Bahay Kubo

Written by Tricia Sardinia-Peek on May 31, 2020

Literal translation as House Hut, this concept sketch is taken from the vernacular spirit of the Bahay Kubo, the Filipino archetype for native houses. This was drawn some years back, a tropical farmhouse that was our design attempt for a modern, simple and modular farm set in a house. Essentially a full or partial greenhouse, it can be built anywhere you are in the city.

Now that Philippines cities are moving into General Community Quarantines (GCQ), the construction industry will also mobilize. It is important that we re-asses our building systems and built structures, starting with the way we live in our houses. What are your necessities not only to survive, but to thrive?

For us, Food and its relationship to architecture and urban spaces is a personal topic and journey. It started with container gardening several years ago. Doing our research in the local context of the city where we were (Muscat, Utrecht and Davao) and visiting food gardens and sustainable farms in Luzon , Visayas and Mindanao. What is clearly apparent is that although the sustainable food and farming movement is underway globally, we still need a lot of reminding here in the Philippines.

Our country's roots are in agriculture, but a lot of younger people may have forgotten that. A lot of us too have lost the connection with growing food that sustains not only our bodies, but also our environment. And this attitude has harmed our selves, our communities and the planet. In a couple of decades, studies show that around 70-80% of the world population will be living in cities. How can we imagine feeding everyone sustainable nourishment at that scale?

Farming has the stigma of a poor man's job with back-breaking work. And little income to show for. But we don't have to stop in farming alone. There are many enterprises and businesses that involve organic crops and real food that we can possibly excel and benefit from. Yet, we are often trapped in buying factory-packed, highly-processed and imported stuff from giant malls and international food corporations. The diversity that you get in our existing palengke and neighborhood are not what it used to be. You can hardly find fresh sampalok, puso ng saging and kamias anymore. There used to be more self-sufficiency and community sharing in our local neighborhoods before. And there used to be more native trees too.

Yet, everyone can derive satisfaction from being in close contact with nature. The positive mental, psychological and emotional attributes of being connected to the natural environment have been studied and recommended as a way of life, anywhere you are in the world. We will see more of this, if we demand to live better in the 'new normal'. Viable meat, organic agriculture, garden to plate, slow food, sustainable farming and knowing your farmers; topics that need to be highlighted if we are to review our current food system.

Because now more than ever, in this pronounced period of pandemic, the source of food for our families is being brought to the forefront on this fight against the COVID-19. When we were ordered to stay inside our homes for a minimum of 2 weeks, no one hoarded the latest cellphones, shoes or fashionable clothes. Despite being advised not to panic, everyone rushed to the supermarket and 'palengke'. To purchase rice, oil, sugar, meat, eggs and canned goods. And all 'prutas, gulay at lamas' that you can. A lot of these fresh vegetables you can actually grow on your own. Maybe others, you can trade or share from your community... Understandably, not all can adhere or have the option to this lifestyle, but we still try to think up ways on how to re-start growing food back to where we live in the city. Granted that perhaps feeding the nation still means agriculture (sustainable and regenerative for sure) in the countryside, what then can you do within your own house and lot? As it turns out, a lot...

1. We can use our yard to plant food, not grass. Whether directly in soil or pots and planters, you can start with a single seed. Even fruit-bearing trees.
2. Use the walls to trail vining crops, even reach the ceiling as you need to
3. Dig up your floor or yard and make a tank for fish.
4. Re-use the water from your tank to feed your plants, mimicking an aquaponics or terraponics system.
5. Use your roof to harvest rainwater. Put solar panels up, while you're at it.
6. Collect your graywater to irrigate the plants
7. Use your blackwater and treat it naturally to water your trees.
8. We can even use urine to fertilize your edible landscape
9. Have a chicken coop, a minimal number of heads is still allowed as backyard raising. You have free fertilizers too
10. Segregate your wastes and compost what you can. Free fertilizer again.

Basically, grow what you eat in the space that you have. So you can eat what you grow, when you need it.

This simple structure supports these activities and at the same time serves as your shelter. The materials are locally available and the building system is easy. You can make it as utilitarian or as comfortable and decorative as you want. Since the dimensions are modular, the design can be scaled up. Everything revolves around bringing the natural ecosystems the closest we can, into our own homes. In #permaculture design, this farmhouse can be in your #zone one.

Plants and especially trees are often great noise pollution buffers, sunshades, air quality controls and are always pleasing to look at. The moment each of us re-connect closely once again to this natural environment, will be the moment that we can tackle one by one big issues such as climate change, waste and air pollution, clean food and water for all, healthy air and nurturing spaces.

As architects and planners, we are tasked to emphasize these if we are to design spaces that people can emphatize with and live in. As a collective community, understanding and support for endeavors towards green, regenerative or sustainable systems are worth everything now.