Posts filed under "Travelogue"

Sofia Townhomes Revisited

October 30, 2017

We revisited Sofia Townhomes, designed in 2007 and completed in 2009, to observe and enjoy how the people living in it have turned the village into a community and made the houses their own, often adding their touch of personalization to it.

Enjoy the video and the short narrative of Sofia below!

Customizable Layout
We started by interpreting the program into cubes to represent the needed spaces, then sliced these cubes to segregate the service spaces (stairs, toilet and bath, maid’s room) from the main ones (living and dining areas, kitchen, bedrooms). We then pushed some cubes up to create double height spaces in the living area, causing a ripple effect on the cubes above and beside it. During this process, interstitial spaces emerged and created opportunities to integrate lofts all throughout the interior of the house. This effectively increased the useable floor area of the otherwise compact row house. These loft spaces could also be expanded to create even larger spaces, such as additional closets or bedrooms. We were happy to see that during the build, a lot of homeowners personalized their units in their own ways, some we didn’t even think of. The sequence and relationship of the spaces had become a perfect canvas to customize the entire house according to their liking.

Keeping it Light and Right
After establishing the spaces, we were left with a number of stacked cubes that seemed to be in a disarray. We addressed this by wrapping a continuous architectural frame around the stacked cubes to visually organize the composition, then skewed these frames towards the street to visually engage the onlooker. We did the same to the firewalls that separate each unit from another, resulting in a “winged architecture” that effectively funnels in wind through the interior spaces and lets it escape out the opposite windows. Massive windows allowed an abundance of natural light to flood the insides, but kept the heat out with wide canopies and eaves. These steps ensure minimal energy consumption as there would be a less need to turn on artifical lighting and cooling.

Park Bench People

November 12, 2016

Text and Photos by Nikki Boncan- Buensalido

If you had foreign guests visit Manila, just Manila, where would you take them? (Don’t say Boracay and Tagaytay because that doesn’t count as Manila.) You might make a mental rundown of places to visit and things to do and you realize that you will inevitably have to add a mall tour to their itinerary. Bummer.

So why is it that in other cities like London, New York, Barcelona or Vancouver, to name a few, you can go on days or even your whole stay without setting foot in a mall? They have parks, museums, hiking trails, flea markets, long-running shows on Broadway and West End, repurposed buildings, public squares, nearby beaches, etc. Why have we built a culture around malls?

In London for example, once the spring and summer season starts, people flock to courtyards of museums, nearby community parks and plazas for picnics, get togethers.  They welcome the sun for most of this season by basking and frolicking in it practically the whole day.  In Vancouver, home of “The Great Outdoors”, the city has national parks, wildlife lookouts, forests, hiking trails off of certain areas.  Or in New York, an endless variety of Broadway shows, museums and flea markets are accessible to everyone.  Central Park in New York and Hyde Park in London are both centrally located at the heart of the city, providing a diverse array of opportunities to attain a healthier lifestyle, social life, leisure and relaxation.

Butchart Gardens: The Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada also provide a park with thousands of flower varieties. Not only does this educate people about the plants and crops but it also gives national pride to the locals.

Vancouver: Vancouver, Canada has various park trails and treks with different difficulty levels. It natural for them to commune with nature as they enjoy the small parks and open spaces scattered throughout the city

These cities also offer free museum entrances for visitors to learn about their culture, heritage and their national treasure. They are proud to share what they have to their visitors. Moreover, they provide public spaces and opportunities for people to converge and get together.  The visitors use even courtyards in between these buildings.  Children idyllically splash about in water fountains while parents casually talk to other parents.  In plazas such as Trafalgar Square in London, or Times Square in New York, people utilize these spaces climbing onto interactive steps, monuments and pillars.  Isn’t this the quality of life that everyone deserves?  To have the same amount of freedom such as this though, also requires a certain amount of responsibility from the citizens.

Now what about Manila? Is Luneta Park or Plaza Miranda at par with what other countries can offer?  Do our flea markets provide interesting finds that pique one’s interest? Are our museums worth visiting and is getting there accessible most especially to tourists. What can our tourists associate with within the city?

Malls are one of the biggest income generating entities in Manila.  Developers have come up with a million and one ways to continually expand and add huge malls with relatively all the same concessions and surprisingly, these malls are full even on weekdays. There are many possible factors that possibly hinder the community to come together in the way other citizens of the world do, like the weather, or the pollution, responsibility to cleanliness, and maybe even fellow citizens. Perhaps, this is a call to developers to place value on other projects that also help build communities besides malls in order to promote the betterment of quality of life.  I believe that through exposure to certain kind of experiences one is able to develop more sophistication, open-mindedness and social responsibility.  Once exposed, this might even be a seed planted towards improving our lifestyles, and our personality as a People.   On the other hand, maybe as citizens and members of the consuming public should be able to respect, appreciate and take care of places like these. The way I see it, having these spaces are not rights they are privileges.

Banff, Canada: Aside from parks, Banff, Canada boasts of its pristine turquoise lakes from melt water of glacial ice. Tourists and locals alike can canoe in one of these lakes and enjoy the majesty of its surrounding mountains. This experience definitely is one that leaves a long lasting memory that money cannot buy. Are there such experiences in Manila? Perhaps.

Central Park New York: Central Park in New York has a ridiculously huge amount of open space at the heart of the bustling city. The park is kept clean and serves as a breather on weekends for the locals of fast-paced New York. This park is ALWAYS used and New York is not complete without a stroll in this park. Is a tourist’s visit incomplete without a stroll at Luneta Park? I am skeptical.

Trafalgar Square: Trafalgar Square in London is a fine example of a well-used plaza right smack in the heart of the city. This plaza is filled with people, local and tourists alike on ANY given day. It is a space that serves the public and provides quality of life. However, people here are equally responsible for the trash they leave and bring with them. This, in turn is their social responsibility.



Bahay Kubo, ‘Kahit Munti’

April 25, 2015

Text by Nikki Boncan-Buensalido, Photo byBoom Boncan, as seen in Urban Monoogues v2.0, Business Mirror


An old Filipino children’s song, known by most local households inspired me to write this article. Its lyrics start off like this: “Bahay Kubo, kahit munti, ang halaman doon ay sari sari.”  Simply translated, “There is a Nipa Hut, although very small, there are various plants that grow around it .”  And then it goes on to enumerate various vegetables that grow around the ‘Bahay Kubo’.  The Bahay Kubo has been the subject of folk songs, legends, short stories and of children’s drawings.  I was one of those children that drew the Philippine countryside with two mountains and the setting sun in between them as a backdrop to a rice field (with a scarecrow) and a small ‘bahay kubo’ on one side. Growing up, the bahay kubo was all too familiar with me as we’d visit provinces and sleep in one of those.  During my university years, it was a topic we’d dissect throughout my ‘History of Philippine Architecture’ subject.  Up until today, a visit to our tourist destinations and provinces will not be complete without a sighting of a cluster of these houses.  Even at the onset of modernity, these Nipa Huts still serve as a take –off point  and is truly a part and parcel of Philippine Architecture and Design.  The Bahay Kubo remains to be one of the most common examples of Philippine Architecture and a lot of architects have pitched designs on their take of “The Modern Bahay Kubo”.  In retrospect, what makes the Filipino Bahay Kubo so unique in our tropical country and what are the useful principles extracted to come up with a Modern Bahay Kubo? Let me share with you some of these ideas:

This image was the inspiration for this article. This is a Bamboo House in Palawan at the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development. A model unit for the Zero Carbon Resort, this was a result from of the winning design participated by architects from Green Architecture Advocacy Philippines.

1.    Passive Cooling

Living in a tropical country has its pros and cons.  We have extreme heat and humidity and strong winds especially during the peak of the monsoon seasons.  Our architecture has to deal with these types of extreme conditions too.  Passive Cooling is harnessing these types of energy to work for the house by means of design and construction methodologies rather than using energy from artificial appliances.  The Bahay Kubo exemplifies this through the presence of wide windows from strategic locations of the house for natural ventilation.  Other fenestrations that allow wind to flow through the house are over-sized windows, ventanillas or louvers, and an exhaust route for hot air at the top of the ceiling to name a few.  Furthermore, wide eaves and overhangs provide shading for the entire house as well as its surroundings. Proper orientation of the house to open up to the wind directions (Amihan and Habagat) may also be helpful when site allows. When this is achieved, heat is deflected away from the house but light is still welcomed.  The same principles can be applied to a modern house and I promise you, you will also get the same wind flow and heat protection.

2.    On Stilts

Conditions in the Philippines also range from rainy and sunny.  Lifting up the house on stilts is also beneficial not only to allow wind to enter and circulate from under the house but also to protect the house from floods.  In the case of the Modern Bahay Kubo, if the house is raised on stilts, the lower floor acts as a social space for family and friends to come together forming an interstitial space.  In the older times, this space also served as the extension of the family space or a storage for livestock or harvest.   Moreover, a house on stilts also reduces the building foot print and has a very minimal ground disturbance during construction.

3.    Sustainable Materials for a Sustainable Environment

Building materials also play an important role in the construction of a bahay kubo.  These include bamboo, sawali, anahaw, rattan, among others.  Bamboo is actually a type of grass with utmost strength and flexibility.  It is also one of the fastest growing plants in the world, hence its sustainability.  A typical Bahay Kubo is 80-90% bamboo.  The leaves act as cladding for the ceiling and the roof.  Concrete may also be used but only recommended for the foundations of the house and so that insects are not able to eat into the house’s foundations.  Today, the Modern bahay kubo uses more modern materials that are still sustainable and environment friendly.  Certain materials are also certified to be sustainable as they are eco-friendly or made from recycled products, or those with low volatile compounds, etc.

4.    The Family as a single unit

A unique trait amongst Filipinos is that we consider the family as a single social unit rather than an individual as one unit.  The family plays an important role in Filipino society. This is something designers and planners must never forget. The spaces inside the typical bahay kubo are limited but big enough to accommodate a whole family living together.  The social space adapts to the Filipino family values of being together and sharing their lives with one another.  The idea of a family as a single unit dictates that the common spaces of the house are bigger than i.e. their rooms.  Usually, the bigger rooms are the dining areas (Filipinos consider eating as a hobby and a past time) or Family areas.  This is also evident in the “Modern Bahay Kubo”.  Filipinos love to entertain and have friends and extended families over thus, spaces have to be designed to accommodate large or small groups and spaces have to be able to open up to each other.  One might notice that the dining room opens up to the living area and the living area may open up to the garden or an outdoor patio. Heck, in a traditional bahay kubo, the community lives so close to each other that they share their big common space with their neighbors opening the house not only to their family, but also to the community.  That’s is how social Filipinos can get.

 There are still a lot more principles I can extract from a small bahay kubo but I will stop here and leave the rest to the imagination.  The Bahay Kubo is not just a ‘small’ house, it is a home, that is full of history and in it lives the heart of the family.  It is very functional given the limited material choices in the provinces but with the right choice of materials and the right construction methodology, the bahay kubo can withstand the strong storms and remain standing.  Its elements are sustainable and its principles are still extracted, studied and translated into modern day thinking.

“Bahay Kubo, kahit munti, ang halaman doon ay sari-sari’” (Even if the bahay kubo is small,) it is still used for so many purposes with each space designed and well-thought of.  The concept of the bahay kubo will never die, it is just transformed into something modern perhaps due to the rise of more modern materials but its soul will always be there in the hearts and minds of each and every Filipino – young or old.



Modernity: A Menace or A Promise?

March 29, 2015

Photos and Text by Nikki Boncan- Buensalido (As seen in Urban Monologues v2.0, Business Mirror)


What does it mean to be truly modern? How did modernity come about and how did it evolve in the past century?

My most recent adventure took me to “Fundamentals” the 2014 Architecture Biennale which is currently on display in Venice, Italy.  The exhibition, which runs from July 6 until November 23, 2014 is the 14th international architecture biennale exhibition entitled “Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014” portrays the century that has passed highlighting the influences that changed the parameters of modern architecture.  Some countries were ravaged by war, destroyed, divided, occupied leaving people traumatized yet these countries have survived and have come out stronger.  The exhibitions of the different pavilions from various participating countries show how the elements of architecture have survived and how they evolved to put up with the latest ideas and inventions of their time.    These exhibitions aim to perform an “audit” of architecture and posts questions such as: “what do we have?”, “how did we get here”, and “where do we go from here”.  According to Paolo Baretta, president of the Biennale di Venezia exhibition, the presence of the national pavilions representing 66 countries, show national identity and the country’s ability to become a protagonist in the cosmopolitan world of art and architecture.

The “Elements of Architecture” exhibit curated by well-known Architect Rem Koolhaas offers a new perspective on the elements of architecture that should form the relationship between us- our civilization and architecture. The exhibition compiles a new body of knowledge that explores the often universally mundane parts of a building and highlights its evolution.  The floor, the ceiling, the wall, the roof, toilet, windows etc. are exhibited and broken down into parts and how it was developed over the past century.  With great courage and ambition, Koolhaas mentions that he was able to review the history of modernity in the past hundred years, and offers a new perspective of those “elements” that should constitute reference points for the new architectural prototypes of the next century.  Afterall, these elements, being the simplest parts of a structure will essentially never be removed no matter how the next century architectural models evolve.

As one lands in Venice, the biennale is celebrated everywhere.  The exhibit spaces are divided into three venues and showcase not just architecture but art, dance, film, theater and a music festival as well.  The summer sun complemented the exhibit space at the Giardini Gardens as well as the Corderie dell’ Arsenale grounds where the architecture pavilions were located.  What was effective for this Biennale was that it was truly about architecture and not a tribute to the architects themselves generally making the exhibit communicate in a more universal language.  It highlighted in-depth research, discourse and discussion on modernization of architecture rather than a simple portrayal of various architects’ works which made the experience even more insightful.

Upon disembarkation from the Vaporetto, the taxi boat that takes you anywhere in Venice, we were greeted by a pylon welcoming us to the biennale and signs that led us through the grounds.  Our first pavilion was the Stirling Pavilion which houses an exhibit of the past century’s effect on various countries thereby ‘Absorbing Modernity’.  The pavilions post the question of national identity being sacrificed to modernity as the development of global architectural movements and technological processes took over the once local and vernacular architecture.  It turns out that each country has adapted and evolved from their individual experiences, be it war, new technologies available or natural destruction, etc. to create their own definition of modernity.  Images compiled from various pavilions show how each country has locally adapted to the miles stones of modernity.

Milestones of Moernity – The Stirling Pavilion houses the exhibit that shows images compiled from different countries on how the concept of modernity has affected their design thinking and their built environment

Rem Koolhaas Exhibition on his “Elements of Architecture” was also top pick on my list of exhibits.  Upon entry of the main gallery, one is greeted by a 1:1 installation of the ceiling.  The exhibit talks about how the modern ceiling has become a faux representation, whose main purpose is to conceal utilities within it, increasing in space requirements over time, effectively decreasing the served spaces below.  It was interesting to see how the utilities were initially placed on the floor early on in the century and how it has technology has allowed us to transform the way buildings and ceilings are constructed.

Rem Koolhaas' Ceiling – Rem Koolhaas shows how the modern ceiling has become a faux representation, whose main purpose is to conceal utilities within it, increasing in space requirements over time, effectively decreasing the served spaces below.

Fundamentals - The exhibition compiles a new body of knowledge that explores the often universally mundane parts of a building and highlights its evolution. The floor, the ceiling, the wall, the roof, toilet, windows, stairs, elevators, etc. are exhibited and broken down into parts and how it was developed over the past century.

Various wall cladding installations were also displayed and Koolhaas was able to show how temperature and climate change affected building systems and how they work.  It made me think of how designers are constantly looking for solutions to improve living qualities and building techniques and how sustainable materials are incorporated more often at this time.  This just goes to show that designers are now more sensitive to climate change and how information has been widely available to the vast majority.  Experimentation and new inventions help push modernity forward keeping building technologies at par with the fast evolving times because of globalization and the internet age.

 Aside from the Central Pavilion where the “Elements of Architecture” were tackled, was caught my attention was the installation of the Architectural Association (AA) Students.  They replicated a 1:1 scaled model of Le Corbusier’s ‘Maison Dom-Ino’ which dates back to 1914. The structure was first designed as a prototype for mass-produced European housing whose design as been iconic images of 20th Century Architecture. “This initial installation will remind visitors not only of modern architecture’s most foundational project, but of an architectural instinct made even more apparent today than it was at the time of its original conception; namely that architecture always operates in the space created by a contrast between architecture as already known, and what it might yet become,” said Brett Steele, AA School Director.

Le Corbusier's Dom-Ino - A 1:1 scaled model of Le Corbusier’s ‘Maison Dom-Ino’ which dates back to 1914. The structure was first designed as a prototype for mass-produced European housing whose design as been iconic images of 20th Century Architecture

The French Pavilion caught my attention because it was challenging the evolution of Modernity as a menace or a promise of a better built environment.  The French have contributed a lot to modernity in terms of architecture and engineering.  The research inside the pavilion questioned if the large scale monotonous housing structures of heavy pre-fabricated concrete panels answered the questions of economic scale or monotony in design and which of these should be taken into consideration more: Design or Utilitarian Function? On the other hand, they also showed how structures like this which were put up in 1942 are now undergoing the process of re-urbanization.

Overall, the Biennale led to me think about how modernization affects those living in this time and age.  A century ago, the concept of modernity was so different from what it is now.  An introspection of the past points out that modernity always had the intention of trying to innovate and trying to improve the way of life through technology and new ideas.  It has challenged us to think of new ways on how to evolve as each generation is an improvement of the former.

In some ways, modernization has also affected our social relationships and how we interact with one another.  Personal touches disappear as one is all too dependent on man made machines. Cultural identities in architecture are less pushed to give way to a standard way of doing things such as pre-fabrication to achieve efficiency. Family communications are now limited as social media through the internet has depreciated one’s ability to personally communicate with another. It could happen that a family lives under one roof, yet they don’t see each other for weeks physically, since they are connected to each other virtually anyway. At the same time, this same technology has allowed information dissemination and new to spread faster and more efficiently.  More people are aware of current state of affairs.

Modernity is positive except that we have to be extra sensitive to what it affects, especially our social and cultural values.  One just has to think of how to balance the menaces and the promised of this new and constantly evolving society.  So to answer the question on whether modernity is a menace or a promise. Well, I guess it can be both.

Whenever, Whatever, Wherever. Just Ask. – W Hotel Taipei

November 15, 2014

By Nikki Boncan-Buensalido, As Seen in Urban Monologues 2.0,  Business Mirror

When W Hotel agreed to host our 3 night stay in Taipei, we were ecstatic.  As avant-garde and modern architects, we knew that the W Hotels Worldwide Chain was nothing short of impeccable attention to detail.

 W Hotels Worldwide is an industry innovator that brings a jolt of electrified design surge to Taipei.  W Taipei, located in the heart of the bustling Xinyi  Central Business District is an electrifying sanctuary of serenity and energy in the heart of this bustling neighborhood, reflecting the surrounding natural beauty of Cising Mountain and Yangmingshan National Park, juxtaposed alongside Taipei’s vibrant, modern cityscape. “Besides being the urban mecca and capital of Taiwan, Taipei’s strong connection to nature continues to influence the culture here. W Taipei will be a haven of fun luxury, where serenity meets energy and will be the venue of choice for discerning and style-conscious trendsetters who want to be wowed by the finer things in life – particularly those inspired by W brand’s unique mix of contemporary cool design, modern comfort, and innovative style” recounts Cary Gray, General Manager of W Taipei.

W Taipei’s vibrant exterior at dusk carries through the entire branding experience of W Hotels

We arrived in the evening and were greeted by Wina Chen, Markerting and Communications Director of W Taipei and we were ushered into our ‘Wonderful Room’ one of W Taipei’s 405 guestrooms and suites.  As designers, the room itself was a feast our eyes.  We were greeted by the oh so soft and ultra-comfy 350 thread count linen W Signature Bed accompanied by state-of-the-art in-room technology, including high-speed wired and wireless Internet access; flat-screen, 42-inch LCD televisions; Surround Sound Bose sound systems; iPod charging docks; IP phone with voicemail; and a W Taipei signature zodiac animal that greeted us set the mood of our stay. Warm-colored stones, burnished wood and lush electrified floral carpeting contrasts with modern, subtle lighting inspired by Chinese lantern boxes bring out hints of the local Taiwanese culture while the white table and designer leather chair set amidst a seating vignette overlooking Taipei 101 acts a good complement to the background and view overlooking the lights of the city – which I though was a good balance of culture and modern design in one space and a true epitome of chic and style.

Sliding doors disappear when tucked inside pockets on the wall blurs the separation of the bedroom from the bathroom.  The bathroom on the other hand is accented with an oversized vacation-style islander tub set against an orange or chartreuse panel set beside the shower area and a seamlessly connected counter with an oversized lavatory complete with bath products all labeled the W way.

The architectural details were all there because they needed to be there.  The screws, the placement of the doors, lights were all there because they needed to be there. It was a very smart way of providing comfort.  From the sliding doors of the bathroom all the way to the termination joints of the drains, there was a very high level of design and detail.  Everything was well thought of.

The Hotel Room - Everything is there because it needs to be there.

The next morning, Gary Lee, Marketing and Communications Manager of W Taipei gladly showed us around and described in detail what the W Linggo was and how everything was tied to their concept.  Gary related that different W Hotels in various parts of the world had different themes.  W Taipei’s was “Nature Electrified”.  Gary related that this theme stemmed out of Taipei’s distinct location set amidst the Yangmingshan range of mountains and the Yangmingshan National Park.  W Taipei’s vision was to bring in nature and translate it in an electrifying hip and happening way.

As one enters the W Taipei’s Wheels Lobby, one enters a sensory overload of layers and layers of design.  From its front door mat that greets visitors a Good Morning, Good Afternoon and Good Evening depending on the time of the day to the Whatever Desk where you can ask for “Whatever you want, Whenever you want” (As long as its legal). The Whatever, Whenever Service is one only W Hotels Worldwide has and they can give literally Whatever you what, Whenever you want it. (We tried asking for hairpins, a pancake recipe from the Kitchen Table, which was emailed to us directly by the Chef and a nail cutter) All you have to do is ask.

 Upon entering what distinctly caught our curiosity were two art installations called “To Light You Fade” created by Random International, UK.  The installation is an interactive piece that deconstructs a person’s movement as one passes by it. It is mounted on a reclaimed wooden wall on the ground floor of W Taipei and allows guests to engage with the light itself in an intuitive manner.  Developed with custom software, this installation consists of several hundred unique OLEDs (organic light emitting diodes) from the world’s first ever production line in Aachen, Germany.  Jason and I spent quite an amount of time watching it and playing with it and even posted some pictures and videos of it on Instagram.

The second installation was a Circular Disk titled “Purple Target” by the elevator Lobby. Created by Howard Chen of China also exclusively for the W brand.  What caught our fancy was that this piece was entirely made out of high-grade thumbtacks.  Later on, Gary recalls that W Taipei houses a big collection of design installations throughout the hotel that synergizes with the design of the spaces while charging one’s sensory experience.  Even the elevator itself that took us up to the 10th floor Welcome Desk was on detail overload mode!

W Taipei’s “Nature Electrified Lobby” showcasing mixed elements of wood, bamboo and steel framing the motion censored LED Art Installation on the lobby wall. What distinctly caught our curiosity at the Wheel’s entrance were two art installations called “To Light You Fade” created by Random International, UK and a Circular Disk titled “Purple Target” by the elevator lobby created by Howard Chen of China also exclusively for the W brand

Gary showed us around the Welcome Desk juxtaposed with white discs of LED uplights evoking water droplets and vertical strips of stainless steel metal saplings. He invited us over to the W Living Room where a kinetic series of timber louvers form a stepped canopy, folding down to enclose the second story meeting areas as their version of the Lobby.  The W Living Room was reminiscent of our own living room at home and it was even complete with a cozy yet very well designed fire place.

W’s Welcome Desk, located at the 10th floor is juxtaposed with white discs of LED uplights evoking water droplets and vertical strips of stainless steel metal saplings

The W Living Room at night is transformed into W’s WOOBAR. The WOOBAR is equipped with over sized ottomans, lounge chairs, sofas and cocktail tables spread out across the space. At the end of the bar is a DJ Island which is home to W’s Resident DJ and other world-class DJs who control the state-of-the-art sound and light systems integrated into the design – the perfect place to see and be seen.  Connected to the Living Room and the WOOBAR is WET and the WETBAR, both surrounding a pool integrated with underwater speakers below and a rich foliage on land. At the edge of the pool, a striking metal bubble sculpture looms evoking suspended, silver droplets of water, while reflecting in its bubbles the W Hotel Building whose character changes at night when the lights illuminate.

W’s electrifying yet cozy Living Room turns into the WOOBAR at night. A kinetic series of timber louvers form a stepped canopy, folding down to enclose the second story meeting areas

The Kitchen Table’s modern interpretation of yellow interiors and patterned ceiling emits the feeling of the sun’s warmth and glow in a garden cottage every morning.   Everyday, the Kitchen Table is filled with a fantastic breakfast spread that it quite reminiscent of our own kitchen table at home. The spread that morning was filled with a smorgasbord of food.  I personally enjoyed the Mac and Cheese as well as everything that had truffle on it!

Next Gary welcomed us into Sweat Fitness Center, W’s Signature Gym and W’s Away Spa and Sauna.  What amazed us was how W was how consistent the branding of W was.  Every little detail was properly considered and thought of.  In each of their signature spaces, they have a special color for way finding which I thought was very interesting.

On the top most floor, is Yen Restaurant, a Cantonese Restaurant with a spectacular view overlooking Taipei 101, Taipei City and the mountains that stretched beyond.  The restaurant itself was filled with quirky details that were impeccably tied up to the space.  The rich purple colored glass created a mirage of spaces, reflections that brought out a unique identity to the space.  Accented with shades of red, this was not your typical Chinese Fare restaurant.  Another interesting detail was that in certain function rooms and nooks, artists found very clever ways of using kitchen and cooking utensils as the medium of their art pieces.  In one nook, spoons, knives and forks brought to life Chinese warriors standing in attention guarding their own “gateways”.  In another function room, cookie cutters were used to create a stunning backdrop amidst the colorful yet classy interiors of the room.  Still in another room, there was an art piece that was composed of chopsticks and teacups arranged in a modern and very interesting way. I enjoyed looking at every art piece because each was a statement piece that was still traditional but at the same time was able to veer away from the usual and the common – which is what we also try to do in our Architectural Design Practice.

The YEN BAR Located on the top most floor, offers the most captivating views of Taipei City as well as the Yangmingshan Mountain Ranges surrounding it

To cap off our tour, Gary treated us to W Signature Drinks at the Yen Bar and showed us the best seat in the house over looking the full height of Taipei 101.  As architects, this was an added bonus to the tour.  At lunch time, we already started Happy Hour.  We had two of W’s Signature Cocktail Drinks.  I had a Green Tea Mojito  and Jason an Oolong Tea Infused Vodka Fizz Cocktail.

The service at W Taipei is also superb.  After the tour, we asked Gary where we could go around the city and he was gracious enough to point out that there was a Red Dot Exhibit and Design Expo just around the corner.  We headed out and spent the whole afternoon.  Turns out, it was an old factory that was converted into a museum and expo space and to top it all off, it was situated beside the new Eslite Mall which was another design haven for us.  After heading to the local night market we headed back to the Hotel and we found a note from Joyce Hsu, W Insider of W Taipei with three test tubes of M&M’s almonds and macadamia nuts.  Joyce graciously extended to us her warm welcome and noted that if there was anything else around the city we’d like to visit we can just ask her – “Wherever, Whenever, Just Ask” was her closing statement.  We loved how personal the service of the W Team was during our visit and we felt like we weren’t very far away from home.

Truly, W Taipei is a rich experience in itself.  At the end of our trip, we were inspired and bursting with design ideas.  It was a sensory experience that allowed us to recharge and get excited to push contemporary architecture to its limits once more.

For more information on W Taipei, please visit

The Mystery of Stonehenge

June 21, 2014

Text and Photos by Nikki Boncan- Buensalido , As seen in Urban Monologues 2.0, Business Mirror Newspaper (2014)

Welcome to History of Architecture 101. In one of my recent trips, I got to the chance to visit Stonehenge, located in Wiltshire, England amongst the Salisbury Plain.  It is an ancient structure that still boggles the minds of historians and locals alike.  Stonehenge is considered to be one of the wonders of the world and is the best-known, prehistoric monument in Europe.  Its post and lintel construction has paved the way for the modern column and beam type of construction as well as the jointing systems we currently use.

Detail of Tenon and Mortise – The joint systems on the stones were carved out perfectly using deer antlers and bone

Stonehenge’s architecture and methods of construction are basic today but so complex at the time it was built.  It was produced in a culture that left no written records which leads to various imaginative theories.  Historians are still unsure of how the Blue Stones got to where they are now considering that these originated from the Perseli mountain 240 miles away from the current site.  Not to mention that most part of the journey of the 40-50-tonne stones included a trip which crossed waters and scaled a river.  Methods of construction and how the stones were transported, carried, carved, measured and laid out have been studied and theories began to pop up but up to this day, no one knows for sure.  This is what makes Stonehenge so extraordinarily ordinary.

What started out as a simple earthwork enclosure turned out to be the most complex, comprehensive stone structures of the pre-historic times.  It was built in stages that spanned centuries apart in three phases in which all phases required more that thirty million hours of labor.  Historians date the structure back to the late Neolithic period around 2500 BC.  Stonehenge was an important structure in the Bronze Age as later on revealed by the burials mounds surrounding it when artifacts suck as drinking vessels and pottery relating to that period were discovered around the area.

It has been said that Stonehenge was built for various purposes.  One story relates that it was built by aliens because of the way the circles are perfectly laid out.  Others say that it was built by locals who revered the land and used it to be a memorial and a human sacrifice site.  Around Stonehenge to this date, there are hundreds of barrows otherwise known as burial mounds scattered.  This area is considered to be sacred ground as it is a burial site made for the well-known people of the ancient village.  Still others theorize that Stonehenge is an ancient real time calendar laid out in a perfect circle, which maps out seasons, equinoxes and solstices.  Thus it was also regarded as a place of worship and the celebration of the Summer Solstice.

The Stonehenge Circle – The Blue Stones, Heel Stones, Station Stones, Altar Stones and the Five Trilithons of Sarsen Stones is what makes up the circles of Stonehenge. This is the remains of the prehistoric structure to date

The Summer solstice usually occurs between June 20 and 22.  Also known as the “Midsummer”, it is during this time that the axis of the Earth is tilted toward the sun.  It is also at this point of the year that the sun reaches its highest point in the sky as seen from the north and the south pole. On Solstice day, people in the northern hemisphere experience the longest period of daylight in a year.  In the polar regions however, daylight during the Solstice season is continuous for weeks to even months. People usually flock to Stonehenge at this time of the year because the solstice sun sits perfectly in between the horseshoe shaped stones, other wise known as a trilithon – two vertical stones capped by a horizontal lintel.  In the ancient world, the alignment of the sun to a certain stone marker was a sign that the seasons were about to change or that it was time to plant and harvest crops. On the site even sits an arrow and a Heel Stone marker that points to the true north which probably helped determine how far away the sun was from the north and most likely what season was coming. At summer solstice an observer standing within the stone circle, looking north-east through the entrance, would see the sun rise above the Heel Stone.  What a feeling it must be to witness this natural phenomenon!

Trilithon on Solstice – This is how the Solstice is celebrated every year during the Midsummer festival. The Sun sits directly at the center and in between a Trilithion. This scene informed the ancient people that the Summer Solstice was above head

Today, the government of the United Kingdom has gone through a very extensive program that helps intervene the destruction and decay of Stonehenge for over a period of 5,000 years. Sarsen Stones, Blue Stones, the Trilithons and Heel Stones are typical  parts of the monument.  These stones have various functions and characteristics.  Although some over turned, the government has done a lot to preserve the stones that act as markers and speak a certain language to the prehistoric people.

The Heel Stone and Arrow – The Heel Stone is a single block of Sarsen Stone tilted at 27 degrees, standing near the entrance to Stonehenge. It is a marker that points toward the north-east direction. Notice the arrow that also points to a certain point toward the horizon

What also quite interesting to note is the earthwork, surrounding the Stonehenge, are circular ditches on the earth that seem to close in on the monument.  In the middle of the ditch lies the Stonehenge monument itself. A lot of the stones have fallen and have been eroded but a portion of the structure still stands to tell the story.  What is even more interesting to point out is the impeccable detail that was put in to build the structure.  Locks were carved out on the stones which acted like mortise and tenons joints. To make it fit like a puzzle, some stone had tongue and grooves to their sides which helped the stone stay together longer.    It was very well thought of and perfectly executed.  How this was done so perfectly still remains a mystery to this day.  Local artifacts found on excavation sites reveal that tools such as bone and deer antlers were used to carve out these jointing systems.

I never thought I would set foot on Stonehenge but on that day, oh, how I felt the images of my history books come alive. Images in black and white popped out in full color, my five senses taking in all it could.  I almost didn’t want to take the Stonehenge trip because after all, it was “just a pile of rocks” but after experiencing the place in its context, and listening to the rich history of the place, it was a sight to see.  It was amazing enough to catch my attention during the first day of Architecture History class but it was even more spectacular to see it in person.

I was in awe to see how perfectly laid out the stone were and the details that I was able to take in from that simple piece of construction was well worth the trip.  I can almost imagine how it was like to experience the solstice using this prehistoric calendar.  I am left wondering how it must feel like to be there to witness the sun align perfectly in between the stones and how the prehistoric calendar, dating to about 5,000 years still seems to work without fail.  I intently took a stroll around the whole circle taking in every angle and detail, studying the stones and how they were laid out.  I was so blessed to have experienced this enigma to humanity that has stood out for thousands of years.

CitizenM = Citizen Mobile

June 7, 2014

Text and Photos by Nikki Boncan- Buensalido , As seen in Urban Monologues 2.0, Business Mirror Newspaper (2014)

“To all travelers long and short haul.  To the weary, the wise and the bleary-eyed.  To the suits, weekenders, fashion baggers and affair- havers.  To the explorers, adventurers and dreamers.  To all locals of the world from Amsterdam, Boston and Cairo to Zagreb.  To all who travel the world with wide eyes and big hearts.  To all who are independent yet united in a desire for positive traveling.  To those who are smarter than a dolphin with a university degree and realize you can have luxury for not too much cash.  To those who need a good bed, a cold drink and big fluffy towels.  To all who are mobile citizens of the world.  Citizen M welcomes you all.” This is wall mural is what greets you first at the interactive, designer chic self-service check-in counter at citizenM.  The philosophy of citizemM (or Citizen Mobile) is enough to hold a first impression and make it last.

CitizenM’s building exterior blends in with the surroundings save for a few pull out box windows and the signage that says “Another World is Possible.” Strong statement.

I first heard of citizenM at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore last year. It won the World Architecture Award for Hotel and Leisure.  Designed by Amsterdam based firm Conrete Architectural Associates, citizenM is a Dutch hotel group that opened their first hotel at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam in 2008. Today, the hotel chain has expanded to Glasgow, Rotterdam, London, New York and soon, Paris.

CitizenM offers mobile citizens of the world affordable luxury in the heart of the city.  They were able to carry forth this vision by stripping the hotel off all hidden costs and unnecessary items but at the same time, provide a luxurious atmosphere throughout the hotel for a very affordable price.

My latest adventure was a quick trip to London with my husband and we decided to try citizenM as our home away from home.  Right in the middle of Southwark’s neighborhood, quietly stands citizenM.  The building’s exterior does not scream out and take attention away from the neighborhood but a designer will get a feel of its quirkiness in the smallest details such as the simple play of the façade windows and the signage.  The lobby however is a different story.  As soon as you enter the building, a new world opens up and envelopes you right away.  Everything in the lobby was a sensorial FEAST! It blasted out colors, shapes, sizes, information, emotion, movement, warmth, comfort – name it, you could almost taste the vibe!

Upon entry into the building’s double doors, this is the sight that greets you. Oh, how my eyes lit up with all the color, designer furniture and shapes inside this space! The curve of the spiral staircase blends with the contours of the Heart Cone Chairs designed by Verner Panton for Vitra.

The lobby was very welcoming.  It had a lot of colors and objects but it all came together coherently.  It was very well planned and organized to be one big space separated by elements that tied the whole thing together.  Right when you enter, a huge and expressive spiral staircase greets visitors at the end of the lobby surrounded by various chairs from well-known modern furniture company Vitra.  The lobby, living room space, and food and beverage space complete with a bar and tables for eating or workstations tastefully fill the room. The public areas of the hotel are divided into different environments for work, socializing, relaxing and even to grab a local draught beer from the tap. Different designer furniture pieces formed vignettes throughout the space providing for ample seating and an extremely cozy atmosphere.  Choices for the use of the lobby alone are endless – from a cozy fireplace all the way to a stylish café – you name it.

At citizenM, everyone is treated equally. Designed by the Bouroullec Brothers for Vitra, the dining tables and chairs against the mural backdrop, mirrors and mixed-matched complemented each other. What a way to start breakfast each day!


The lobby extends to an outdoor living room in the form of the courtyard.  The courtyard in the middle of the space breaks the sudden bursts of energy.  It acts as a beautiful oasis in the heart of the hotel and supplies natural light into the rooms above.  The courtyard is also surrounded by terraces that are accessible from every floor which can be used for intimate outdoor get-togethers, drinks or simply to just inhale the fresh air.  The hotel is also equipped with various meeting rooms that are accessible to the public.  SocietyM, the public life of the hotel offers designer meeting rooms which are also fully equipped with WiFi and other gadgets for hip and happening business meetings.

The lobby is also equipped with canteenM, a 24/7pit-stop for hungry citizens for breakfast, lunch, cocktails, dinner and after dinner booze.  Sushi, Signature sandwiches, warm dishes and a dozen drinks are available at any time.  I had a pint of local black beer brewed with dark roasted barley and a hint of freshly ground Arabica coffee beans. Describing it again makes my mouth water! It tasted like heaven

The hotel has five more floors to accommodate guest rooms.  Guest rooms are all the same as they treat everyone equally – there is only one size for the rooms all equipped with an XL King Sized bed.  That’s 2.2 meters x 2.0 meters.  I was literally swimming on the bed.  All rooms also welcomed each guest personally as our names were flashing on the TV Screen when we entered the room.  The rest of the room is small but very well planned and functional.  Upon entry to the room on the right, a capsule that changes colors via LED lights welcome you.  The capsule is the bathroom which is also equipped with a rain shower and personalized shampoo holders.  I loved every detail of the welcome process because it felt as if someone was really talking to us.  There were small signs casually explaining the purpose of everything inside the room.  The room even came with a tablet that can control all the switches of the room from the curtains and roller shades, to the TV, to the air-conditioning and the lights.  You can even control the color of the lights from the tablet.  The room also features luxurious bed and bath linen, international plug systems, electronic blinds for the wall to wall windows which gives out enough natural light during the day, and even ambient lighting technology at night.  Vitra Designer Furniture still adorns each and every room.  There were even free movies available for us to watch.  We didn’t want to leave the room!


The entire room can be controlled by a touch screen tablet. You can control the lights, the mood of the room, the media console (complete with a movie library and a virtual DJ booth) and the roller shades too!


The Hotel Staff is one of the most dynamic, diverse and friendliest bunch of people we met on the trip.  They come from different countries but seem to share a certain passion and love for design and the hotel.  They all have big hearts with different stories to tell.  On our last day, we met Enrique who originally hails from Spain and Eylem from Turkey who were both on duty as we arranged our transfers to the airport.  They were warm and they made me want to stay on.   What I liked the most was when Eylem shared that the hotel also exists to create memories and they would like to help create memories in every way possible to the best of their abilities.

As we did our self-check out the machine said good-bye after completing all the steps and wished us “safe travels wherever your next destination shall be.”

The Self- Service check-in counters are efficiently programmed. What set this apart from the other self-check in service computers is that somehow, they managed to still make the welcome feel personal coming from a machine. Hovering above the computers is a Mamma Cloud P Lamp designed by famous architect Frank Gehry also for Vitra

The hotel is truly a design haven and an oasis for youthful, adventurous travelers and businessmen alike.  The structure is simple and the flow of the space efficiently planned.  Infused with bursts of vibrant color and designer furniture plus open spaces, its impact on my memory is something that will not be quickly erased.  It leaves an atmosphere that makes people happy and feel good about themselves and their environment. It is definitely a place to re-charge a creative mind and to inhale inspiration and new ideas.

To learn more about the other features of CitizenM Bankside in London, click here:

I wonder where our next adventure will lead us.

Exploring the Urban Fabric

February 10, 2014

Text and Photos by Nikki Boncan- Buensalido , As seen in Urban Monologues 2.0, Business Mirror Newspaper (2013)


Last year, I had the chance to visit Seattle in the US.  My family and I took a 3-hour road trip from Vancouver, Canada to the border of Washington State in the US.  It was my first time in Seattle and I read from books that it was a gloomy city – always raining and cloudy.  Records of the local weather bureau point out that Seattle is ranked as one of the five States that receives the most amount of rainfall in a year.  This was what I was expecting and was prepared to get soaked but as we drove into the border, we were greeted by a warm and very fair day with wisps of clouds in the sky with the afternoon sun preparing to set in the horizon.  It was a pleasant surprise and I was excited because I only had 24 hours to soak in all the Architecture and the local flavor of the City. As dusk set in, we were driving into the curb of the apartment of one of our family friends, Cassie Lim.  Tita Cassie, graciously invited us to stay with her for the night and offered to take us around the city in the morning.

Being an architect, all the items on my Seattle Bucket List were all modern buildings.  After our first stop at the Pike Market to pick up our early morning breakfast at the very first branch of Starbucks, we headed towards the Seattle Central Library which opened in 2004.  The Central Library is the flagship building of the Seattle Public Library System and was designed by world-renowned architect Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince- Ramus of the Office of Metropolitan Architecture or simply OMA.  Right smack in the middle of a normal street with normal buildings, was this very expressive art piece.  As you turn the corner, the first glimpse of the building jolts you alive.  An American Institute of Architecture blog notes that this building was voted 108 on the list of Americans’ 150 favorite structures in the US.  The building also received the 2005 National AIA Honor Award for Architecture. At 11-stories of 56 meters high, the building is made of a diagrid structural system, bare concrete and glass.  The building’s massing is composed of a three structures piled, peeled and pulled off from each other in some angles enveloped a structural system that also acts as the skin of the building.  As if inviting users inside, the architects of the building wanted to allow people to still experience how to use books despite the fact that almost anything can be pulled out of the internet.  Koolhaas and Ramus wanted to make sure the program of the building’s spaces functioned as reading nooks and public spaces recreated as a “Living Room” with light filling in from the outside,  encouraging users read more books and stay lengthily inside the library.  The wanted to create a building that was functional and kinetic rather than static and imposing, which is usually how other old libraries look like.

Right smack in the middle of a normal street with normal buildings, was this very expressive art piece.

Next stop was the Experience Music Project Museum or the EMP.  The EMP is located in the heart of the Seattle Center Campus where the Seattle Needle can also be found.  The EMP was designed by Architect Frank Gehry. Having been acclaimed for other famous structures such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Frank Gehry, another maestro in the world of Modern Architecture.  The EMP Museum is the home to some of the most significant eras of popular culture, science fiction, rock and alternative music.  Similar to its architecture, the museum is dedicated to push risk-taking ideas further so that it can fuel creativity of pop culture further.  The colorful reflective exterior of the building is made up of riveted sheet metal which changes its form as one turns every corner of the building’s façade. Frank Gehry describes the building to take the form of a “smashed up electric guitar”.  Our local guide mentioned that to some local residents, the building is reminiscent of a “crumpled piece of musical score sheet”.  What was interesting too is that the purple side of the structure is inspired by Jimmy Hendrix’s song “Purple Haze”.

Loved the colors all over the facade so I decided to take snap shots in each colored background :)

When I visit architectural landmarks, I make it a point to experience the building on all sides since some have entirely different angles and forms. The details of each particular structure also leave traces as to how the building was constructed and the though process that goes with the design concept. At every turn, the building contorted, bent and cracked to form crevices some of which formed pedestrian entrances and display boards.  There was even a hole in the building to allow the monorail track to slice through!

Sufficient to say that truly, creativity has no limits. Both the Seattle Public Library and the Experience Music Project Museum are notable landmarks in Seattle.  Both carry a distinct identity.  Both are avant-garde, modern and contemporary. The concept of reading and appreciating music is not a new thing.  The Seattle Public Library and the EMP Museum has just found new ways to allow the user to experience reading and listening to music in a new light.  These two buildings have successfully bridged the gap for the elderly and the young by introducing a new and tangible experience.  Both architects used normal elements such as books and music that we are all used to and translated them into something relevant for the current times.  They were able to translate it into something that the younger generation can understand.

Taking these into our local context, I hope that someday, we too can create modern buildings that are responsive to local context and local culture but at the same time these buildings may also allow our people to experience the mundane things in different ways. Allowing them to expand their knowledge based on personal experience is a more effective tool. I invite you to join me as I explore the adventure of life and as I relate a series of observations to dissect what the Urban Fabric contains and to go deeper than just mere aesthetics.


August 21, 2012

Text and Photos by Jason Buensalido , As seen in Urban Monologues, Business Mirror Newspaper (2007)


“Jorn Utzon, the architect of the Sydney Opera House, has never seen his masterpiece in the flesh since he left Australia in 1966.” said our animated tour guide. As if the design of the structure wasn’t interesting enough, I found out that the history of the building’s construction was even more colourful.

I recently took a trip to Australia where I felt like I was on another architectural pilgrimage. Any architect you talk to knows what the Sydney Opera House is, so it would be a shame if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. When I did, I didn’t realize that my jaw was dropped because the sight of the magnificent structure. It moved e, causing me to just stop and gaze in awe.

The idea of having an opera house in Sydney formed in the 940s, when a world-class visiting conductor came to the city to do a performance. He was able to talk to the city officials and told them that if they wanted to be a serious metropolitan, they needed to have a place where culture can flourish; they needed an opera house.

The visiting conductor probably hit an insecure nerve among the city politicians because after he left, they organized an international competition for the design of the Sydney Opera House. It was a very prestigious and high-profile competition, as over 200 entries were submitted from all over the world.

The entry of Jorn Utzon was already thrown in the trash can. Majority of the judges said that it was too different and too bold to be the new face of Sydney. Luckily, there was one judge who came in late and saw the entry in the can. He picked it up, spread it out, and showed it to once again to the other judges – “This should be our winner PRECISELY because it is different!”. Jorn Utzon, an unknown Danish architect, won 5000 dollars and the commission of the project. He moved his entire family to Australia and set up an architectural office there to oversee the construction of his work.

Originally, the budget for the opera house was 7-millon and the timeframe for construction was 7-years. What happened was it took 14 years to build, and about 102-million, which is about 1.2 billion today.

Naturally, the people of Sydney reacted during the course of construction. They started complaining that their tax money was being spent unnecessarily to build an opera house that they didn’t need in the first place. “We’re laid back people. We’re a country who loves the outback! We don’t need no opera house !”, I can almost imagine them say back in the 50s. The officials, since they wouldn’t take he blame themselves, they blamed the architect, Jorn Utzon. They tried to take him out of the picture and cut him out from the team to the point that he wasn’t being paid his salary anymore. Finally, in 1966, Jorn packed his bags and went back to Denmark with his family, giving up the fight for his masterpiece.

When he did, an Australian architect was asked to take his place. The Australians didn’t know anything about designing opera houses, so they were sent around the world for three years to study the design of different opera houses. They finished the  opera house on October 20, 1973 and was opened by no less than Queen Elizabeth herself.

The design of the building is very interesting as well. When Jorn Utzon was conceptualizing for the competition, nothing was coming into his mind. Luckily one morning, he was simply peeling an orange when he realized that the forms of his design could actually be derived from his breakfast! He then cut different triangular shapes from the orange’s sphere and put it together to come up with the final design of the opera house, calling it his ‘spherical solution’. Maybe architects should eat while designing too. You’ll never where you might get inspiration from.

The design of the Sydney Opera House was derived from triangular sections of a sphere. The architect was eating an orange one morning when he suddenly thought of a ‘spherical solution’.

The Sydney Opera house is consisted of three sail-like structures sitting on a podium. The smallest structure is a restaurant, and then the two are performance halls. The sails have a very modern sculptural quality and it makes you wonder how they were able to put together a structure as complicated as that way before computers. The sails are made of pre-cast panels held together by tension rods throughout the hollow portions of the structure. They say that the opera house has more steel than the Sydney Harbour Bridge nearby. The structure was actually put together like LEGO, the famous toy product which incidentally is from Denmark as well.

One would think that the exterior of the performance halls were purely white. But upon closer inspection, I found out that it is finished with tiles with 3 shades – off-white, cream, and beige. This makes sense because if it were too white, the structure would be too glaring. The tiles are triple glazed, which made the opera house one of the first self cleaning buildings in the world. The dirt from its surfaces simply creeps down to the drains whenever it rains. Meant to look like giant fish scales, Utzon got his inspiration form Moroccan buildings which are usually clad with tiles.

The surfaces of the opera house are clad with tiles of 3 shades – off-white, cream, and beige. The tiles are triple glazed, which made the opera house one of the first self cleaning buildings in the world. Meant to look like giant fish scales, Utzon got his inspiration form Moroccan buildings which are usually clad with tiles.

The first among the two performance halls is fondly called the black theatre because of its interiors, and is the smaller one between the two. It is an opera and a ballet theatre, with a backstage that can be lowered two levels down. That is where the sets are changed, since the space on the stage level is too small. In reality, there are a lot of flaws in the black theatre, and that is why it is due for a renovation soon, with a budget of 500 million.

Then we proceeded to the bigger performance hall. I thought that I had my share of awe that day, but I was further moved by the design of the interiors of the second hall. It had a soaring ceiling with a shape that seems to spring from the ground, changing and morphing into different configurations as it goes up. Unlike the other theatre, this one doesn’t have a proscenium. There are seats even at the back of the stage. There is no need for microphones during performances at this theatre because the combination of hardwood and softwood used for the interiors bounce all the sound coming from the stage back to the audience. The organ is equally impressive. It is the biggest mechanical organ in the world. It has about 140 pipes, took 10 years to build, 2 years to tune, and cost about 3 million dollars.

The three sail-like structures sit on a podium. Utzon got his inspiration form a typical Mayan temple, where you climb up a long set of stairs to get transported into a different world. In the same manner, going up the stairs of the podium was meant to symbolize your transportation to a world of art and culture, leaving the stresses of urban life behind. The heaviness of the podium also complements the lightness of the sails. This is where all the service spaces such as the practice stages and studios are housed.

The interiors of the big performance hall had a soaring ceiling with a shape that seems to spring from the ground, changing and morphing into different configurations as it goes up. The author fulfilling one of his architectural pilgrimages

I guess every high-profile structure has its own story. The Eiffel tower and the triangular entrance the Louvre was loathed by Parisians. The Statue of Liberty was rejected by the Americans when it first arrived. The Guggenheim Museums, both in New York and Bilbao, received endless negative criticisms. Now, all these structures are weaved seamlessly into their respective cities. They now stand as the foremost symbol for the people that once rejected them, just like the Sydney Opera House.

San Vicente

March 31, 2012

As seen in Urban Monologues, Business Mirror Newspaper, Text by Jason Buensalido (July, 2007)


Just when I thought that developers, planners, and architects didn’t have a chance to correct the mistakes they made in developing Boracay, that’s the time an opportunity presented itself. I, together with another architect, was invited by a prospective client to accompany him to an ocular inspection of his property in San Vicente, Palawan, which he was thinking of developing into an exclusive beach resort. I have been to Palawan before, but I have never been to the San Vicente area, which is why I packed my bags right away and agreed to go with him without any hesitation.

San Vicente is one of the many municipalities in Palawan and is located on its north-western side. It is bounded on the west by South China Sea, the municipalities of Taytay, Roxas, and Puerto Princesa on the north, east, and southwest; respectively. About 75% of it is generally forested, which allows the place to have a rich marine, agriculture, and forest resources endemic only to Palawan. It also has a pearl farm of about 8 hectares. But what impressed me most was the endless stretch of pristine and untouched white beach! Boracay is 7 kilometers long but only has a white beach that is about 2.5 kilometers. Imagine the beach in Boracay, multiply it sixteen times, and you’ll get an idea of how long the beach is in San Vicente because it runs a stretch of over 40 kilometers collectively! Now that’s what you can call a slice of paradise! During low tide, the beach can be as wide as 60 meters from the first line of coconut trees to the tip of the water. I could start to imagine the different recreational activities that you can do with a beach as wide as that. We visited the different parts of the long beach such as Alimanguhan, Maymanoc, Lion’s Head, Canefo, Luambong, Port Barton, and Exotic Island to name a few. From anywhere in the long beach, we enjoyed beautiful views of the open ocean, Mt Capwas, and the sunset.


San Vicente has a long beach of over 40 kilometers long

60 meter-wide beach

Being in an untouched and undeveloped municipality was very interesting. I was able to witness a number of ‘vignettes’ or ‘snapshots’ that describe the simplicity of the place. In the mornings and afternoons, all the kids of the town would walk kilometres to get to and from school. It would take them so long to get home that some of them would do their homework while walking, so that by the time they get home, they would be finished with their assignments. I also saw how some of them catch fish. The process is called ‘pangangawil’, where they use about a three hundred meter fishnet. One end of the net is left on shore, while the other end is pulled by a boat out into the open sea. The net is then brought back to the shore, forming an arch in the ocean. The two ends are then pulled by the whole community, little by little, until the entire fish net is brought back to shore. Some days, they fill up three baskets with different fish; some days, they don’t catch anything. The owner of the fishnet then divides the catch of the day into two. The first half is sold to local markets or is exported to other towns while the other half is given to the community as their food for lunch or dinner, making everybody happy.  I was deeply moved by how their community works together daily to achieve even a small task of catching fish. Even if they have simple lives, I didn’t see a face that didn’t have a smile on it.

Another thing that made my visit to San Vicente paradise-like was the food. We stayed in ‘Caparii’, which was originally a scuba camp that was converted into a small resort complete with a dining hall, VIP suites, and function rooms. Throughout our stay, we would constantly joke around and call it the ‘fattening farm’, because it seemed like there was something in the food that made you want to eat more with every bite. Some of the food served was a soup that was a cross between lobster chowder, stuffed crab, chicken curry, and lapu-lapu. There were some vegetables that were endemic to Palawan. For dessert, they would serve this fruit called ‘champada’, a cross between marang and langka, whose seed they brought from Indonesia.

Developers and private investors are starting to see the development potential of this area. I am sure that San Vicente will be a ‘beach resort town’, ushering in a huge influx of local and foreign tourists. My only hope is that the investors, architects, and planners who will be coming in to prepare their respective designs will take into consideration the mistakes made in the famous Boracay. Environmental issues have to come first to ensure that this jewel of a beach will not deteriorate over the coming years. Proper setbacks from the beach front should be maintained and the architecture should be carefully designed so as not to seem too ‘imposing’ on the natural beauty of the place. For sure, there will be huge requirements for different resorts to be able to thrive in a beach strip as long as this. This is why alternate sources of energy should also be integrated in the preparation of plans. An updated development plan should be prepared to serve as a non-negotiable guideline for future developers. The local government and our tourism groups should form partnerships to enforce such plans and to ensure correct developmental procedures. I do hope that this time, nobody repeats the same mistakes.

A unique fruit called ‘champada’

Island hopping with Arch. Gelo Mañosa and Chet Pastrana