Modern Filipino Architecture: Reshaping Traditions for a New Era

February 8, 2024



Albert Aycardo

More than just an aesthetic, traditional Filipino architecture reflects our country’s timeless customs and beliefs. Today’s globalized landscape introduces foreign designs that often replace our own architecture’s vernacular. The fusion of traditional and modern building styles enables a different kind of progress. By bringing the past into the present, structures can meet the contemporary demands without sacrificing our cultural identity. 

Reviving An Old House

Corner house manosa feat2

In 1969, architect Edgar Reformado designed a  unique residence featuring an L-shaped building that ran parallel with the adjacent roads. The house articulated the design trends of its time with its classical portico and shallow-angle hip roofs. Regrettably, the house deteriorated as the years went by and was nearly destroyed to make room for newer developments. 

Architect Angelo Mañosa transformed the otherwise condemned home into an abode that fits the vogue of modern life.  The Corner House is a renovation of the existing structure to meet the current needs of the original owner’s descendants with a more modern Filipino architecture.

As the new owners were now a family of four, Mañosa restructured the home to utilize the excess space and updated its architectural features. The programming called for scaling down the structure to be compatible with the current residents’ lifestyle.

The old roofing was converted into a split roof type to create new openings for the upper levels. Alongside this, the remaining roofs were made steeper to provide additional ventilation through the addition of transoms. Eaves designed to provide shade were playfully arranged at various levels and could water integrated planters.

Mañosa redesigned the entrance to reframe the experience of entering the space. An arboreal screen opens up to a modern Asian portico. Shaped by influences from Southeast Asia, the portico is inspired by Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa’s Coconut Palace. A set of latticed spandrels and the angled canopy set the tone for a more dynamic encounter with the built environment.

All these design decisions culminate in a structure that blends native design with the current needs of its owners. The architecture reflects the journey of the family it housed from decades past, and hopefully forges a new narrative for years to come.

 Bringing the Past to the Present

the henry

The boutique and vintage style of the Henry’s architectural character charms its patrons with American colonial luxuries and extravagance. The original residential estate is reminiscent of the resort town of Pasay of the early 20th century. During the late 1940s, the owner developed the property with 20 identical houses for each of his descendants. Its remote location within the city helped it retain its natural features. The grounds were a coastal oasis before the changes brought about by rapid urbanization. 

In 2013, the hotelier Hanky Lee tasked architects of Atlas Real Estate with the challenge of transforming five antique houses into a boutique hotel. The designers took advantage of the original “Liberation Style” aesthetic of each home. Through adaptive reuse, they preserved the original design and upgraded the buildings with elements of modern Filipino architecture.

Atlas retained original features such as windows frames and floorings, and made sure the stairs were up to current quality standards. Replicating distinct styles, such as the tile patterns, was necessary to complete the original intention of the house’s design. Plants such as palmera, santan, lantana, and champaca adorn the landscape. Alongside this, hundreds of capiz lights illuminate the trees and gardens at night. 

The reoriented spaces ensure a pleasant and modern experience for its guests. Meeting current programming requirements called for an upgrading of the building’s functionality. Added amenities provided comfort, privacy, and adornments in relation to modern demands of hospitality.  Structural components reinforced the building to make sure it could handle the influx of users. Fire safety features such as hoses, extinguishers, and additional means of egress had to be integrated to ensure that the structure was up to contemporary standards.  

A Modern Take On The Bahay na Bato

The Bahay na Bato is a constant in conversations about traditional Filipino architecture. It reflects an architecture born out of centuries of colonial rule and modified to fit our local climate and materials. By today’s standards, it’s difficult to build and unresponsive to the conditions of our urban environments. The efficiency-oriented tendencies of today’s industry make it impractical and expensive to build.  However, its elements still very much respond to nature and is something that modern forms can aim to replicate. 

TJSO Architects designed their own iteration of the Bahay na Bato in oriental Mindoro. The municipality of Pinamalayan, located near the coastline, is known to have many ancestral homes. The circumstances of the project presented an opportunity to pay tribute to Filipino heritage, but also faced unique challenges. TJSO wanted to make sure the home was in keeping with the area’s rich history while making it resilient to the forces of nature. They drew inspiration from this context and integrated characteristics of the Bahay na Bato into a contemporary residential structure.

The arrangement of stone and wood are consistent with the basic traditional composition. Wooden slats and extended canopies form passive cooling features. Furthermore, the architects used Araal stones as wall cladding. Utilizing the time-tested characteristics of traditional construction with current technologies truly makes this building an exemplar of modern Filipino architecture.

A Contemporary Bahay Kubo Design in Laguna

A modern bahay kubo design on concrete stilts and thatched roof in the middle of a field.

The Bahay Kubo, or nipa hut, is one of the most iconic typologies among Filipino structures. It is an inspiring form held in close regard to our roots. It represents an intimacy with the Philippines’ natural landscape, from rice fields to mountain ranges. Inspired by this, architecture graduate Alexa Libanan, in collaboration with Architect Ardie Mariano, set out to design a version of the Bahay kubo that captures the ethos modern Filipino architecture.

The vacation home, located in Santa Maria, Laguna, fuses the raw humility of this vernacular form with modern building techniques. The design incorporates traditional materials that encapsulate both the exterior and interior. Tall louvered windows line the walls, replicating the openness of the bahay kubo. 

Conversely, more modern materials add onto the rural aesthetic with a contemporary touch. Its concrete and metal frame hold up the thatched roof of cogon grass made by local craftsmen. Reclaimed wood and traditional bamboo mats complement the modern systems and construction techniques, while the furniture and fenestration grounds the design in the present. 

The simplicity of the form and materials harmonizes the elements together. Careful programming within the confines the bahay kubo’s shape helps this iteration maintain its authenticity. Luckily, the ideal local conditions of the project made planning and constructing this modern iteration of the bahay kubo more feasible.  

Balancing Tradition and Modernity In Design

These unique homes show how modern Filipino architecture can harmonize traditional elements with present-day needs and values. Learning how these houses reflect Filipino living give insight to the ongoing discussions of how our design vernacular can evolve. Furthermore, focusing on preserving old structures and taking inspiration from cultural staples are possible translations of this concept. Revitalizing heritage through adaptive reuse harnesses the benefits of both old and the new. 

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