Sustainable and affordable housing

Saturday came as a typical day in the mountain city, wet and foggy. I would have preferred to don my old cotton sweater, winter jacket and jeans but since it was presentation day in my Philippine Urban Administration class, at John Hay no less, I was forced to get into a business suit. Since I couldn’t be bothered to think about what color matches which color, I wore black all over. Well at least it matched the weather. My paper was on urban competitiveness with focus on metropolization and the Metro BLISTT. My reporting partner, from Baguio City Hall, focused on the theory in urban competitiveness. But this article is not about our paper (I’ll do one on that later) but of another classmate’s, Rafael Dulagan, a young professor of architecture at St. Louis University. He presented a case study of sustainable and affordable housing.

His paper was of special interest to us in the class. In earlier meetings, we ruminated over the generally-unaesthetic appeal of Philippines’ urban skylines, the changing perception among Filipinos regarding housing design that is a departure from the nipa hut design into space-eating Western-inspired concrete houses, government’s implementation of its socialized housing program wherein ‘socialized’ is actualized as ‘poorly-built’, and so the need for alternative designs and methodologies.

I got his permission to cite some of his examples of sustainable designs (i.e. economically-viable, socially-acceptable, technically-feasible, and environmentally-compatible) which he said local design could learn from.

In La Virgens, a palafito home is retrofitted to incorporate energy-saving technology as well as to plant food right at home (urban agriculture).

Palafito Home

In Rotterdam, Netherlands, “green roofs and unfinished wood siding allow the buildings to recede into the landscape”, “window size and placement optimize winter passive heating and obviate the need for air conditioning in the warmer months”, and “storm water will be handled on site, with rainwater stored for flushing toilets (to which a classmate joked, what if there’s drought for six months?)”. The design sacrifices individual home yards to create community (to which the architect commented that Filipinos with their love of fences – “this space is mine” – may be difficult to do).

The Sunshower SSIP House, designed by Judith Kinnard professor of architecture and Tiffany Lin assistant professor of architecture at University of Tulane, looks like a van container on the outside. The house “utilizes steel structural insulated panels that snap together and are extremely strong withstanding winds of up to 225 mph and an earthquake of up to an 8.6 magnitude”. Part of the roof is “optimized for solar panels, while the other funnels water into the courtyard for bathing, washing clothes, flushing waste, and watering a small vegetable garden”.

Habitat 67 was especially built as a model for the Expo 67. Contemplating on the neat skyline of this model, we couldn’t helped comment how “lumba lumba” local housing skylines were in comparison. We commented that skylines do matter in that an unappealing skyline adds stress to already stressed urban minds.

In Marseille, France, socialized mass housing, apartment style. In the Marseille model, the interior is done in the retro 1960s. We recalled similar local socialized housing and commented again that here ‘socialized’ means ‘poorly-done’, in other words, a rat hole which just shows how the poor’s poverty is used against them. The professor said a socialized housing unit now costs PhP300,000-PhP500,000, payable for 30 years or PhP300-PhP500 a day. She said despite this the poor are defaulting on their repayments. We said it’s expected because the daily amount is too much for the poor. The class argued, rejoined by the architects and the engineer among us, that PhP300,000-P500,000 would make a decent one-bedroom house and that government is merely adding burden on the poor with the cost of its so-called socialized housing.

From India, another apartment model for low-income families. The model has no elevators (to which we joked that whereas here the building code asks that an elevator is installed every five floors in a building), deliberately, to “force” residents to walk as daily exercise. To this, we asked what if there are senior citizens with rheumatism or disabled. Architect Rafael said that our concern was in fact a question in their board exam and the reply was for the disabled and the like to be given priority to the ground-level units. Oh, we said, like the reserved seats in local buses for the disabled.

On closing, Architect Rafael said it is a misconception that an architect’s fee is beyond the average Filipino’s capacity. He said there are architects who are only too happy to adjust their fees in consideration of their client’s capacity, for the sake of their advocacy on green buildings. We joked that he should then give us a “classmate’s price”. But seriously his presentation brought home the urgency for local design to integrate with instead of wiping out the environment, for rural areas not to create stressful skylines (both in terms of psychological and environmental impacts) and learn from the lesson in the haphazard physical development in the country’s urban areas, that green architecture could be made affordable for the poor, and for government to start on it in its socialized housing program (by involving green architects and planners, of course).

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