Squared up and standing tall: MN House by Arkisens

August 14, 2017



Kitkat Torres and Miguel R. Llona

Windows of different sizes, seemingly placed randomly over the dark concrete façade like pixels, offer small glimpses of the spaces concealed inside. As if its intriguing appearance isn’t enough to attract attention, the three-storey black box is elevated almost three meters from the ground. The elevation of MN House, however, isn’t to make it stand out from its neighbors. The subdivision that the house is in is near a creek that overflows during heavy rain. In 2009, when Typhoon Ondoy dumped a month’s worth of rain in just nine hourson Luzon, floodwaters rose up to seven feet high within the subdivision.

The trauma of Ondoy was still fresh in the client’s mind when he approached Arkisens to design his home after acquiring a 200-square meter piece of land adjacent to his 700-square meter property. He wanted his old house demolished, and replaced with a flood-proof compound for two households—his and his parents.

Completed late 2015, the MN House, or Phase 1 of the project, is built on the newly acquired lot. Phase 2 will see a new house constructed for his parents and younger siblings on the original property. “Although Phase 1 speaks the same architectural language as Phase 2, we wanted the two to have a sense of visual distinction and material contrast,” says Chok Manalo, one of the partners of Arkisens.

READ MORE: Arkisens and 6×6 Builders learn from mistakes in their early days

The MN House has an industrial and minimalist aesthetic, its form a response to the challenges of the site, and the client’s requirements. Arkisens painted the rough concrete exterior black, making it “disappear” amidst the sea of beige and brown structures surrounding it. “The owner sees it as some sort of rebellion against the typical houses in the village,” says Manalo. Rough concrete plaster will be used for the Phase 2 house as well. The exterior will be coated in white paint and portions of the façade clad in wood, with the intent of creating a clear visual distinction between the two houses.

The choice of black for the MN House, a color known to absorb heat, compounds the lot’s disadvantageous orientation to the southwest. Since the sun shines directly on the façade in the afternoon, the layout of the interior spaces required thinking so that they wouldn’t be oven-hot. This meant situating all the bedrooms away from the southwest side, and placing the stairwell in between.

MN House by Arkisens: black facade
The ramp to the ground floor was supposed to be covered with vines, but was instead kept as is. The lack of eaves for the windows is a hassle in rainy weather, but Manalo says the windowsills slope downwards to prevent water spatter from coming in.

Extensive glazing on the front façade would have made the house even hotter, but Arkisens didn’t want to cover the façade completely with concrete. Natural light still had to come in so they cut small windows, which now give the house its pixelized appearance from outside. The use of low-e glass lessens heat gain, but the stairwell remains the warmest part of the house (in the afternoons, the metal handrail is hot to touch). Only windows that are easily within reach are operable. Those at the highest portion of the stairwell are inoperable, which is a shame as these would ideally function as outlets for hot air rising. There is an exhaust fan in one corner of the third floor hallway, but it is no match for the volume it is supposed to serve. A direct source of cool air from below is also needed to help push hot air up and out.

Arkisens painted the rough concrete exterior of the house black, making it “disappear” amidst the sea of beige and brown structures surrounding it.

MN House by Arkisens: stairwell
Windows were cut into the façade wall, allowing squares of light to shine on parts of the yakal and narra stairwell. “We wanted these squares of light to hit parts of the walls during certain times of the day,” says Manalo

Thankfully, the other areas of the home don’t suffer the same fate—living area and bedroom temperatures are comfortably cool. Opening all the windows on the ground level and upper floor rooms allow cross ventilation, as the house greatly benefits from the eastwest breeze.

MN House by Arkisens: kitchen and dining room

At the center of the ground floor is the kitchen island and dining table. The wooden table is cantilevered and held in place by a reinforced concrete island. The table’s brown horizontal plane is echoed by the cantilevered narra steps leading to the second floor. Complementing the kitchen island-slashdining table are chairs custom-made by Sibol furniture.

The interiors are all concrete floors and white walls, balanced by wood accents. In stark contrast with the shielded appearance of the exterior, angled lines, walls and ceilings create a sense of lightness, movement and connectivity inside the house. Glass plays an important part in visually connecting and opening up spaces. On the ground level, floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors open out to a pocket garden that will serve as a buffer space between the MN House’s dining area and the future living area of the Phase 2 house. One side of the master bedroom on the third level is a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, which provides a perfect view of the staircase made of narra treads and yakal railings. The absence of risers for the stairs leading to the third level opens up sightlines, and creates an impression of greater height and space.

In stark contrast with the shielded appearance of the exterior, angled lines, walls and ceilings create a sense of lightness, movement and connectivity inside the house.

The house is almost nine feet above street level. Arkisens had the lot excavated and backfilled with eight feet of soil a process that took three months—and then topped with a concrete slab for the ground floor. Aside from raising the house well above flood levels in the area, the elevation also made it possible to install two cisterns—one for domestic consumption and another for rainwater to be used for watering plants—without disturbing the foundation and overall design.

MN House by Arkisens: master bedroom

The walls of the master’s bedroom are angled diagonally, making for a dynamic space. To the left are wooden fins set against a glass wall with a view of the stairwell below.

Before construction, however, the plan to raise the house was opposed by the village association due to height restrictions. The owners presented pictures showing the flood level inside the subdivision during Ondoy. The association relented, provided the house stayed within the 10-meter height restriction from the roof apex to the ground floor, on top of the 9-foot elevation. In effect, the association agreed to allow an additional three-meter elevation from street to ground level for all houses in the village.

The neighbors may still find the design odd, but they have the owners of MN House and Arkisens to thank for reopening a conversation about climate change, persuading the village association to update their regulations to address the realities of their environment, and for setting an earnest example in safety and preparedness. 

MN House by Arkisens: ground floor plan
MN House by Arkisens: second floor plan
MN House by Arkisens: third floor plan
MN House by Arkisens: Phase 2 proposal

The MN House only accounts for 1/4 of the 900-sqm lot. Phase 2 will take up almost 700 sqm, and will follow the same elevation from street level as the MN House. A ramp will lead cars to the garage, and just beyond is a small garden that can be used for parties and gatherings. In the upper left of the second rendering, one can see a bridge on the third floor of the MN House that connects to the Phase 2 house’s game room, which then opens up to a roof deck.

This article first appeared in BluPrint Vol 2 2016. Edits were made for Bluprint.ph.

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