In a rapidly developing metropolis, spaces that exist simply to provide a sense of space are exceedingly rare.\r\n\r\nMetropolitan Manila, like so many other South East Asian cities is strewn with towering condominiums perpetually under construction. Life here can be claustrophobically congested.\r\n\r\nThe Manila House by actLAB sits at the other end of the spectrum \u2013 a notable example of considered spatial design against a backdrop of stifling density. Situated within an old pocket of Makati City and built for a young professional couple, the project was briefed as a nuanced interpretation of the traditional Filipino home.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt was important to us to not be just one of those new houses following the same \u2018modern\u2019 trend,\u201d say the residents.\r\n\r\n\u201cThey are a contemporary Filipino couple, and wanted a modest, clean-lined house that will sit well in its context,\u201d says Aya Maceda, founder of actLAB. \u201cThey knew of my modern interpretations on vernacular architecture and that I was starting my own practice, and they wanted to work with me.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe inherited existing house had sustained water damage from the last typhoon in the area. For their forever home, the clients wanted to maximise what they could build on the property to include three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a home office, as well as an open plan arrangement to cater to the extended family gatherings customary in Filipino culture.\r\n\r\n\u201cThere is a Sunday lunch legacy in this family where three generations get together weekly to share a meal. Siblings and parents catch up, children are running around in the background\u2026 you know, it\u2019s big!\u201d says Aya. \u201cSo I designed for that, with the idea that the many segments of the house would be visually connected.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe expansion of the structural footprint towards the bounds of the site gave rise to the pivotal courtyard feature at the core of Manila House, which lends the home its uniquely inward-facing quality.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt always rains in the Philippines, so we wanted a covered outdoor space \u2013 a lanai, which is an important space in the Filipino vernacular \u2013 our equivalent of a veranda. Traditionally, it is an open air living room that is covered, and facing a garden,\u201d says Aya.\r\n\r\nThis green space at the heart of the home separates the dining room and double height living area, skilfully compartmentalising the ground floor while enhancing its spacious, sociable feel.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe house is zoned in clusters. Visually, you feel you are all in one space, but at the same time, the spatial arrangement allows for different pockets of conversations to happen,\u201d continues Aya.\r\n\r\nIn a culture so rich in celebration and family feasting, it follows that many Filipino households, even modest ones, are commonly served by two kitchens. The dry kitchen inside the house is kept for entertaining and the preparation of simple meals, while the serious culinary grunt work \u2013 frying whole fish over a dramatic industrial wok burner, for example \u2013 is reserved for the utilitarian wet, or \u2018dirty\u2019, kitchen outside. To this end, Aya included an adjoining outdoor service space. \u201cInside, they have somewhere nice to serve guests and eat breakfast, but it\u2019s so important for them to have a place where they can cook traditional food.\u201d\r\n\r\nNatural air flow became another driver of the spatial plan. Bucking the nation-wide trend for maintaining artificial fridge-like temperatures indoors, the client preferred to reduce the need for air-conditioning. The actLAB team ensured lots of opportunity for cross-ventilation, with louvers specified on even the smallest openings.\r\n\r\n\u201cAir flow can be released upstairs, and they can purge air into the courtyard,\u201d says Aya. \u201cYou can be inside the house and feel a breeze, even on very hot days.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe furniture in Manila House is entirely produced by local craftsmen. The living room set was designed and created by local maker Milo Naval, a long-time collaborator of Aya\u2019s with a background in architecture. \u201cBesides supporting the local industry and having pieces that fit perfectly, we found the quality and craftsmanship of local artisans to be excellent and reasonably priced,\u201d says the resident.\r\n\r\nMilo\u2019s wooden pieces sit well against the Manila House\u2019s restrained material palette of porcelain tiles, compressed stone, masonry and local hardwood timbers. A native timber called Tanguile was used \u2013 a largely overlooked, inexpensive hardwood not frequently used in a fine house. The decision was made to use timber only in the places that you would touch, creating a sense of warmth and tactility as you move through the sequence of spaces.\r\n\r\nWhile the Manila House provides a joyful respite for its human inhabitants, it is also a safe haven for its furry occupants. Though stray street dogs are endemic to the Philippines, many prized purebred pets are lamentably kept in cages to protect against escape, or theft. By contrast, the couple\u2019s beagles sleep indoors and are free to roam the perimeter garden, which is screened with live bamboo for privacy.\r\n\r\n\u201cMuch of the planning on the site was arranged to give the animals easy access to the outdoors, whilst keeping them away from the open front gate,\u201d says Aya.\r\n\r\nThe house greets the street with an unassuming fa\u00e7ade. Its exterior is clad in rendered masonry, with a first floor screened in white aluminium battens echoing the rhythmic timber slats within. This linear patterning is part of an overall strategy to lighten the visual mass of the project at street level, in reference to its context within a gated community.\r\n\r\nLikewise, the gate blends in as part of the overall design. Greenery was designed into the fa\u00e7ade to soften the frontage over time, with native foliage along the fence line, as well as over the garage canopy and behind the slatted screen.\r\n\r\n\u201cI worked for architect Alex Popov for seven years, and I always remember him telling me, \u2018if you strip the house of its ornamentation, the design should be able to carry itself.\u2019\u201d Aya says. \u201cThis has been a guiding voice in my own practice, and I feel like that\u2019s what this house achieves.\u201d Or more simply put, and in the client\u2019s words, the Manila House is a \u201chappy house\u201d.\r\n\r\nThis story was originally published in Habitus #37, the Nostalgia issue \u2013 out now!