When Architecture Inspires: Emulating a Design Concept

by Jul 31, 2021The Practice

The KL house’ cantilevered timber deck. For more project photos, click here.

Several years past, upon my invitation, a young Filipino couple had this exclusive opportunity to visit one of my completed projects in KL. They immediately fell in love with its design, its concept, expressing:

“…beautiful circulation, cross ventilation to perfection and an abundance of natural light practically in all areas including toilets”

And when they casually sat in discussion with the owners, hearing the ‘behind the scenes’ and the processes of how the design came to be, the lover affair was consummated.

What really overwhelmed them was how the design concept pivoted towards the rear of the property where an existing monsoon drain 30 feet below concealed by the lush foliage branches of a secondary forest across showcased the beautiful natural attractions of the property. That experience stuck to their minds.

Fast forward to last year, the couple decided to build a weekend house in one of their provincial properties south of Manila. Their land, though much much smaller in size,  had the similarities of the KL house — sloped towards the rear where a creek runs 10 feet below and with thick vegetation but of tropical matured banana trees, coco palms and thick undergrowth right across the creek.

You guessed it right — they craved for the same design concept on such a tinier site and on a much cheaper scale. While teleconferencing with them, Oscar Wilde’s words immediately sprung to my mind:-

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery …..”

We could have emulated the KL house. Aside from the creek feature behind, the right-side, also in thick foliage as if an extension of the forest behind, was determined by its owners to be left undeveloped.

It would have been a perfect site if not for the left-side neighbour who, like almost anyone else in Manila, maximized his land with the use of double-sided firewalls and built a towering behemoth. (I’m quite certain that, not considering AC’s and fans, the interiors of that house are a humid smothering sauna to live in.)

As a result, this neighbor’s colossal house partially blocked the southeast prevailing winds; but the good thing is it also screened the midday and late afternoon sun.

Avoiding a ‘Dunning-Kruger’ attitude of the site but rather citing its positives and assuaging the situation to our advantage, the design evolved with the following considerations:

  • First goal — get sun and wind into the house and make the house as bright and airy as possible, and …
  • Use the existing neighbour’s firewall as our own wall — at least we save on costs for another fence wall, but …
  • Detach the upper ground floor from the firewall, introduce a terrace (breathing space), and thus create a wind tunnel from front to back
  • Similar to the KL house, angle the upper ground floor but this time to orient it to catch the prevailing wind from the East-Southeast
  • Enhance cross ventilation with large through-and-through windows from front to rear subsequently bringing an abundance of natural light into the interiors
  • Cascade the massing of the structure starting from the rear towards the front, like the steilhang slopes of a mountain, to augment and heighten wind current and turbulence


These affable clients are a simple, laid-back and easygoing childless couple who even lovingly share a single closet for all their clothing.

Aside from budget, which is a given, these typical WFH millenniums’ primary concern was for a conducive and comfortable, effective but flexible workplace that enjoyed the view of the surrounding natural foliage.

Second in line was for a workable kitchen complete with range & hood for the wife loves to bake and cook. As for the husband, well ……the house would serve more as a wind-down, chill-out place, a watering hole with friends over the weekends.

But I believe that what started out as a project to create short-stay accommodations will transform into a full-time residence. So we designed for that:

  • All basic requirements of a fundamental house are provided for including a convertible guest bedroom and a powder room
  • The natural terrain led the house design to gravitate towards the rear creek. The configuration and resulting flow of space contribute to the structure blending with the surrounding natural landscape
  • The entrance hall, dining and other areas turn into verandas as they intersperse with open terraces, decks, balconies, pocket gardens, and free-flowing spaces that make the daily interiors an open and airy design melding the indoors with the outdoors
  • Functionally, benefits of outdoor spaces are invaluable but from a design perspective, these forms are also priceless — giving the multi-leveled open interiors lightness and movement, firing the imagination of an evocative flight of birds
  • We also freed most rooms from doors, a cost-saving contribution, allowing the life of the house to merge into one
  • For get-togethers, more consideration is placed on open spaces primarily on the dining cum lounge that bleeds out into its outdoor timber deck cantilevered over the creek below and surrounded by the embracing natural habitat. The setting satisfies a city-slicker’s glamping urge for a little refuge in nature but without foregoing any of life’s luxuries
  • I know … nothing beats those long, warm evenings when having friends over for a meal or drink out in the open surroundings of nature
  • The house is designed to be far more varied than the banal platitudes of a typical Philippine house. It has an unusual geometric floor plan, uses unexpected materials and has all sorts of elements that you might not automatically associate with the stereotypical urban residence
  • Greenish cement stucco and wood, blending with the surroundings, come together with steel, aluminum and tempered glass — the  building’s use of disparate materials creates an innovative design with a character all its own
  • The house is designed to preserve as much of the native flora as possible yet create a private and energy-conscious residential complex
  • The couple’s sacrosanct areas — the WFH studio is on the second level while their chambré is located on the third — both away from the public extents and high above in genius loci


To offset mounting but imperative costs, we all decided on the following:

  • Cut and fill of the natural site saved on import of backfill earth
  • Finishes in the speakeasy character of Ando-esque exposed concrete floors and exposed block walls — cement for all walls and floors, exclude the toilets and bedrooms, allows the ѕtruсturе to speak for itself
  • The resulting look — ‘industrial chic’ that takes center-stage attracting guests to take a gander at
  • Areas directly beneath roofs shall have no ceiling, exposing the roof rafters and insulation keeping it rife with ѕіmрlісіtу
  • Forget uniformity — upon my advice, the couple scouted the province for repurposed upcycled doors & windows available at a much cheaper cost. The same went for the bedroom’s timber flooring and staircase ‘tabla’ (Tagalog for thick boards) tread steps
  • A successful combination of traditional with modern precision helps keep the aesthetics deliberate, the team focused, the budget on target, and the result elegant
  • This also goes along my school of thought that co-existence and balance of old traditional and modern material should be an important theme in our culture and our day to day lives.  Especially today, combining traditional and modern has become inevitable from an ecological and sustainable stand point
  • Most windows will be glass louvers mounted on steel frames. Manufacturing of all steel frames, grilles, and gates shall be carried out by the hubby, forging and welding being one of his passionate pastimes
  • Chain link fencing shall be installed in place of hollow-blocks.  This serves a 2-prong purpose — allowing free passage of wind and the panoramic view of the surrounding natural habitat subsequently creating an illusionary feel of a bigger vast property


The resulting house we created boasts a certain sense of playfulness and vitality — unique, quiet, beautiful, kitsch and fun — all in one go.

It is a boho beauty being a collation of small ideas batched together for the free spirited couple and upped to a more sophisticated level but without the flashiness and va-va-vooms.

Though somewhat pared-down by the piecing together of eclectic recycled material yet forming a cohesive whole, the new abode employs every angle to magnify space making it airier and easier for natural light to illuminate it.

As a whole, it is a true charm and a true reflection of the couple.


True house architecture must be true to its land and to its owners. Just as all other houses I design, it is site specific – scaled to the neighbors; defines the existing elements; their windows and openings considering the sun and view; and holds sacred the flow of wind direction.

Now … copying — or I’d rather say ‘a conscious Inspiration’ — of a design concept is, strangely, a way of inventing new forms of architecture.

It is said that architects have an ingrained copycat culture but then again it is the injected originality in details, uniqueness in form and concept, and adaptation to the site that sets our own work apart.

So what have we learned? Well … regardless of whether it be architectural mimicry or not … whenever we design, always make sure it will be a ‘knock out of the park’ — for it may be the only architecture other people see and read.



  1. Sonny Pulgar

    Great Architectural piece…in written form. Good read Bart!!

    • Bart Vista

      Thanks, Attorney


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