is envisioned as a satellite hub for remote work, “a public space where technology and productivity are accessed as civic resources for everyone.” The Hybrid Campus capitalizes on engagement and isolation, two of Common Ground’s main strategies. According to HANDS, the places we share are still integral to the urban fabric. They explained that the engagement strategy pursues creative ways to address social and physical barriers in private and public spaces while maintaining interaction. 

HANDS-Common Ground-The Hybrid Campus
The Hybrid Campus of Common Ground ensures physical distancing by using personal space as a unit of design in defining the shape and orientation of furniture inside and outside the building.

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HANDS demonstrated that “hexagons create flexibility in the interplay of partitions and volumes of the building.”

Given that the new normal calls for a more prevalent work-from-home setup and blended learning, HANDS believes that social connectivity can still be achieved through open spaces that encourage educational activities while respecting personal boundaries. “Barriers and partitions, in any form, should protect people but not hinder interaction,” they exclaim. “With limited space in which wide physical distancing is not always possible, resourceful means should be  employed to isolate people and to direct circulation.” They furthered that their Common Ground isolation strategy is a means of protecting every individual’s safety, which is a matter of protecting the common good as a whole.  

HANDS-Common Ground-Hybrid Campus envelope
“The open-air building envelope is composed of inexpensive materials to make this structure replicable and adaptable for different communities,” HANDS shared.

READ MORE: Collaborative design informs the culture and process of HANDStudio

Pocket Plazas

The third and final Common Ground model by HANDS is Pocket Plazas, which is an active module for green pedestrian networks. “Transportation in the  Philippines has been problematic even before the coronavirus has forced transit systems to a halt,” the studio states. “The addition of bike paths or rearranging public vehicle lanes is not enough to alleviate these issues.” Pocket Plazas present the idea of having green and micro-interventions that can be incorporated into various locations. These pockets will cover community needs for recreation and collective socializing, enhanced alleyways and sidewalks, bike parking and pitstops, and buffered seating areas that observe physical distancing. Pocket Plazas focus on mobility, Common Ground’s fourth main strategy. It also encourages engagement and social connectivity. 

HANDS - Common Ground - Pocket Plazas
HANDS says that Common Ground’s Pocket Plazas reinforces green open spaces as essential assets to the community at all scales.

“Mobility both dictates and is affected by our cities’ systems,” HANDS construes. Common Ground’s Pocket Plazas reinforces green open spaces to connect man to one another and to nature. It utilizes greenery “as both natural dividers and connecters of pathways” to contribute to the improvement of air quality and the natural environment, alongside the inclusion of landscape strips and outdoor lighting that can keep areas safe and visible even at night. “By conscientiously improving private and public spaces from inside out, mobility becomes a tool to effectively connect communities in micro and macro scale,” HANDS explains. They elaborated that although Pocket Plazas was designed as a model for future green and open spaces, its main goal is for shared open spaces to be continuously innovated according to the changing times. 

HANDS - Common Ground - Pocket Plazas
“Even sidewalks and alleyways can be made vibrant and secure for pedestrian movement. They are small yet essential elements in public commute,” HANDS shared.
The studio added that a combination of Pocket Plazas can become a green pedestrian network, which can encourage mobility throughout streetscapes and promote seamless circulation.

Common Ground recently made it to the World Architecture Festival: Isolation Transformed—Global Design Competition long list. Its concept secured a spot among over 250 submissions from architects, designers, and students which also focused on new post-pandemic homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods for future environments. The announcement for the shortlist will be on the first of November. 

Common Ground - Metro Manila - map
HANDS studied how the key strategies and the active modules can be implemented within Metro Manila. They indicated that Common Ground proposes an inside-out and behavior-centric approach to revitalize Manila.
“The three proposed locations are within a proximity radius of 500 meters. These nodes were selected based on their potential to be impacted by the Neo Markets, the Hybrid Campus, and Pocket Plazas,” HANDS explained.

Support HANDS by watching and liking their PechaKucha presentation here

With the pandemic affecting every element of infrastructure, HANDS reminded that these realities should urge designers to pay attention to how the times are changing, and how architecture must always be ready to adapt—be it through creating spaces for new activities, shifting priorities in access and size, or even in selecting materials. “Architecture should not be passive, nor a mere result of urban systems. It has great potential to transform the way people relate to each other, their resources, and the environment.” 

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