William Ti Jr. is an avant-garde architect of his generation, establishing WTA Architecture and Design Studio in 2007.  In his professional career, he has worked on hundreds of projects ranging from retail shops and housing projects to large scale malls, residential condominiums, hotels and master-planned developments.  Their philosophy is to put forth architecture based on sustainable planning and urban living.  When the opportunity to do a 419-hectare reclamation project called Horizon Manila arose, Architect William Ti Jr. and his team bravely took the reins.  

In this exclusive with BluPrint Editor-in-Chief Geewel Fuster, Architect William discusses the concept behind Horizon Manila and the process he and his team underwent during the conceptualization of this revolutionary hyper local city in Manila Bay.  They wanted to present solutions for a more sustainable, environmental urban living with a well-thought and well-researched system in mind. Presenting the project to this year’s WAFX has now reaped its rewards.  

Geewel Fuster: Congratulations on winning WAFX Water Category and becoming the overall winner of the 2021 WAFX Award for Horizon Manila!  You must be very ecstatic!

William Ti: Right now, we’re tired! (Laughs) I think the award for us is to say we can make our own contribution in global architecture.  It’s about time, too.  In so many ways, it makes us feel proud.  As Filipino architects, we are always trying to prove ourselves. So finally, here we are.

Geewel Fuster: What were your preparations before this event?

William Ti: Most of us architects gathered and did special crits on the side.  So we got their comments and came up with improvements for the presentation.  This allowed us to better handle the questions, as well as to serve as a rehearsal.  We are kind of used to these events.This is the 4th time we’ve joined, I believe.  It’s fun.  It validates the hard work we put in, so this is a way to celebrate. 

Geewel Fuster: How difficult was it to plan a large-scale project like this?  

William Ti: The most important thing is focus on the macro-level.There were two things that were important to us.  First is to see the big picture and not be carried away with individual aspects. If it doesn’t fit, we need to remove it.  Second is to grow small communities organically.So it’s a not a top-down command and control masterplan, but rather we’re trying to grow and nurture the small communities or baranggays.  

That’s really the origin of the project. It takes inspiration from the barangays in Manila so these are the two focuses that we had.  

Geewel Fuster: Why Manila Bay, among all the possible areas in the country?

William Ti: If you’re familiar with the shape of the city, it’s semi-circle.  At the center of that half circle is Manila.  It’s Intramuros, more specifically. And the problem is why do we have people traveling 3 hours away just to get to work or to school?  Going 80 kilometers to the north or to the south, driving to the center of the city.  How do you find space inside the city for people? That’s the synthesis of the project.

Manila is the densest city in the world, and we’re aiming for Horizon Manila to become home to 150,000 people.  If people have access to all they need, they would not be suffering 2 hours of traffic for work or school. For me, that’s the justification of this project, to provide a better quality of life for these people.  

Geewel Fuster: 15-minute cities are creating waves in the industry, especially globally.  Is Horizon Manila operating under the same concept? 

William Ti: That’s the main concept of Horizon Manila.  It’s creating hyper local communities.  Instead of doing one masterplan, we’re developing 28 different communities.  

They’re all centered in a common ground so that the communities can grow together through shared experiences.  The contrast for each community, the soft edges give them identity and that’s how we develop a community.  

Those small bubbles exist together in the masterplan, like in an ecosystem.  These communities will have relationships with each other so that they can create a more balanced environment.  The question we are trying to address is: How do you grow a megacity?  Because it’s too big, it’s unwieldy.  It’s almost like you cannot do a command and control system.  We see this as a roadmap towards the future of a metro city like Metro Manila.  

Geewel Fuster: It is wonderful that 50% of Horizon Manila will be allotted for green open spaces. What green measures are specifically incorporated in what has been dubbed as “Manileño”?

William Ti: The entire landscape is centered on a canal park.  The canal park will stretch across 3 islands.  Manila was founded along the Pasig River.  If we want to retain the character of Manila, then we should have communities grow around this canal park.  This is our river.  And so we are reintroducing people to this lifestyle of what it means near this body of water.  It is our hope they will gain learning from this and bring it back to the city itself.  

The canal park also allows you to walk from one end of the island to the next end.  You can actually walk to all three islands inside the canal park, so that’s what comprises the main green space.

70% of the shoreline will be covered in mangroves.  We’re trying to reclaim the mangroves and bring it back to Manila Bay.  The contention is that we want the public to have access to the water front.  

Every property in Horizon Manila is either a waterfront, a park front or a shore front.  There is always a body of water or park that’s adjacent or nearby.  We’re teaching people to appreciate nature and public space.  

Geewel Fuster: To solve water scarcity, Horizon Manila would be harnessing rainwater in the three islands.  Is it really feasible to be able to collect 5 months’ water of reserve for the city, in case we are undergoing  drought?

William Ti: Yes, we have so much rainfall in Manila.  The dry season is about 3 months.  So we are really targeting for 5 months’ worth of reserves.  The whole canal is a reserve.  Water wastes across the three islands are water reserves.  Aside from that, we have other reservoirs, which are man-made for each island.  We’ve computed it and it will allow 150,000 people to consume the water in 5 months, without replenishment.  

Geewel Fuster: This project is well-researched, well-thought of, well-conceptualized.  What advice would you give to younger architects, in terms of this new achievement of yours?  Is there a particular take-away?

William Ti: Maybe I can give an anecdote.  One thing that really strikes me is that someone once said Filipino architects simply are not at par with the foreign architects.  I think for now, we actually beat them.  We were up against Toyota City and all these large-scale masterplans.  At the end of the day, it’s so much fulfillment.  It proves that we are at par and we can compete in the global stage. We just have to realize that ourselves.  

Obviously, we don’t have the same amount of resources as they do and yet we’re still able to compete against the best in the world.  I hope it gives courage to the next generation of architects that we can only get better.  If we can go this far, then hopefully, the next generation can go farther. 

Geewel Fuster:  Are you going to join WAF next year again?

William Ti: Well, we know we’re going to enter a couple of projects.  We always enter two projects or so every year.  Hopefully if we get in, we can all go to Lisbon. Bluprint should go to Lisbon and party with us there. (Laughs)

The WAFX Award heralds the world’s most forward-looking architectural concepts, and is awarded to future projects that identify key challenges that architects will need to address in the coming years. 

Photos courtesy of WTA Architecture and Design Studio

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