The poolside lanai or covered terrace occupies the main house's ground level right to the edge of the water. Balinese stone lanterns demarcate the wet and dry areas.


Villa Marina: The WAF-approved Neo-Bahay na Bato

Hasta Miñana! Emmanuel Miñana shows us the tomorrow of the bahay na bato

  • Written by Elizabeth Reyes

  • Photographed by Ed Simon

Listening to the ever-vivacious architect Emmanuel Miñana effuse over his projects is always an engaging experience. But for this particular project, he was livelier and more enthusiastic than ever, as one is wont to be if his work is shortlisted in the prestigious World Architectural Festival—after all, this now puts him in the company of such internationally-renowned architects as Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind. Now, I am more than engaged. Thus began our journey to Cabuyao, Laguna, to visit Villa Marina, Miñana’s remarkable neo-bahay na bato on the 18th hole of Sta. Elena Golf Course.

The tropical villa feels warmly familiar like the olden bahay, yet is contemporary in its linearity and clarity. The sala upstairs serves as a perfect view deck for the golf course, while the lanai below relates to the pool and rolling gardens.

First, I discovered how Villa Marina found its way from our local golf fairways to the annual World Architectural Festival, held every October-November in Singapore (previously in Barcelona). Miñana excitedly tells the story of how he entered the Filipino villa—owned by Rico and Nena Tantoco—in the design competition last April. The victory of a group of students from the University of San Carlos in the WAF 2013 Student Competition inspired and compelled him to help bring Philippine architecture to the global stage. Miñana shares: “I felt it’s imperative to stand up and knock on my colleagues’ doors…to share and lift the perspectives of our foreign colleagues. Perhaps this gesture will help encourage a quiet reputation—that there are some good designers in this little corner of the world! I had heard the signals: God was awakening me to show the world this project! So I begged photographer Chester Ong to come over and photograph Villa Marina.”

So the architect quickly wrote up the villa concept, sent his documentation and registration to London, and was soon recognized upon the WAF 2014 Shortlist, under the Villa category—a real honor for architect and country.

Villa Marina street view
Miñana wanted the facade to be opaque, to afford some privacy to the owners, and so that the effect of transparency once one enters the house is immediately apparent.
Villa Marina silong
The silong (ground level), which connects the private quarters to the more “public” main house, is composed of a setting of traditional furnishings and native accessories: mesas altares, butakas, and giant Mangyan baskets arrayed amid smooth adobe walls and stone floors.

The WAF entries are judged by an elite board of architectural gurus and design editors. “I had to write an essay stating my intent and concept. One needs to communicate what the house is trying to say, and point out the architectural gestures that make it unique in the marketplace.” Miñana’s statement articulated his intentions: “Villa Marina merges context, climate and cultural references, with the intent to celebrate cultural diversity.” This neo-bahay na bato is a seminal work “infusing the vernacular with contemporary vision and global appeal.”

But then, on a more personal level, for Miñana—a Filipino architect with a Modernist, clean linear style reminiscent of Neutra or Meier—the Tantocos’ Villa Marina is much more.

READ MORE: Punong: A nature-embraced family retreat by Ed Ledesma

Profile of a Bahay

We arrived in the Sta. Elena estate in Cabuyao, Laguna, and drove to the far end, by the 18th tee. There behind a small mound of greenery on the inner bend of the street, the villa project spread its two wings on either side. On the left, the main bahay contains the traditional functions of the large family home; on the right, the “guest wing” houses the children and the extended family. Bridging the two volumes is an open deck passageway, set for the crafting activities of the children of the villa.

Villa Marina grand sala
The grand sala features a wonderful play of Roche Bobois’ Mah Jong sofa set’ a giant capiz chandelier by Palayan lamps; and a coffeetable fashioned from a carrozza carriage wheel, copped and topped with crystal glass.

From the outside, Villa Marina appears as a sleek contemporary mansion, somewhat shrouded from the street-side viewer. From the slope of the front driveway, fine adobe stone walls rise in a fortress-like stance over the street. The house’s second story, under a broad, pitched slate-tiled roof, is surrounded by wide eaves bearing multiple layers of traditional fenestration—sliding glass, wood louvers and transparent balustrades.

We accessed the shaded front door and entered a long adobe-lined hall (referencing the silong of old). From this interim foyer, we glimpsed an intimate view to a water landscape just beyond the window glass: Ponce Veridiano’s river of koi fish shaded by a canopied forest-garden out back. Here begins what the architect calls Villa Marina’s “gracious repartee with nature.”

Turning to our right, it’s off with the shoes, to change to tsinelas and climb the tall entry staircase ascending from the silong. Alongside the staircase, a magnificent accent wall is composed of mirror-cut black and white marble from China—making a centerpiece graphic statement as we enter the home. On reaching the piano nobile, we have transited the traditional profile of the bahay na bato: from the storage and service area on ground level climbing to the open transparency of the upper floor. We now look outward through the bahay’s wrap-around floor-to-ceiling window and screens.

Villa Marina sala exterior
Around the sala above, several layers of screens engage and articulate the sunlight: a spacious setback that makes way for sliding glass panels; fixed wood louvers reminiscent of persianas of the traditional Filipino bahay; and a low clear glass barrier representing olden balustrade. Note the wide eaves and upper floor extended below the lower floor.

The big family sala can be thrown wide open and be fully transparent to the surrounding environment; or, it can be tempered for privacy, especially at night. Layers of sliding doors on three sides of the sala comprise what Miñana calls “many different engagements with the light”: persianas or wood louvers that cut the light; and a laminated glass reminiscent of nacre shell or capiz; and a waist-high glass barrier that references the balustrade or ventanilla. The two-meter setback of sliding panels is right out of the traditional bahay—with it hand-rubbed pasamano rail bearing the rows of weather screens.

We gaze outward to the golf course (designed by Robert Trent-Jones) that rolls and stretches into the distance and experience a warm, hacienda feeling in a contemporary home. Directly below the great sala is the poolside lanai¬—a casual dining and lounging area with a contemporary Filipino feel.

As the villa’s rather austere frontage opens up to the astonishingly warm, light interiors and the stunning views of the verdant surroundings, Miñana demonstrates one of the most important things he learned during his studies abroad: architecture and the manipulation of space has the uncanny power to inspire emotion by evoking human consciousness. This is his goal for each and every one of his projects. “I try my best in a very subliminal way to follow this sequence: I start with the opaque, then I go to the translucent, and then I finally bring you to the transparent. There’s also the escalation of scale, where you start out with something small or plain, and then end with grandeur. So that the viewer starts out expecting nothing, and then suddenly… It’s really like consciousness, or gaining consciousness. Sometimes we’re obscured from many things, and then suddenly we have an idea. Our consciousness brightens and you’re brought up to the ‘aha!’ moment.”

Villa Marina view from master suite
The view from the master suite toward the central house shows the spacious setback from the edge and the “floating” layers of sliding screens around the bedroom. Heavy supports wider at ground level and tapered to bear the main floor are a distinctive visual reference to the Cordillieran Ifugao hut: the heavy hardwood posts of mountain tribal houses have been adapted here as thematic accents on the villa.
Villa Marina bedroom
The scenic bedroom suite is the model for all villa bedrooms: cathedral ceilings and louvered sliding doors, cushy beds with Ilocos handwoven abel covers and tawny wall coverings with matching curtains.

An Exercise in Subtlety

Miñana’s cultural references remain subtle gestures. The architect’s inspirational force is neither the cultural nor the tribal theme, but rather the villa’s “constant dialogue with nature” and the environment. He loves the villa when it’s all wide open, demonstrating the particular passive cooling technique derived from the olden bahay na bato: a series of movable screens temper the fierce tropical climate at various times of day. “So this house brings forward a traditional Filipino vocabulary; the original function of the capiz and the persianas is just reinterpreted in today’s contemporary materials.”

“The house has a lot of moods,” says Miñana, “driven by nature and the screening of plants planned into the house design.” He recounts how the homeowner Rico Tantoco rises regularly at 4:30 am to enjoy the character of the light at 5AM (“It’s ethereal!’), and how the spiritually-engaged spouse Nena enjoys the “very open house with its moments and spaces for reflection.” She conducts spiritual retreats in the garden and crafts sessions in the lanai.

Villa Marina library
The master’s library and den is surrounded by glass, but a green “garden-wall” and roll-down blinds afford the owner some privacy. Built-in onyx lamps lit among the stacks of books and records complete the library’s warm look.

As we tour the six bedrooms, Miñana points out the use of contemporary materials—natural adobe stone on the walls and Portuguese porcelain tiles underfoot to resemble wood. “Everything looks so organic, though the technology is all modern.” Modular patterns on the wooden doors and carpets are all coordinated, while wallpapers and curtains are blended as in fine hotels.

Villa Marina view from annex
A view of the main house from the annex. Miñana designed the lighting and the flow of the house and he feels very honored that he was given the opportunity to bring such a big, lovely family together in this special setting.

Down again in the private wing, we moved to the den, a glass-encased library room looking to the back gardens. Just outside the glass is Mother Nature’s own screen, as designed by landscapist Ponce Veridiano. “It’s a wall of nature—for the private and reflective moments inside,” says Miñana. “It’s a house to live in, not to show off; a house to celebrate their family, to bring a large family to live together.”

Still, architect Miñana’s favorite time in the house is the evening, “when all the lights are on and the house becomes transparent like a giant lantern–-it’s just gorgeous!” He’s proud of the villa’s lighting design. “At night, the intention of the architecture takes on a lilting quality… The posts appear like a series of tree trunks lit equally. Just gorgeous.”

And so Miñana’s concept statement to the World Architectural Festival reflects back: “Villa Marina merges context, climate and cultural reference: celebrating cultural diversity, while infusing the vernacular with contemporary vision and global appeal. “ Gorgeous. 

 This article first appeared in BluPrint Vol 4 2014. Edits were made for Bluprint.ph.

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Villa Marina drawings