Lets Narrow it Down, House on a Slender Lot


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3 Front from living

House on a narrow lot.

Cutting for the last notebook with the last remaining plastic wrapper is often times a challenge, the same when you’re trying to fit a large book into a slender plastic bag at the bookstore, narrow provisions often are not enough for the job at hand.  A narrow lot or site is no different, but creative solutions together with supportive clients and builders can make all the difference.

A narrow lot may provide the necessary area in terms of  quantity, but because of the shape, problems arise when setbacks and required spaces are put together.  When you consider large provisions for stairs, garage and utility areas, you can paint yourself into a corner.  Spaces cut from a narrow lot sometimes have a tendency to feel cramped and ill proportioned, further depressing the delight and satisfaction of the users and owners.  Rooms which feel comfortable due to the proper relationship in length and width or established norms tend to become too long and too short because of perception and placement.  On the exterior, the elongated form, without treatment, doesn’t fit into the fabric of the neighborhood and may not embody the visual cues for a house or home.


1 Ground Floor Plan-Model

Ground floor plan on a narrow lot.

Techniques for a narrow lot are varied, easy to use, and can be arrived at through experimentation and creative logic, or in the inverse as the case may be.  Sometimes the placement of the largest space requirement in the widest corner may not be as effective as putting the same large space into the narrowest corner.  Wasted spaces such as the spaces under stairs can be nudged to form part of the garage to help reduce the run of the staircase without jeopardizing either room.  Forming a “barbell” with large rooms or conglomeration of smaller rooms at ends and locating the rest in a linear form with a single loaded corridor can form the basis of an excellent floor plan.  Lastly the exterior façade can be arranged in varying textures and forms to break apart the mass if that is the requirement of the scale and composition.

2 Front from garage

View of the house from the garage side.

The house designed for a successful married couple with grown children was built on such a site.  Aside from the challenges from the narrow lot, as it was only 10 meters at its narrowest and 11 meters at its widest. Rooms were required to have their own private bathrooms and must have light and air.  All the utility areas of a fully functional house must be present, but discrete at the ground floor to allow for coexistence with the ground floor public areas.  There should be ample walls for a growing collection of local art, and memorabilia of grandchildren.

22 Side Pic

View of the house from the side along the 11m property line.

Aside from what was mentioned earlier for designing on a narrow lot, a linear design was used to maximize the space available given that the 3 meter setback in front was compounded by another 3 meter setback on the side street, as it was a corner lot. A firewall was allowed and used to allot space for utility areas and rooms.  The largest rooms were located along the ends, with rooms combined on the opposite to form the opposite “barbell”, and a corridor linking them with the other rooms arranged along its length. Ceiling heights were maximized for both the ground and second floor as much as the height restrictions allowed and all spaces had windows to alleviate the feeling of being cramped into a corner.  Light colors were employed on the walls and floors to give a homey feeling as well as to make the spaces feel larger.  Large windows were placed in the public areas and along the corridor to take advantage of the large tree lined public area in front of the site, greatly expanding the vistas of the occupants.  Clerestory and corner windows were employed to break up space and bring more light into the rooms.  On the exterior, grooves grouped into vertical and horizontal bands helped break the linear quality of the house’s mass so that it blended with the fabric of the neighborhood.  A stone accent wall for the main door was used to bring focus to the front elevation and bring the visitor’s eye to the entrance.  Ledges and canopies of varying length, though linear, helped create “play” with form and shadow while providing shade and protection from rain.

9 Living Room

View of the Living Room.

10 View from Dining

View of the Dining Room and Living Room.

13 Main Stair

View of Main Stair

14 Stair Light

View of Main Star light fixture.

5 Hallway

View of corridor/hallway with fixed and clerestory windows.

6 Typical bedroom

View of typical bedroom.

8 Typical T&B

View of Typical Private Bathroom.

11 Powder Room

View of Ground floor powder room.

12 Powder Room Lav

View of Powder room lavatory.


15 Front setback

View of Front setback and Main door canopy.

A house on a narrow lot may be challenging to design and to build, but ways to alleviate the cramp quality of space, and to maximize what’s available is always an option, what’s needed is research to know what limits there are, a proper program gained from meetings with the client, and established procedure to select a good builder to bring such a project to completion.

1 Front Panorama


General Contractor: Design Integra Construction Inc.

Structural: Engr Ronald Ramirez

Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing: Engr Rolando Nicdao

Interiors: Arch Pinky Javier




Asian Dragon House Feature

This house was designed  for a couple who are doctors with 2 teenage children, on a site surrounded by wonderful trees, in a quiet neighborhood.  Its interior designer  John Vigilia has just been featured on Asian Dragon Magazine. Do get a copy and check out John’s interior design and the architecture  by our practice.


Below are images from the last site visit:

Three Bedroom House on a 2o8 sqm Lot


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Front Elevation

In each chapter of life, we have a dream. For the clients, a marketing executive in a technology company and a teacher of Literature,they dreamed to build a house that will cater to their needs and requirements, especially with their two sons who are fast growing up.

They acquired a lot in Bacoor, Cavite which faced north and the morning sun fell on the left side of the property.  The Site is elevated approximately seventy centimeters with a large difference in elevation from left to right. A height restriction of nine meters from the highest corner monument was indicated in the subdivision design guidelines. The style of the house was restricted to Mediterranean or Simple Contemporary.

The plan was driven by a living and dining room with the staircase dividing the space and a large picture window which faced the morning sun. The Client required three bedrooms plus one guest nook with provisions for a main kitchen, utility kitchen, two-car garage and a garden. Storage areas were considered, therefore the design utilized several spaces such as the underside of the stairs and the attic.  A Dutch Gable style was used for the roof to give the over all design, character. Moreover, grooves, grilles and simple moldings atop the windows were set to further accentuate the aesthetic of the house. A roof deck was placed above the garage and provided a lookout for the client.

3 View of Ceiling-Dining

Cove Lights

1 View of Ceiling-Dining

Cove and Pendant

2 View of Ceiling-Dining

Pendant and Accent Lights

Different lighting fixtures which when turned on by themselves or in combination provided ambiance. Thus, it produced different moods that enhanced the quality of the space.  The use of accent colors as requested by the client, created a variety of personality in the spaces. The flooring and other wood textures created a warm and cozy feeling while the white walls and ceiling created the impression of space and embodied cleanliness and tranquility hence, creating not just a house but a home for the client.



Single Storey Renovation


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Front Before

Houses, aside from maintenance, need some renovation after some time, possibly because of changes in function, users or external factors. The renovation of this house involved many of the same and some more requirements of the client. In this project an interior designer gave the initial direction to the renovation and provided the input for the placement of the furniture and lighting.

ContactSheet-002 copyThe client wished to re establish the main door as the primary entrance to the house. Due to storage issues and the original orientation from the garage, which was expanded from the original design, the main door had become hidden and ceased to become an element in the façade. There was also a wish to revitalize the look of the house from the road shifting to a more clean and fresh composition. This was done together with the following improvements.




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In the interior the space was low following the style of the house, it was found that because of the structural rafters the ceiling could be redone to slope together with the roof to have greater height and provide greater space in the living and dining room. There was a newly vacant room as well that was to be incorporated into the dining and living room for greater space and flexibility. A cove light was done to create an indirect lighting solution for the taller space.




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Its main kitchen had grown small compared to the occupants it had to service to, and most everyday cooking was done in the utility kitchen adjacent to it. The client wanted a kitchen for themselves to use, which would accommodate additional storage and also allow to entertain visitors. The solution was to expand into the original foyer , but retain the original counter creating an island counter, the higher ceiling and cove light were also employed to match the adjacent space of the living room and dining room.

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As mentioned earlier, the previous main door and foyer location became the spaces into which the main kitchen expanded into. The remainder of the space became the powder room for visitors, this new powder room was decorated consistently with the existing motif of the household.

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A framed glass door which was used to separate the public and private areas of the house was moved back and its swing reversed because of the proximity of one of the bedroom doors.  The double wall was also removed, and a simple painted plaster wall from where paintings were hung took its place along the new dining room’s border.

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To the house’s side, the two meter setback along the perimeter was being used as a laundry area and it was planned to relocate the function to the rear of the house, and in its place a lanai with grilles along the roof would be constructed. This space would allow for light and air to naturally come into the living room and could also become a spill over space when entertaining guests.

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ContactSheet-015 copyTo provide the air and light the capiz framed sliding doors were replaced with modern steel reinforced PVC sliding doors along the length of the living and dining room. And then the old doors were used as various enclosures in other parts of the house such as for the pump and water tank.



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Viewing the space towards the front, the re-positioned main door, which allows entry from a new path walk serves as the focal entrance point and helps bridge the look from the old into the new.

Front After

Completing the renovation for the facade is the new skirt roof with clay tiles that was placed to protect the entrance from the afternoon sun and provide the face of the house. Dark brown stone was used as accents on the posts and on the garage to create a contrast between the white walls, achieving a fresh look for the composition.
Together with the renovation, upgrades to the house’s electricity, storm water systems, security and accommodations were done giving it the extended life and value that the owners and their family would enjoy for many years to come.


Interiors by: Anna Luisa Zavalla

MEP by: Engr Rolando Nicdao

Gencon: Engr Arthur Sarmiento



Simple Condo Fit Out


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With rising land prices and increasing population in the cities, condominium or ‘condo’ living has become widespread.  Even in the predominantly low rise subdivision communities where two storey houses had been the norm, high rise condominiums by the major developers have been finding inroads to cater to: the children of first movers of the community, the expanding middle class, young families and the phenomenon of students or workers of nearby universities and business centers.  These mid market units range from twenty square meter studios to forty five square meter two bedroom units found in sites close to commercial, institutional and transportation facilities.

23 Before Images 3

The practice designed a simple layout for a one bedroom unit in a development close to a business center, it measured thirty two square meters from its demising walls.  It had a toilet and bath, with a provision for a washing machine.  There was a single galley kitchen setup with a sink found between provisions for an electric range and a refrigerator.  A window aircon opening was provided in the living area and bedroom, which was boarded up prior to installation of the appliances. And the floor was finished with wood patterned vinyl tiles, with smooth prefabricated walls painted in beige.

Plan-Turn Over

With budget limited, the existing finishes were maintained such as the wall and floor treatments as well as the existing over head kitchen shelves and under counter cabinets.  The program was that basic storage requirements and activity provisions for the users should be provided, as well as a basic furniture layout that would consider the limited space of the area.

25 Bedroom Images 3

The bedroom’s 2.30m clear width was too short to have the bed’s headboard opposite the door, in that position it would also make the occupant directly exposed to the aircon’s airflow which is not desirable.  And so the queen sized bed was positioned with the headboard against the window which provided more space coming in from the door and had a more comfortable access to the closet.

26 Living Images 3

A combined TV shelf and study area was placed opposite the living room sofa bed.  This cabinet would allow storage of the user’s TV and modern entertainment appliances like, DVD players, Game consoles and Media library.  And on the other side it also offered a pull out flat drawer area for work and study.

27 Living Images 2

Opposite to this combined entertainment shelf and study would be a sofa bed, which could accommodate an overnight guest.

28 Ref Dining Images 2

Acknowledging the importance of the dining area and the kitchen, it was necessary to provide more storage for foodstuff and personal items and to also have a way to have more work space surface area if the dining table became fully used. And so the refrigerator provision was moved towards the opposite wall and the kitchen counter extended with a provision for a counter height power outlet.  A small niche for the refrigerator was made, and the wall would then serve as a divider enabling the dining table to be placed against it.

29 Storage cabinet 3

With the dining table to one side, a storage cabinet was made to accommodate food stuffs and personal items.  This cabinet was equipped with slide out work surfaces that could be stand up work areas for food preparation when needed.


In conclusion a One bedroom condominium unit can be a comfortable place to live in, and with the amenities provided such as: twenty four hour security, close proximity to business, and common area maintenance it becomes a viable choice for city living.

30 Living Dining

31 Kitchen Dining



House Design Exercise: Narrow House Scheme Two

1b _Scheme Two BW

Different cooks can interpret the same ingredients in different ways; the same is true for architectural design. Though the client’s requirements and the lot may be the same, the interpretation and execution of the design will vary from designer to designer.

This is an example of our efforts to foster creativity and showcase our capabilities through a concept design. This house designated Narrow House Scheme Two is an example our efforts.

A house is a place where people have a freedom to do what they want to do, and a shelter that gives warmth and protection in times of uncertainty. This house is located on a large lot with an area of 403. 57 Sq.m.

Ground Floor Plan

Ground Floor Plan

The living and dining room are located first to accommodate visitors directly. An open kitchen is adjacent to dining so that the owner can see through dining and living area. The entertainment and mini library joined into one spacious room beside an outdoor elevated deck was composed for a calming ambiance next to the garden.

The two-car garage near porch and utility are located close together for direct access and convenience.

2 Second Floor Plan

Second Floor Plan

Bedrooms are located in the second floor except the guest room so that the owners have privacy.  The Masters bedroom is located to the west and has a commanding view to the front of the property. The two bedrooms to the rear have access to a deck that looks out into the garden to the rear.

Front Elevation

Front Elevation

Left Elevation

Left Elevation

Rear Elevation

Rear Elevation

Right Elevation

Right Elevation

This plan is done with a modern straightforward design. It’s accented by concrete, wood and bricks maximizing the beauty of natural materials


Front Perspective

Perspective at Rear

Front Perspective

Front Perspective

House Design Exercise: Narrow House Scheme One

Black & White Perspective

Different cooks can interpret the same ingredients in different ways; the same is true for architectural design. Though the client’s requirements and the lot may be the same, the interpretation and execution of the design will vary from designer to designer.

This is an example of our efforts to foster creativity and showcase our capabilities through a concept design. This house designated Narrow House Scheme One is an example our efforts.

Ground Floor Plan

Ground Floor Plan

At the left side of the house are the common areas- the Living area continuing to the Dining area with the Lanai acting as an extension. The Main kitchen is open to the Dining area making the space seem larger with island counter or bar serving as buffer to the Dining area. The Guest room is at the rear of the house to provide privacy and cross ventilation

The Garage is located at the right side making access to the Laundry and Utility Area easier. Driver’s and Maid’s room are on the same side.

Second Floor Plan

Second Floor Plan

With all the public or common areas on the ground floor, the private areas were all located on the second floor. The Masters Bedroom is located to the East for morning sun exposure and provided with its own walk in closet and Toilet and Bath. Bedrooms are also provided with either a private bath or a common facility. A study or office was located adjacent to the Master bedroom. The Main Stair is located at the front for ease of access. Clerestory windows provide natural illumination for the second floor hallway. Bedrooms are located on corners to provide for cross ventilation.

Roof Plan

Roof Plan

Front Elevation

Front Elevation

Right Side Elevation

Right Side Elevation

Rear Elevation

Rear Elevation

Left Side Elevation

Left Side Elevation

The house is modern contemporary with stone accents and minimal decorative elements.

Front Perspective

Front Perspective

Front Perspective

Front Perspective

Front Perspective

Front Perspective

Raise The Roof!


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A professor once told a class, it doesnt matter if you’re afraid of heights, when you need to, you will have to check your roof. Years later this writer considers these words, as one negotiates a roof during inspection. Most times you just try not to fall, and not damage anything on the way down.

One of the first things is done on the ground, close to the safety of terra firma when the roof materials are delivered. We check between the thickness specified and the thickness of the roof material that arrived, check the bended materials like: gutters, fascias, end flashings, and that everything is in the correct color. It’s usually good to leave the approved sample on site to compare to when needed.


Upon installation and you’re up there against your better judgement, see if all the tekscrews or whatever methodology for fastening was executed properly. If there is an agreed coloring or retouching this should be applied prior to final acceptance. The over all shape and form should generally be as shown on plan or as seen in the agreed shop drawings that the supplier and installers sent to the client and architect. All the lines that are level specially along the roof edges should be straight, eyeballing is sometimes good enough but for really large roofs some measuring tools might be needed. The roof height aside from whats specified on plan must also conform with the city and village design requirements.


The details to be checked may include the fasteners for the roof gutters, these should be intermittently spaced for proper support. All roof ridges and valley gutters should be installed to prevent leaks along the joints and seams. Any material or unit sticking out should be fastened by tekscrew or blind rivet to prevent pieces flying off during high winds and rains. Fascias shoud be properly secured and sealed with the proper sealants to make sure everything is water tight.





Usually its good practice to have a load of water poured by pressure washer or to await a good downpour to see if everything holds up. Warranties and guarantees should have been clarified with the general contractor and specialty contractor during the start of the process, but all of that is useless during the actual storm when a roof leaks, so its important to get everthing right the first time.

In a tropical country such as the Philippines the roof of a house contributes greatly against the intense heat of summer and the pouring rains of the rainy season, not to mention it crowns and gives character to the over-all look, hence the great importance given to its design and execution.


Just remember when you’re up there, don’t look down.

Condo Design Story


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Driving around the densely populated centers of Metro Manila, it’s impossilble not to see condos everywhere of all shapes and sizes. Even in my stomping grounds, the southern side of the city, where wide subdivisions and single detached households are dominant, there are mid to high rise buildings making inroads changing the cityscape. In the spirit of paper achitecture, the making of a design without particular client or site, the following is a sequence of how a condo may take shape.

Before I forget, the term condo has come to mean mid to high rise residential buildings. Its a shorter form of the word condominium which pertains to the form of ownership an occupant will have over his/her unit. To simplify we differentiate from a subdivison, wherein a title proves you own a piece of land of set dimesion and location, a condominium gives you ownership of the unit you will occupy and part ownership in a corporation that owns the common areas like corridors, lobby, driveways, elevators and everything else needed to make your building work.

The design starts with three important things that we inherit from real estate brokers, location, location, location. The site will define the over-all and final form the design will take. As architects we take the topography, orientation to the sun, presence of major climatic conditons, presence of bodies of water, landscaping or vegetation among many natural and man made conditions. Adding to the physical conditions there is the legal and regulatory environment like codes, laws, design restrictions and upcoming issues pertaining to green building, the environment and social responsibility. These among many other items are to be evaluated by the designers.

When the site has been evaluated and a general idea of the masterplan in mind, the designers usually attack the design problem with the end in mind, which pertains to the layout of the basic units. This is the end because it’s what will be sold to the buyers and form the basis for all computations and assumptions.


Studio Plan and Layout


One Bedroom Plan and Layout

For the purpose of this exercise a studio unit of 20sqm and one bedroom of 36sqm is used. This unit size and distribution requirement is usually provided by the clients, who know their market and their brand. An architect will have to assume for the greatest common denominator for users while considering all the necessities for modern living.


Once a layout has been approved and adopted, a floor plan containing the unit mix required is designed, the number of studios and one bedrooms in our example will be setup with the rest of the floorplan for the building. Some of the items to be required would be the corridor layout, fire escape configuration, elevator placements, electrical room, mechanical rooms, plumbing rooms, and garbage rooms. These varied components will be subject to the architect’s design intent and the client’s business requirements.


Condo with Parking Layout and Traffic Flow. Area in red is possible commercial like a supermarket.


Amenities are important to the character and desirability of a development.

With the site studied and the floor plan adopted, we make a fit that will eventually help finalize the masterplan. Like being on the sandy beach in summer, with our shore as the site, and sand castles as our floor plan, we place our sand castles on our shore to create the best possible effect and fulfillment of requirements. Aside from the number of buildings, everything else is incorporated like the amenities, entrances, exits, parking, utilities and administrative spaces among many other items.


With the masterplan in place and the floor plan properly oriented, we step back to consult the business brief and design intent to help arrive at the stacking of the buildings. With this we get the height and stature of the building. Two of the defining parameters is the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) and the resultant Gross Floor Area (GFA). For the purpose of this write up, the FAR is given usually by the city’s land use plan which is a factor or number multiplied by the area of the lot, the result of which is the GFA. This GFA in square meters is the total construction floor area that a developer may build. Hence the the total height and the number or storeys are dependent on the FAR and GFA. With this a diagrammatic section can be made to show how the adopted masterplan will stack up and if it adds up with all the expectations for design and finance.

With everything stacking up and hopefully adding up to the design and financial specifications the parking and the ramping concept is revisited and finalized. Usually the number of parking slots required is governed by the National Building Code (NBC) Parking ratio, the ordinance by the local government or the land developer’s design guidelines whichever is most restrictive or will provide the most number. In our example the NBC parking ratio was used.


Perspective of Condo Development with Commercial

The sequence just described varies depending on the project and the client. Ultimately we can expect residential design to further evolve and hopefully improve with the competiton in the market, exposure of buyers due to travel and the internet, increasing awareness in green building technology and increase in land prices.