The Verity Of Residential Architecture: Designing For Others

by Jun 8, 2021The Practice

(An edited version of this article was published in The Manila Times, Business – Build Design Section, on 08 June 2021)

There are various different architects – commercial architects, sustainable architects, industrial, conservation, urban designers, interior architect, landscape architect, and so on, but it is being a residential architect that is my preference and to which my career evolved into. My calling to architecture came when I was in my 5th grade. By the ripe age of 11, I was so obsessed with my self-commissioned project – attempts to draw renovation plans for our previous Makati home that sat in one corner of the property. It was a two-storey, two-bedroom residence housing a family of nine. So familial in encouragement, expressing my architecture drifted more towards residential architecture.

I realize that somehow undertaking home designs is much more living fulfilled and life enriching, by enriching that of others. It makes life more worthwhile. Queries to my Mom, on the necessities of moving out of the Makati residence and into a new abode in Paranaque, brought about a classic response so inspiring that it became my credo for every residential project I undertake – “After years of hard work and perseverance, this new house is our ‘Crowning Glory’”.

A residential project is driven by the client who pays out of their pocket. It is hard earned money and hence their level of personal and emotional involvement is proportionate to the endeavor, unlike cost-to-profit-driven commercial projects. Since the client demonstrates that subjective and responsive involvement, it leads to building a personal relationship, a rapport that goes beyond functional needs. The divide between client and architect eventually blurs as they become close and in most cases develop a significant lasting friendship. It also makes the architect do a better job and eventually helps the client set more sincere priorities to create a truly functional home that rightly fits the family’s actual lifestyle.

The residential architect listens carefully to the client, reads between the lines, and then digests, processes, chunks, construes, and reverts back to the client. It is a dialogue that repeats itself over and over, at times even up to construction stage. It is a tedious process of transforming the client’s confusing intangible thoughts into an organized tangible reality. It is a progression of doing away with all the client’s incongruous ideas and imagery collated from tons of magazine images and experiences and, by playing a role of interpreter and translator, the architect forgathers them into a much purer and more representative picture in context to what the client really wants and needs.

It may sound to be an exasperating process of back-and-forth and perhaps to other’s perception a time consuming process. But this is an imperative and crucial aspect of the residential design route in order to create a personal and successful project. As the saying goes, “Don’t simply give your client what they ask for, give them what they need. But better still make them be a part of the design process.”

Needless to say, an architect cannot build the client’s residence on his own. Developing a new residence requires full cooperation and coordination between client and architect, and later enjoined with a qualified & reputable contractor, should create a triad cooperation anchored on trust. All parties should enjoy the collaboration and teamwork knowing that this partnering is essential to doing good work. The true beauty of a residential project may not materialize should there be an absence of sincere teamwork. It is cooperation based on an egalitarian nature of collaboration with the pursuit of achieving that one specific goal – a great satisfying beautiful home, kept within budget and completed within schedule.

Comparatively, residential projects require shorter timelines as compared to buildings or huge developments. This lends more time for the residential architect to engage with and select more diverse clients. And due to its smaller scale, it may allow the residential architect to possibly design everything – from architecture to the interiors and even the gardens, just as I do in my practice – not seeing a divide between these three disciplines – asserting that true architecture should be conceived as a cohesive whole.

Nonetheless, residential architecture should not be commercialized and a quantifiable number of residential projects per year are justifiable. That way projects receive full attention; and in my case, a practice beneficial to the personal services I provide – hands-on in the entire process until handover. The limited but qualitative number and size of residential projects lend themselves to this level of involvement while the diversity and variety should keep the architect continuously engaged and excited.

Succession also happens when undertaking residential projects – spin-offs into other commissions. Previous residential clients offer other commercial projects although not in line with our expertise. This occurs possibly as a result of the client believing in the architect’s designs, having enjoyed the experience of working with the architect, or believing in the methods at which the architect problem-solves. Interestingly enough, my experience in these situations outright reveals the stark difference between the client as homeowner as to when they play the role of developer.

Residential architecture is every bit as exciting working on small budget houses as with more expensive ones. But regardless, residential architecture is always a gratifying experience. It is truly an altruistic career and a fantastic way to enrich one’s life and that of others.

It is not just about the completed home nor about pretty pictures. There is a lot of going on ‘behind the scenes’ and a lot of patience, understanding, and perseverance that goes into it. It’s about heart and passion, making a difference in people’s lives and helping them achieve their own ‘Crowning Glory’. And the elating and important part is that they put their trust on me with something that is so very special to them.

At the end of the day, no amount of fees would amount to that satisfied and delightful smile of a client. This, to me, is the “real world of architecture.” Aside from bringing value, experience and knowledge, residential architects convey harmony, understanding, compassion and love to families and friends.



  1. Alah Paredes

    love the story!

    • Bart Vista

      Great, Alah! Next one’s much lovelier

      • richard smith

        Reading a client’s unspoken likes must be pretty daunting at times. An eye opening post.


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