MANILA, Philippines –One of the most common misconceptions about progress is that in order for a nation to move forward, it needs to leave the past behind. Urban development, especially in Metro Manila, has often focused on maximizing space and utility at the expense of cultural heritage. It would seem like the first thing a developer wants to do these days is take everything down and build 50 storeys up.

Even with sustainable construction practices slowly being adapted by today’s developers, from using organic materials to minimize carbon footprint, to the introduction of energy-saving solutions and greener practices, many fail to grasp the concept that sustainability not only means preserving the environment, it also means sustaining the identity of the nation. Look around Manila, and you’ll see a lot of real estate companies introducing foreign models and projects with foreign architectural themes that seemingly capitalize on Filipinos’ colonial mentality.

“There is nothing wrong with themed developments—it works well, but it doesn’t really have a sense of place,” explains Angelo Mañosa, the chief executive of Mañosa & Co., the architectural firm founded by his father, Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa. “You market these properties and you sell a lot, especially to the middle market, because you’re latching on to the colonial mentality. But,” he says, “in the last decade there has been a sense of national pride building up—from Pacquiao and the Azkals, to Philippine fashion and furniture—and as a developer, we want to show that selling national pride can actually capture the same market other developers are after, that you can localize and still be successful.”

Proudly Pinoy 

Now on its 35th year, Mañosa & Co. has always been about instilling national pride by showcasing the Mañosa brand to the world. “The same way a Filipino takes pride in Lea Salonga and Manny Pacquiao, we want to be that way with Filipino architecture,” shares Francisco “Dino” Mañosa, CEO of Mañosa Properties. “We want somebody to point to a building somewhere in the world and say, ‘that’s a Filipino building.’ It’s not Asian, it’s not oriental; it’s distinctly Filipino,” he says.

Architecture, according to founder Bobby Mañosa, must be true to itself, its land, and its people. “It’s a saying we always go by,” says Angelo. “We always look at architecture as something that must have a sense of place, and since we are Philippine-based architects, majority of our projects are in the Philippines and our designs are uniquely Filipino,” he says.

Given the country’s colonial history, however, what exactly is it that makes Philippine architecture “unique”?

“We say it all starts with the bahay kubo,” Angelo points out. “We consider it the ultimate green home. Before the Spaniards came here, the bahay kubo already existed. These were structures built based on climate, and the culture we already had.”

The concept and fundamentals of the bahay kubo is quite simple. “If you look at the typical profile of the bahay kubo, it’s a house on stilts, which allows cool air to come in; it has a 30-degree slope on its roof to shed off all the rain we get and also dissipate hot air from the sun; and all the materials are made from indigenous materials or those readily available around the area. If you get the criteria of what makes a house a LEEDS certified house,” says Angelo, “and you put the bahay kubo right beside it, point for point you’ll probably easily get a gold certificate. But as dad would say, ‘you can’t build a bahay kubo for your client. That’s crazy.’ So what we do is we take the fundamentals of the house on stilts and we take it to a more contemporary form. That’s pretty much how we define our architecture in making it Filipino.”


Beyond the Bahay Kubo

Indeed, the last 35 years has seen Mañosa & Co. modernizing the bahay kubo by infusing it with contemporary design strategies, materials and technology. With successful projects that range from award-winning properties like Pearl Farm Resort in Davao and the Amanpulo Resort in Palawan, to well known projects like the Coconut Palace, Mactan Shangri-La,  Ateneo Professional School and De La Salle Zobel, the architectural firm has produced a portfolio of beautiful homes, resorts and commercial buildings that have been well-received by the market.

Today, with the second generation taking the lead, Mañosa & Co. follows a concept called “E = E”, which stands for “Environmental design must make Economic sense,” informs Angelo. “More and more the catchphrase now is ‘green.’ But many times when you start following strict regulations on using technology, etc., it doesn’t make economic sense because 1) government policies are not in place; and 2) importation taxes don’t make it friendly. So you can come up with the greatest idea but it’s not applicable or is too expensive to build here. And that’s something we’re very conscious about,” he says.

Looking back on their father’s past innovations like the Coconut Palace, which brought about new industries—suddenly there were new businesses that offered abaca carpets, abaca wallpaper, coconut inlays, etc.—the Mañosa siblings are now exploring new avenues to innovate. “One of the ideas we had was to make a house that’s fully recyclable, and we were able to achieve this by playing with container vans,” says Angelo. “We built a house that was 75 percent recyclable.

We started developing an architecture that created a house built from container vans. The super structure of the house was given by the vans, and then we put in indigenous material to keep the carbon footprint low. It cut costs, too; made it cheaper for about 35 percent,” he adds.

To step up the ante, the company also came up with an innovation called Building Modeling Information Systems. “We put up sun paths around the house so we can project for a particular house, for example, the time of day or month a certain room is the hottest. Like for the month of May, we know that the hottest room in the house would be the living room, so we can start addressing design issues,” says Angelo. “We also have technologies like solar tubes that bring in natural daylight without having to use electricity. It can make the darkest room in the house one of the brightest,” he says.

According to the siblings, their father would always take everything holistically. It was always about the whole package, says Bambi Mañosa, who heads Mañosa Interiors. “As children, my dad would take us to the last touches of his projects. He was very particular about color, texture, detail, lighting, plants and accessories, and he would do all this on his own. And this has been so ingrained in our minds that to this day, we still do this. We’re there at the very last moment, fixing everything,” she says, adding that Bobby was always in search of what made something Filipino. “Our ID team was encouraged to use materials inherent to our country, such as bamboo, capiz, rattan, coconut, fossil stone, and natural weaves. My dad would also encourage fellow furniture designers to come up with designs that showcase the Filipino, and thus instill national pride.

Back then,” she says, “dad was alone in preaching about pushing for a Filipino identity, but now we’re very happy because materials and technology are readily available and well replicated.”

 Published April 23, 2012 in the Business Agenda section of the Manila Bulletin.