Philippine House Design. Building our house in the Philippines. How the design for our Philippine retirement home evolved. The original inspiration for our house was a residence we saw in Lucban, Quezon Province. It was a new house but had a traditional Filipino and Spanish Colonial flair. Bob worked in the field of hertiage preservation for almost 25 years and has an affection for traditional design.
When we added some elements we wanted like a second floor verandah, this is what we got:
But we reluctantly abandoned these plans for a rather basic one story design similar to to a plan we had seen at SOS Children’s Village in Zarraga, Iloilo:
Here’s what we have ended up with:
Here are some of the reasons for our change of of heart as we gave them to a myphilippinelife.com reader:
Thanks for you appreciative comments about the house design. We had been working on it for three years, ever since we saw a similar design in historic Lucban, Quezon but we have to break the news that at the last minute we have abandoned this design and have decided to build a one-story house. I suppose our decision is really a triumph of practicality over aesthetics.
We had lots of good reasons for wanting a two story house. We wanted a perch where we could have an unimpeded view of the mountains and surrounding rice fields. We wanted to reach up to the cool night time breezes. We wanted to have a second floor refuge from any flooding, especially after experiencing Typhoon Frank in Iloilo City. I wanted an upstairs refuge from the family hubbub downstairs. An upstairs bedroom seemed more secure from robbers. Those were the advantages we saw, on top of the instinctive aesthetic appeal of the two story house. Psychologically, it was perching above rather than crouching below. My mother-in-law says there are two types of homes and home owners, “perchers” and “nesters”.
The building of our bahay kubo helped change our mind. As is traditional, the floor of the bahay kubo is about one meter above grade. This makes a standing adult above the level of the top of our eight foot fence. We are surrounded by land which either has already been subdivided or in in the process of subdivision. The pace of development in the Philippines is such that land around us will be developed, sooner or later. Our lot is only twenty-three meters wide. Our second floor would give us a ring side seat to whatever was going on a few feet away, karaoke, TV, crowing roosters and all the other aspects of exuberant Filipino life. If we built a single story house, our eight foot high concrete wall will provide a considerable buffer from whatever noisy chaos eventually surrounds us. I’m a little embarrassed to show how shallow or thinking was, but there you have it!
There are other advantages to the single story design. This is earthquake country. Panay had an 8.5 earthquake in 1948 which destroyed many buildings. Proper engineering for a two story concrete house (most are NOT properly engineered) calls for lots of very expensive 25mm rebar and steel decking to support the second story floor. A one story house is simpler, more or less like our fence with a roof. Our property is unusually exposed to typhoons. We are one kilometer from the sea on a flat, exposed, treeless plain. That gives us good breezes when it’s hot, but the typhoons will really blast us.
We came to realize that our experience with flooding in Iloilo City was not very relevant to our Tigbauan property which is about fifty feet above sea level and did not flood during Frank. Certainly the two story house would survive, but maybe we’d be a bit more comfortable hunkered down in a one story house.
More importantly, we are enjoying having Carol’s niece in Tigbauan, sending her to school here and generally trying to give her a better future. Carol’s sister has also been staying with us. The only story house is less elegant, but gives us another bedroom for another niece or two. Eliminating the stairway and second floor complexity allows us to have a four bedroom house for less money than the three bedroom two story house. In the end practicality ruled. We knew the room sizes we needed and basically our home is a box containing these rooms.
We did have a few other design preferences. We don’t use much air conditioning so we want our house to be comfortable without it. We wanted big windows to let in lots of light and breeze and also to reduce the thermal mass of the cement and block. Our ceilings will be three meters (almost 10′) high and will have ceiling fans. We have unusually big windows (2.4M wide and 1.6M high) and hence bedrooms may be hot during the day, but should cool off quickly in the late afternoon. Three of our four bedrooms have cross ventilation, that is they are corner rooms with windows in two directions. We wanted a big roof overhang to provide as much shade as possible. Our overhang is 1.5 meters. Our porch face north and so will be in the shade most of the day. The location of our lot in open farm country means it’s very breezy, sometime excessively so during the dry NE monsoon. We have already planted shade trees to the south of the house – Mango and Acacia. We will put split air conditioning in two bedrooms. Sometimes aircon is nice when you’re taking an afternoon nap on hot day. We are pretty acclimatized to the heat but an air conditioned bedroom is an essential courtesy to for visiting friends and family.
Back to the one story design. It also can’t be overlooked that the old foreigner who will occupy the house will turn 66 this year and intends to spend the remainer of his years in the house we build. While one hopes to stay healthy and die peacefully in one’s sleep at a ripe old age, the reality is often grimmer. The climb to our second floor bedroom might become impossible. I recommend The Denial of Aging by Dr.Muriel Gillick. It’s subtitled “Perpetual Youth, Eternal Life and Other Dangerous Fantasies”. This book gives a good dose of reality about aging, but does it in a way which leads to clear thinking rather than depression. By the way, my father died more or less instantly at 80 of a heart attack on a Florida golf course surrounded by his golfing buddies — so there are happy endings.
We have added scans of the various plans we considered. The designers of these plans may have an ownership interest in the plans so please don’t copy or use them without permission.
Read all about our Philippine House building Project at /building-our-philippine-house-index/