Transparency and greenery marry in this residence designed by Lor Calma & Partners

June 4, 2020



Nick Ramos

“I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the site,” explains Eduardo Calma, principal architect of Lor Calma & Partners, who organized the house on a 730-square-meter lot so that all elements are oriented to create ideal physical adjacencies and safeguard privacy where mandatory. The conditions of the site (and keeping as many of the trees as possible), the straightforward program of the client, and Calma’s concepts for the spaces all drove the design.

Lor Calma & Partners - exterior - young family
The protective qualities of the front elevation designed by Lor Calma & Partners are offset by features that playfully occlude and reveal some of the interior activities.

Located in an exclusive enclave east of Metro Manila, the house is built on a sloping site set between neighboring houses and is accessible along its western border. The structure is composed chiefly of two rectangular volumes set parallel to each other on a north-south axis. The longer block features the street frontage behind which all the essential spaces of the house are organized on two levels. The smaller volume is made up of a den with a gym above. A perpendicular service mass connects with the southern ends of the two main blocks resulting in an orthogonal J-shaped plan. Thee layout allowed for the largest possible area of open space to be integrated into the scheme. It is toward this clearing that most of the rooms of the house are oriented and from which they derive natural light and ventilation.

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Face value

Calma has always had an aversion to perimeter fences and wasn’t having one here. “They don’t make a house welcoming,” he reasons. The main façade then became an opportunity to define the relationship of the house with the street, establish its public and private zones, and accentuate the structure’s affinity with the site.

The floor levels were established on the higher northern edge of the sloping property. These were drawn across to outline the elevation. The height difference between the two ends of the site allowed for the insertion of a high garage space beneath the service block on the south side. The slope necessitated a ramp to connect the garage with the front doorstep. Calma feels that design moves such as this that stem from the realities of the site make the design more meaningful.

The front door features prominently and is a glass and steel construction stretching the full 3.3-meter height of the interior space. Upon entry, the architecture is devoted to the interior life of its residents and their guests.

Lor Calma & Partners - interior - young family
Upon entry, the first impression is that of vast space. Calma is glad that clients agreed to an open plan as a cellular one would have made the house feel cramped.

House parti

The door opens directly to an open-planned communal space comprised of living, dining, and kitchen areas. Immediately to the right of the foyer, a flight of stairs climbs to the residents’ private quarters. To the left, a fully appointed guest bedroom is discreetly tucked away behind a timber-clad wall. Along the far edge, a 12-meter long glass wall with sliding central panels, each 3.05 meters wide, presents a view of the courtyard, pool, and garden beyond. This transparency allows one’s line of sight to travel farther than the perceived dimensions of the plan, giving the impression of an expanse much greater than the approximately 240-square-meter actual floor area.

The bright airy layout was designed to be open and flexible to accommodate gatherings of any size. Small family meals are served at the kitchen counter while larger get-togethers are entertained at the dining table. The interconnectivity of the kitchen, dining, and living areas, as well the capacity of the courtyard and adjacent den to accommodate spillover, allows the house to cater to even larger parties. Due to the hospitable versatility of this space, the different social circles to which the residents belong have come to regard the house as something of a default venue for gatherings and celebrations. It is a distinction the owners are happy to encourage.

Lor Calma & Partners - guest bedroom - young family
A generously appointed guest bedroom with en suite bath is inconspicuously tucked away from the communal area at the ground floor.

Sequestered outdoors

The courtyard is the central focus towards which the rooms and functions of the house are organized on both levels. Acting as a source of natural light and ventilation, it can be enjoyed from almost any space in the home. A 15.6-meterlapping pool provides an inviting recreational option as well as contributes to passive cooling. A full bathroom is discreetly hidden within the service block, its door cut into the stone-clad backdrop to the courtyard.

At the far end of the courtyard is a room loosely referred to as the den. Bounded by glass walls and doors on its pool and garden sides, the space gets the most use of all the property’s entertainment areas. is versatile annex often assumes multiple roles: it can host a small gathering, accommodate overspill of guests from the main space, or make itself fit for an altogether separate party. The soundproof sliding glass doors ensure acoustic privacy while deep eaves shield the glass surfaces from direct sunlight. Blinds can be lowered to mitigate against excessive glare while transom windows provide illumination from above. 

The house sees a fitting change in color palette from Calma’s earlier works. More subdued hues and natural finishes were privileged over abstract white due to considerations of maintaining a house in a dusty, grimy city.

Room at the top

The large windows on the upper portion of the front façade allow for the stairs to be lit naturally. Metal grills provide some measure of privacy for the occupants as well as protection for the glass surfaces from the most oppressive hours of sunlight. The two center panels slide apart on rails to facilitate easy maintenance of the windows from outside. “The details make the house,” according to Lor Calma & Partners’ principal who relished working with craftspersons such as a metal worker to get things just right. Case in point: the grill bars had to be spaced carefully to effectively minimize heat in infiltration.

A built-in bench outside the master’s bedroom quickly became an outdoor smoking lounge for the man of the house. At day’s end, it is the perfect spot to enjoy the sound of wind rustling through the screen of tall bamboo that lines the far edge of the garden.

From the upstairs landing, a gallery-like hall proceeds towards the bedrooms for the couple and their daughter. Any heat rising from downstairs is easily dissipated to the outside by means of operable clerestory windows. These same apertures provide the hall with crisp natural light throughout the day.

Further from the desire to leave any existing trees on the site intact, it was also Calma’s express intention to insert as much greenery into the architecture as possible. On the second floor, this results in a shelf garden to benefit the daughter’s bedroom on one end and the home gym on the other. Behind this, a metal grill obscures views into the house, provides an occasion for creeping plants to grow, while inclining breezes to flow freely to and from the pool and courtyard below. Another green area manifests as a verdant backdrop to the masters’ bathroom. 

The position of the bathtub emphasizes the symmetrical layout of the his-and-hers master bath. Another pocket garden provides a calming backdrop. Clerestory windows and the opening above the garden renders the space awash in light.

Calma had the implicit trust of his clients and was consulted on everything from furnishings to foliage. Far from being passive participants, the pair were in conversation with their architect throughout the entire design and build process, and weighed in on the relative merits of each design decision and how these were to effectively serve their wants and needs. This genuine collaboration was not in pursuit of compromise, but in honing the true definition of the house that only made the result more satisfying to both parties.

In optimizing the benefits inherent in the nature of the site while mitigating any shortcomings by means of appropriate and time-tested architectural devices, Lor Calma & Partners crafted a tropical dream home as refined as it is pleasurably functional.

Lor Calma & Partners - courtyard - young family
The courtyard configuration directs breezes along the length of the site to provide the home with natural ventilation and light.
This article first appeared on Tropical Architecture for the 21st Century Vol 2. Edits were made for BluPrint online.

READ MORE: Lor Calma & Partners glazes a home inside and out

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