The Lark: A Re-Imagining of Plaza Life

January 31, 2024



Albert Aycardo

The Lark honors the simple joys of a life lived at a much slower pace. Inspired by the spirit of place of Ili Sur in San Juan, La Union, Architect couple Buji Libarnes and Nikki dela Paz-Libarnes set out to design an establishment that can give that feeling to its patrons. 

After a soul-searching like design process, what resulted was an architecture that reflects a gentleness opposite to postmodern society’s harrowing need for speed and efficiency. 

A Celebration Of Ili Sur And Its People

“One could say there was a romance to how the town center folk have stayed local, seemingly uninterrupted by the touristic explosion of Urbiztondo just a couple barangays away.” 

A short walk from the tourist-centered Urbiztondo Beach strip is a quaint town that echoes a rich history. The heritage of the people of San Juan, La Union is apparent through its historically-significant structures,  natural beauty, and in the way-of-life of the residents. The neighborhood is vibrant in its roots, both culturally and in nature, that is well-alive to this day.

Ili Sur is still very much a rural town with a close relationship to the natural world. Its farmlands, akin to a backyard garden framed by the nearby hills, grow local produce.  Along the watchtower by its coastline, residents can enjoy the beach and surf after a hard won day against the cinematic backdrop of La Union’s red sunsets.

The plaza mayor, or central plaza, serves as the focal point of Ili Sur’s life and heritage. The baroque-style St. John the Baptist Church sings hymns of worship throughout the centuries. The colonial-style Municipal hall harkens back to an era when Filipinos fought for the liberties we enjoy today. The aptly named People’s Park provides a green space for children to play and where residents can unwind alongside arcades that house local enterprises.  Within its perimeter streets, you’ll find remnants of religious structures clustered together with the homes of Ili Sur’s people.

An Ode To Plaza Life

“For a year, we immersed in and grew to know and love the quaint neighborhood of Ili Sur before drafting a single floor plan.”

Urban environments have separated us with its long roads and heavy traffic. It’s hard to imagine being able to have work, leisure, religious activities, and errands all within walking distance. Far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city, the plaza provides an opportunity to live life at a more present state. The need for less can somehow give us more as it frees us. 

The Lark offers many amenities that give its guests the chance to encounter what Ili Sur has to offer. An immersion into the manner of living of its town people presents a new perspective to how we spend our time. The inn provides a carefully designed experience to embrace the town’s industries. It’s not afraid to integrate the charm of plaza life and is proud of the heritage that it adopts. 

Values espoused by the Lark center on continuing tradition in modern times. The character of the spaces clearly speaks this message. Its playful approach to architecture and programming achieves an aura of old-world nostalgia.

The Lark’s design is based on the tenets of sustainability, heritage, and community. It’s a building that’s inclusive to what surrounds it. A structural infusion of the local community and environment into its space and programming in affection for where it stands.

Playing With Mother Nature (Sustainability) 

“To present the case for modernizing the old plaza house as a viable, energy-efficient model for a charming little inn with a restaurant, café and bar”

The building practices a conscious approach in how it consumes resources and harnesses natural phenomena to its advantage. The Lark finds inspiration from the inherent qualities of vintage residences in the area. These old houses are designed organically from the local culture, climate, and economy. 

Passive design features are artfully infused into each space. Including design features is one thing, but making sure they perform is something else entirely. The effectiveness of cross-ventilation, passive cooling, and natural light is strongly supported by the use of fully-operable windows.  You’ll find either jalousie, casement, or awning type windows in each space. 

Aside from reducing consumption and expenses, the Lark also finds ways to generate resources. A dedicated filtration system sources clean water without using plastic. On the roof you’ll notice solar panels that power the structure with clean energy. It’s a breath of fresh air that the Lark manages to be both responsible and resilient in how it operates. It is reflective of the conduct and manners that drew in the team to build around the people of Ili Sur.  

New House With An Old Soul (Heritage) 

“At the risk of waxing sentimental, we take pride in continuing a plaza home’s narrative—which really is a tapestry of many of our townsfolk’s personal histories, some of which we still hear more about everyday whenever they visit.”

The previous house serves as the muse for the Lark Inn’s design. Reflections of the building’s past can be found as both material and form are harmonized in a contemporary design. The same windows and doors are used with the reclaimed wood that is repurposed and upcycled. The shape and form of the building mirrors that of the original house. The recycled grills and ornamentation adds charm to the interiors.

The Lark infuses many design elements of traditional Filipino houses . Architectural features such as an elevated wooden story supported by a stone base, the use of capiz windows divided by uniform wood posts, and the high arch formed by the roof’s pitch for openings. It’s no wonder that people assume the Lark has always been part of the plaza mayor of Ili Sur. 

The interiors synergize with the exterior as it speaks of a past time made memorable with pastimes. Retro appliances and furnishings exude a yearning for simpler curiosities. The tasteful framing of spaces of the aged reclaimed wood replicates the modesty of a home.  The repurposed stained glass windows and grillwork gives it that nudge in completing the classic look of the Lark. 

Larking Around Town (Community)

“To create a great place our townsfolk can enjoy, claim, invest time and even their futures in—as our continuing commitment to always prefer the best of local and within-neighborhood has resulted in a workforce that is almost all-local.”

The Lark offers a variety of amenities that give its guests many opportunities to encounter what La Union has to offer. It’s an establishment that understands the town collective is ever present, and thus works with it. You’ll find their team mainly composed of the local residents that lean into the inn’s brand of authenticity.

Furthermore,the inn provides an experience that is carefully designed to be inclusive of the town’s industries. A dedicated farm in La Union supplies the majority of the restaurant’s ingredient needs. Organically grown produce such as rice, adlay, and an assortment of fruits and vegetables can be enjoyed with regionally sourced coffee beans and tea leaves. 

The Lark’s Accessible Vernacular

The Lark’s features clearly give back to the community. Architecturally, it manages to fully embrace the rural neighborhood that it calls home while also introducing exciting technologies and practices. Clearly, the inn makes its case of how a structure’s progress and modernization can speak a more accessible vernacular.

The Lark offers refuge from the chronic excess that plagues modern living. The structure is a response that’s inspired by the slower steps and  moment-to-moment human connections the designers found in San Juan, La Union. Perhaps, we all can learn to sometimes just go out on a lark.

Read More: Burt Little Home: A Modern Tiny House by the Sea

Photos Courtesy of Kitty Bunag

Quotes by Yan Yuzon

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