The bahay kubo, referred to as nipa hut, is often hailed as the most popular archetype of Filipino vernacular architecture. It serves as a popular icon of our unique heritage as its character demonstrates the past way of life of the Filipino. An organic reflection of spatial needs is translated in the forms, construction, and programming. These shapes can inspire other designers to incorporate traditional building styles into modern nipa hut design.

There are a few key architectural elements that define the look of the bahay kubo. Firstly, the use of a thatched roof, typically made from nipa, with a steep slope forming a high ceiling on the inside. Secondly, the elevated floor level provides ventilation across the home and protection from flooding. Thirdly, an open plan makes it adaptive in configuration to support activities such as sleeping, eating, and leisure all within one space. Lastly, intricate detailing such as lattice work to capiz windows serve as “screens” for the generous amount of openings.

Casa De Nipa 

Casa de Nipa, a grand scale nipa hut with thatched roof surrounded by tropical vegetation.

The Casa De Nipa reflects an infusion of the bahay kubo’s elements into a home fit for its wealthy owners. The house sits on a former sugarcane plantation located in Canlubang, which is now an industrial zone in Laguna. The architectural treatment throughout its premises is a mixture of indigenous, colonial, and modern components. 

A caveat to using the same materials as a bahay kubo is that the nipa hut was not designed to be this grand. Unfortunately, the structure’s materials and integrity broke down due to its continuous exposure to the tropical environment. In 2003, the home’s original owners worked with Leandro V. Locsin Partners (LVLP) to have it reconstructed. The team, led by Rommel Abad, documented the original house’s details and focused on retaining its tropical design. There was no formal architect to credit for the design of the Casa De Nipa. 

“Not knowing who the architect or designer was is part of the funk,” says Andy Locsin, LVLP’s design consultant.  “The reality is this: some very clever people, whether or not they had a formal architectural education or are steeped in the design world, are perfectly capable of creating incredible things. The simple guy in the probinsya (province) who is attuned to the conditions and puts a kubo together has a million things of genius [to] teach today’s architect.” 

casa de nipa
casa de nipa
casa de nipa

The nipa hut design is clear in each of its built aspects. Intricate lattice work found in every space as an ode to the local craftsmanship of the area. The thatch roofing makes up the dimensional majority of the home’s frontage with its 35 degree slope. Furthermore, the capiz windows feature a screen infill, rather than the typical shell infill, to compensate for ventilation in lieu of the addition of slab flooring to reinforce the structure. 

Photographed by Ed Simon.

Isla Cabana Resort

Modern nipa hut design at Isla Cabana.

The Isla Cabana Resort sits at the heart of Siargao’s tourist town of General Luna. Inspired by the nature of its surroundings, owner Mildred Pabillore set out to build a resort that reflects tropical living in this paradise. Historically, nipa hut design reflected the agricultural lifestyle of the Filipinos living in lowland regions. Conversely, the island landscape of Siargao brought about different opportunities and challenges. 

The cabanas demonstrate how the nipa hut can be modernized and sculpted to provide a top-of-the-line experience in hospitality. Despite the strong winds and rain from the Pacific Ocean, the designers were able to adjust the huts to withstand these conditions. 

Welcoming guests at the Isla Cabana Resort’s main entrance is a deep portico with exposed rafters and dried nipa for the roof, a prelude to what guests can see in the interiors.
The swimming pool facing the sea acts as a buffer between the body of water and the cabanas, which is helpful during the amihan.

Reinforcements of concrete act as the foundational element that hold the wooden floorings, trusses, posts, cladding, and paneling together. The thatched roof of the elegant nipa hut design exudes a tropical aura. It’s a refined display of the vernacular architecture. The large openings on each cabana reference the nipa hut’s exposed nature to welcome in the breeze. Rattan curtains protect the porch by lining the cabanas’ fronting eaves, which can be rolled down when it rains. 

Photographed by Estan Cabigas.

Nipa Hut Design for Living Large in Siargao

A large resort featuring nipa hut design with tall thatched roofs and a pool.

Another structure from Siargao, this beachfront house sits in the quieter neighborhood of Malinao. It took a whooping 6 years to have the house built as materials were difficult to transport to Siargao. What you’ll find inside is a structure that conveys the same spirit of the nipa hut design. But it does so in a luxurious fashion that can make onlookers mistake the residence for a resort. 

The house’s massive nipa roof is saddle-like with a roof apex on the ends rather than on the middle. This typically South East Asian design provides the right steepness for the roof to shed water easily. Slanted columns learn forward to hold up the wide eaves that cover the generously sized porches. Utilizing such a form also results in a higher ceiling and wider openings within the interiors. 

Its open layout is a nod to the traditional form as its indoor and outdoor spaces blend together seamlessly. Luxury and opulence shine in its characterful furnishings that reflects the owner’s travel experiences . The structure’s palette use hues of brown and whites throughout the interiors. A black stone finish delineates the kitchen area. Local craftsmen built and carved the intricate design of the doors, which further harmonizes with the structure’s general aesthetic. 

Photographed by Summer Puertollano.

A Nipa Hut That Amalgamates with Nature

Nipa hut design with thatched roof and screens surrounded by native trees.

A bahay kubo typically condenses all daily activities into one space. With the recent trend of downsizing structures, M+S Studio Co. crafted a tiny nipa hut design for their owners in the hills of Carmen, Cebu. 

The house fuses local elements with modern day materials acting only as a supplement. The roofing uses G.I. sheets ,as its main means of weather protection, with a layer of nipa acting as insulation. Rather than use concrete hollow blocks (CHB), the designers opted for a series of screen panels that allow wind to freely enter and exit. This decision is comparable with the latticework that lines the “walls” of bahay kubo between exterior and interior. 

Nipa hut design with thatched roof and screens surrounded by native trees.
Nipa hut design with thatched roof and screens surrounded by native trees.

Within its 44 sqm footprint, the designers managed to integrate mature trees into its layout. It’s a choice that cites how vernacular architecture also incorporates foliage directly into its form. Modular design components allow the roof to easily detach in case the owners want to add a second floor. It’s a feature comparable to how people once carried the roofs of bahay kubo when the house needed to be moved. 

Photos courtesy of M+S Studio.

The remarkable flexibility and user-friendly characteristics of nipa hut design makes it a classic inspiration that designers can manifest. These designs embody traditional practices in architecture, suitable for various settings such as agricultural lands, coastal areas, or mountain regions. Beyond its shape, the nipa hut symbolizes a type of dwelling historically developed by Filipinos.

Download this month's BLUPRINT magazine digital copy from:
Subscribe via [email protected]