Our House Project

On exhibit at The Gallery of New York School of Interior Design
161 East 69th Street, New York, NY 10021
beginning January 31 – April 21, 2007

I collaborated with Navin Pathangay AIA, Chris Ilg AIA, and Steve Soenksen on the design of an affordable housing solution we dubbed as the "M.O.D. House" for the International Design Competition the HOME House Project.

Steve Soenksen and I were graduates from Taliesin while Chris and Navin were coworkers in a leading architecture firm in Phoenix. Together, we explored an innovative housing solution for the future of affordable housing in America. Our MOD House entry is a finalist out of over 440 entries in The Home House Project:The Future of Affordable Housing competition organized by the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) three years ago. The project challenged artists and architects from across the United States to design single-family houses using Habitat for Humanity's basic three- and four-bedroom house plans as a "point of departure." Criteria for the designs include the use of environmentally conscious materials, technologies, and methods.

The MOD House has since been traveling together with select 100 entries across America in prestigious venues like the El Paso Museum of Art in Texas, Museum of Design in Georgia, Frank Gehry’s Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum in Minnesota, and at The Gallery of New York School of Interior Design (located on 161 East 69th Street, New York, NY 10021) beginning January 31 – April 21 2007.

It is also featured in the 128-page book “The HOME House Project” published by MIT Press, and includes essays by Michael Sorkin, Ben Nicholson, and Steve Badanes.

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Trading Places

Last Feb. 23, 2007, I had the opportunity to speak about my cultural background and how it relates to attitudes about healthcare, role-reversal, and high-performance buildings built with the associated needs in mind. (In this case, Assisted Family Living facilities.) I had a very engaging and enthusiastic audience---the staff of the Alzheimer's Association Desert Southwest Chapter in Arizona.

When I got the invite from the Alzheimer's Association to be their speaker, I thought to myself, why me? I'm in architecture, what can I speak of about caring for the elderly? Then I realized, why not me?

I can draw from my personal experiences of the gradual role-reversal that I am currently experiencing with my aging parents. Plus, I have briefly worked on Assisted Living Facilities projects of Taliesin Architects, so I can draw information from these. My topic centered on how typical Filipino families deal with aging and a growing disease called dementia.

Elderly healthcare in Filipino communities, whether they are living on-shore or part of the Pinoy diaspora, is strongly driven by cultural traditions and values. There is a strong dependence on family which, more often than not, results in financial, emotional, and cultural stresses on the family member acting as care-giver. This is further compounded by societal pressures associated with a close-knit family culture and the emphasis given on respect for elders. Filipino parents have a difficult time letting go of grown-up children, which is why we often see them still living with the parents as long as they want. Children normally keep their close relationship to their parents by staying until at least before getting married. This creates a unique dynamics in the Filipino family where it is common to see grandparents living with grown-up children with their own families.

The advancement of science and technology enables humans to live longer in this day and age. By year 2010, it is estimated that there will be twice as much Filipinos at age 65 who, at the same time, will be at risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease (based on the Philippine Government statistics). This necessitates that urgent considerations be made on how we deal with healthcare issues associated with a longer lifespan and aging. Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 1136 declaring an Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Week occuring every third week of September every year. However, based upon inter-disciplinary considerations, there is still limited access to facilities in the Philippines that cater to this growing disease normally associated with aging. This presents extremely synergistic challenges to Filipino healthcare professionals and architects who must work in this healthcare arena strongly driven by cultural attitudes, information or lack thereof, and economy.

Cultural Attitudes

Because of the tradition of a close-knit family, the Filipino family provides most of the healthcare of elders. This forms their support system. Traditional long-term care is disregarded or unheard of. There may also be reluctance in seeking professional services for impared elders due to the cultural perceptions of stigma and shame associated with having an impaired family member. These family member-caregiver who are not skilled to care for those dealing with Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease often dismiss the ailment as forgetfulness---a part of growing old.


Some Filipinos would rather ask their neighbor or friends about health issues and its treatment rather than seek professional help. Also, the facilities that cater to this societal market is a very small fraction of business that appears unappealing to developers in Asian markets who want a quick return on their investment. There needs to be a balance of communities that cater to both start-up families and to those in their golden years.


The average Filipino parents are not trained by their parents to put money away for something like this because their major concern is to live and survive on a day-by-day basis. Therefore, healthcare is limited to those who can afford it.

Two sides of the Coin

As far as the Filipino's approach to healthcare is concerned, I am in a strategic position to be able to view two sides of the same coin. I live permanently in the USA and will soon be part of the growing population of dual-citizenship holders in Filipino communities. So for me, healthcare is as important as having a paycheck.

It is the driving force for people to seriously consider their retirement plans. There is a boom in the market of Adult Living Communities. Asian communities who carry with them cultural baggages in their approach to healthcare are realizing the need for a good healthplan and health insurance benefits.

More on this topic in my next posts...

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Architectural design can help reduce global warming

Phoenix has a daily temperature of extremely cold mornings and evenings and extremely warm daytime at 40 to 80 deg F. This is common in this latitude (32 +- degrees North Latitude). But last month, we had a thin layer of snow! Imagine that. It’s not supposed to snow in Phoenix, only in the northern elevations of Arizona. But it snowed – for some reason. Phoenix and Scottsdale are marked by knobby terrain and localized series of elevated hills.

So I support your (ref. Inquirer article by Sylvia Mayuga) advocacy for a livable, more sustainable environment.

People now spend an average of about 90% of their time indoors. Look at a recent survey of buildings of commercial, institutional, and residential buildings that account for, approximately:
 40% of global consumption of raw materials

 30% of primary energy consumption
 60% of electricity consumption
 12% of potable water consumption including 5 billion gallons a day for flushing toilets
 35% of carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas
The source of these stats is the Whole Systems Design of the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

Think about Makati

When you ride the MRT on EDSA from Quezon City, you literally have no need to go to outside to an even more polluted outdoors when you reach Makati. Just get off in one of the air-conditioned drop-off points (refrigerated with substances containing CFC a.k.a. "Chlorofluorocarbon" causing ozone depletion) and walk your way through the shopping mall to the center of the city hub.

This clearly delineates the potential for buildings to either adversely affect or positively support human health and productivity in a significant way. We architects, who are the definers of the built and natural environment, need to clean up our act. Those stats and an alarming analysis of global warming indicate that architects create one of the biggest problems but possibly also the best solutions to greenhouse gas emission, global warming and climate change.

From what I observed when I visited Makati last year, it’s flanked by cookie-cutter buildings designed by foreigners who have displayed a total lack of understanding of a tropical country in a lower latitude close to the equator. Why did we allow this to happen? Part of it - again - is that Filipino mindset of colonialism and branding. Anything imported, in this case designed by a foreigner, must be good. Pardon my language, but we have become suckers for this.

This is contrary to the Organic Architecture I’ve learned.

A building needs to be site-specific. One can’t just pluck the floor plan of a building from out of an industrialized nation like America then build it in a country in different latitude. It’s like buying a fur coat in New York because it’s hip and trendy then wearing it in Manila where it’s 30 ++ degrees C outside. Trendy and hip? I hardly think so.

What I think President GMA needs to aggressively support are initiatives that create an awareness of environmental responsibility in Filipino communities. The government needs to actively engage Filipino architects in order to establish a national benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance buildings.

Architects need to help solve the environmental problem through design. I’m currently pursuing accreditation from LEED to become a professional Sustainable Design Expert. Government projects/ buildings are now required to be LEED-certified in the U.S. There are also efforts in this direction for commercial, institutional, and residential buildings which have been implemented.

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