Purpose of design in sustainable architecture, communities

At the very core of a good life is the enjoyment of spaces for living, for working, for recreation, for commerce and trade, for spirituality, for healing, and for growth.

All structures will find their purposes among these seven categories. The brilliance of an architect and the prowess of a team of engineers will help build that purpose.

But it is only when a house (or a building, a park, a factory or a community development) can blend itself well in the environment would its purpose be truly fulfilled. It is only when the design teams ensure that the house doesn’t look like a displaced urban edifice in the middle of lush limestone cliffs, when the septic pipes don’t leach toxicity into the azure waters, when the manufacturing fumes don’t spew out black smoke into the sky—can we say that this was designed well.

Everything else then are just layers of concrete and steel built upon land, measured, contained, boxing people in, not worth remembering, photographing or preserving. If it doesn’t conform to the standards of sustainability, it is not design. Thus spells the difference between a good architecture and a bad one.

Whenever we design hotels and resorts, high rises or commercial structures, or even houses, there are five important considerations: users’ needs, design character, budget, location and integrated building technologies.

User’s needs

Let’s take user’s needs first. An architectural program considers customized solutions depending on the occupants’ requirements, behavioral patterns, and way of living and working. If a designer does copy-paste and cookie-cutter planning and sketching, that’s a problem.

Design character

Design character takes into account the aesthetic values and taste of the owners. More importantly though, the context of the physical environment should also be factored in. Vigan, Ilocos. Batanes province. The modern skylines of Bonifacio Global City and the retail strips at McKinley Hills. Lio Estates, El Nido, Palawan. Rockwell, Makati. In all these places, the structures convey a parallelism, a consistent look and pattern. The design character and visual identity are then formed.


Budget is most critical. This is when the architect becomes creative, and innovation partners with imagination. All developers work with budgets, and the ROI must be met at a certain time frame. Upscale residential projects run the range on generous costs but it doesn’t mean that expensive is always beautiful.

A well-articulated simple space of reinforced concrete and bamboo residence in Coron, overlooking the sea can be better than an overly-decorated house in Greenhills.


Location spells the difference as the views, fresh air, magical sunsets and overlooking hills are just as important as the accessibility, say to places of work, to the airport, to schools. A good community must fulfill these requirements and in generating less carbon footprint for its occupants, must provide these points of interest nearby.


Integrated building technologies involve both the architect and all the engineers in the project, ensuring that energy options are on the main grid and can connect to renewable sources, that sewage is clean and cleared before outflow, that passive cooling can co-exist with airconditioning, and that rainwater can be harnessed for secondary uses. There are other intelligent ideas and practical methods to be reserved in future writing, so stay tuned.

Good architecture can do wonders for the spirit, as one feels when entering a home, a spa or a resort designed with layers of space, plants and natural inspirations. Even a mall can achieve this as much as an office tower, too. Walking into and driving inside a well-planned community or village can bring immediate benefits to one’s health and help improve quality of life and relationships. Great spaces bring out great times.

The environment is priority, the earth is limited in its cradling capability. It is wrong to place several hundred thousand people on a small white-sand island. A computation for the island’s carrying capacity has to be run through, not just raw land but the availability of resources such as water, power, transport of food, among others.

Over the coming years, it is hoped that we, together with the visionary, selfless leaders of the country, can plan our towns and cities right—looking at the big picture for everyone in terms of public transport, infrastructure, accessibility of people, goods and logistics, provision of basic needs and creating property value. We can then zoom in towards the small picture, ensuring that the families are safe and secure, and that their basic needs are provided for, with the earth’s fragility not challenged or subdued.

That’s what sustainability is.

So the cycle goes; work with a licensed team of architects, designers and masterplanners. Let them lead the engineers to orchestrate a holistic, technically sound development.

Let us embrace the world and not suffocate it. Design then will fulfill its purpose.

The author is one of the strongest voices among female architects, leading an active practice with projects across the country. Her design firm PDP Architects just won the Best Architecture Design for an Office Building for Damosa Land’s Diamond Tower now rising in Davao City. She is a newly elevated fellow of the United Architects of the Philippines, an international associate of the American Institute of Architects, and is a sought-after speaker in local and international conferences on design, hospitality architecture and sustainability

Original Article Published in Philippine Inquirer on September 7, 2019

Written by: Arch. Cathy Saldaña

Article Link: https://business.inquirer.net/278429/purpose-of-design-in-sustainable-architecture-communities#ixzz5zwrL3n76


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