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Seeing the Light

A revitalised indoor courtyard inspires the rebirth of a contemporary home in Manila. Adele Chong reports.

While the thought of whiling the afternoon away in one’s own cozy courtyard enclosure has long fueled the fantasies of dreamy-eyed homeowners this side of the tropics, a house designed specifically as a complement to the actual courtyard itself admittedly remains something of an architectural rarity. A specimen of the latter, a certain rehabilitated abode by Filipino practice Buensalido Architects, is sited in an older neighbourhood in Metro Manila. 

Surpassing surmised notions of novelty, the revamped home has come a long way from its difficult beginnings, owed in large part to the studied optimism of its current inhabitants as well as the thoughtfully uncharacteristic approach undertaken by the architects charged with overhauling the property. The owners, a young professional couple who discerned potential in the original lacklustre structure, readily purchased the house despite its less than ideal state (eighties-era arched collonades and annay finishes were among its initial shortcomings), intent on optimising its previously subverted spatial qualities.

The decision to establish the pre-existing courtyard as the main focal point of the house came about after assessing the site’s limitations. Constraints, both financial and spatial, left little room for superfluous additions, rendering the final design an ode to function rather than style.


“Since it was a renovation project with a very limited budget, the most complicated part was to maintain and salvage what we could with the original structure and integrate it into the new design,” recalls Jason Buensalido, the firm’s founder and principal. “We had to be diligent and innovative in creating details that would stitch together the old and the new, and also come up with experimental finishes that were unique and interesting but not necessarily expensive to implement.”

An ability to see eye to eye with the client where aesthetics were concerned didn’t hurt either. A shared love of idiosyncratic yet modern, streamlined interiors meant that Buensalido’s original proposal remained largely intact throughout the entire renovation – a testament to the kindred nature of his working relationship with the occupants.

The harmonious correspondence between the two parties is aptly reflected in the architecture itself; composed of carefully coordinated spaces that flow neatly into one another, the house arranges itself around the courtyard, a converted indoor space melding seamlessly with both the dining and living areas. Varyingly sized skylights in select areas lay claim to the courtyard’s skyward connection while illuminating the interiors with artful punctuations of light and shadow. A cut-out motif mirrors the windowed openings, repeating its dramatic footprint over low-slung ceilings. Edged with diffused ambient lighting, the squares simultaneously break up the monotony of the space by introducing a sense of understated dynamism to the minimalist premises.

To the east of the house, delicate features such as an interior rock garden and a pedestrian walkway strewn with daylight offer up poetic slivers of the world outside. A simple black-and-white colour scheme, carried forth in the refurbished façade, completes the overall effect. Freed of excess and ostentation, what remains is a relaxed domestic environment brought to life through a robust infusion of warmth, personality and light.


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