Top 4 Sustainable Local Materials in the Philippines

January 21, 2024

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By 

Albert Aycardo

Sourcing sustainable local materials in the Philippines introduces a multitude of benefits. Construction becomes more cost-efficient in terms of transportation and supply. Furthermore, designs can become more inclusive by boosting our local industries. 

As we continue to develop our own distinct architectural language, the local materials that we use play a crucial role in reflecting the nature of our land.The Philippines retains only 40% of its trees over the past 80 years. If left unchecked, future generations will have to deal with the consequences of a damaged ecosystem.

Coconut

For centuries, the coconut played a significant role in various aspects of Filipino culture, including art and cuisine. As one of its major global producers, the Philippines has a strong presence in the coconut industry. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) reports that 69 of the 82 provinces in the country engage in coconut agriculture. Given the widespread availability of this filipino material, its integration into architectural design by Filipino architects already has a profound impact.

the coconut palace by Mañosa and Company.
The coconut palace by Mañosa and Company. Image from Mañosa & Company website

The Coconut Palace by Francisco Manosa, a National Artist for architecture, exemplifies how the use of local materials can play a crucial role in defining the vernacular. The design, both in concept and physical form, draws inspiration from the tree itself. Finishes and furniture come from the lumber, fibers, and shells. You’ll also find different parts of the coconut in the wallpaper and parquet. The design takes it a step further as its ornamentation takes inspiration from the shape of the tree’s stump.

Read more: https://bluprint-onemega.com/creativity-and-logic-francisco-manosas-legacy/

The coconut tree and its fruit are constantly researched for applications in construction. The Philippine Coconut Authority developed a fiberboard made from a mixture of cement and coconut fiber. It’s an ideal material for government housing projects considering the low cost of materials, labor, and maintenance. Developments like this are important as deforestation continues, which makes wood more expensive.

Bamboo

Bamboo is famously known as the fastest growing plant. It is a timber that is flexible while also containing an immense amount of strength. What makes bamboo ideal is how easy it is to cultivate, making it easy to sustain for local industry. As of 2023, the Philippine government has announced plans to invest in developing agricultural policy and land to strengthen bamboo production.

In terms of culture, bamboo is tied closely to our traditions and heritage. A popular Filipino creation myth tells the story of how the first man and woman arose from the stalk of a primordial bamboo. 

With this in mind, the firm Sangay Architects chose to use bamboo for the MLR Polo Pavilion. The team designed a venue that can represent the Filipino spirit. The result is a structure that closely resembles the bahay kubo but with a new spin. The structural support features an arrangement of bamboo that resembles bouquets of flowers. The ceiling is textured with the geometries formed by the different stems of the plant.

Abaca

The Philippines is the top producer of fiber in the world. Also known as Manila Hemp, this plant is used to make traditional Filipino fashion and household products.  

Abaca has durability properties that make it an ideal material choice for our seafaring ancestors. Firstly, its load bearing capabilities made it ideal for making ropes and canvases for sails. Secondly, it has both water-proofing and water-resistant properties, to a certain degree, which makes it great for both clothes and as a general fabric. 

Moving beyond textiles and into construction, WTA Design Studio wrapped the entire exterior of the St. Scholastica Mission Hospital Chapel with alamacan, a treated abaca fiber. Utilizing the material’s properties gave the opportunity to come up with a unique form. The outline of the roof forms a plane that comes together like hands in prayer. As such, the texture and formation of the structure’s finish reflects the region’s local products. Again, the material used is a key feature of the design’s vernacular. 

Read more: WTA Stained Glass and Abaca Chapel up for WAF Color Prize

Rattan 

This vine-palm is commonly found in tropical regions around the world. Like the other materials in this list, the Philippines is one of the world’s top producers. You’ll often find this material used to make everyday household items. 

The flexibility of this filipino material finds its way into structures as a covering material. You’ll find rattan used as sun shading devices, ornamentation, and for ventilation. Its resistance to humidity, vermin, and heat makes it a perfect fit to the Philippine climate because of its adaptability.

The UNIVERS store at the NUSTAR resort showcases rattan’s versatility in shaping eye-catching forms. The design was a collaborative effort of Ed Calma and Kenneth Cobunque. The organic shape of the rattan installation is the center piece that connects different parts of the space.  The curvature of the wood finish evokes a sense of warmth and movement across the store.  

Additionally, the general character of the space allows the material to truly shine. Glass barriers give full visibility to the vines. Alongside this, lighting thoughtfully accentuates the curves and texture of the material. 

Read more: UNIVERS NUSTAR Is a Bold New Take on Retail Design

the utilization of local materials in the Philippines pays tribute to the nation’s rich natural resources. So long as we continue to harness these resources responsibly, we can set a global example in the pursuit of sustainable architecture and industry. This approach not only supports local economies and preserves traditional craftsmanship, but also contributes significantly to the global effort against environmental degradation.

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