Sou Fujimoto designs Calma Properties’ Museum for Architecture + Residences

The concept-driven design is a vertical extrusion of the rice fields that once blanketed the project site in Nuvali, Santa Rosa City, Laguna, Philippines

  • June 11, 2019

  • Written by Judith Torres

  • Video and images courtesy of Calma Properties, Inc.

Yesterday, in a Viber chat group of architects, Carlo Calma shared a Youtube video.

The architect

The video starts with images of Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto walking down a street in Tokyo and entering his office in a large warehouse by the Sumida River. Fujimoto’s voice narrates: “The integration of nature and architecture is very, very important. Both of them are essential elements for life. Normally, architecture and nature are divided but I like to make it together, to create a whole living environment. That is a challenging and important philosophy of my architecture and design.”

The clients

The video then shows Fujimoto seated at a long table in the warehouse’s high-ceilinged space, with his staff, talking to three men: brothers JP and Carlo Calma and their cousin, Ed Calma. On the table is a scale model of the Museum for Architecture + Residences. It looks like a tower of white sticks (think Serpentine Pavilion).  It’s 22 stories, we hear Fujimoto confirm with his staff.

Read More: The DNA of the National Museum of Natural History

As the voices of the three Calma men narrate their vision for the Museum for Architecture + Residences, viewers get glimpses of the scale model, the likes of which have never been built in the Philippines. And yet, it feels very familiar.

“Very Cool!” Andy Locsin comments in the Viber chat.

“Great building.” Jorge Yulo’s message pings.

A chorus of congratulations from other architects chime in.  

Bong Recio adds: “Very cool… Actually, below zero!”

Fortunately, I had an interview with Ed Calma that same day (about a different project) and as soon as he sat down, I immediately asked him about the building, what Fujimoto was like, why they are building a museum for architecture, and who they would entrust to build the delicate, swirling column of sticks.

What Ed said sounds like a dream about to come true. We hope it does. It’s a daring design (will it survive our weather extremes?), it’s got purpose, (which the architectural community should rally around) and is driven by the convictions of a family of architects, designers, and builders. Bravo for the dream and the determination!

Here are excerpts from the interview, with some notes in italics.

The design we see in the video, is that what’s going up?

Yes, that’s pushing through.

BluPrint Museum for Architecture + Residences
Sou Fujimoto artist’s rendering of the 22-story Museum for Architecture+Residences

Museum for Architecture + Residences, so it’s a condominium tower with a museum in it. What is the purpose of the museum for architecture?

That’s part of the amenity, major amenity in the building, because the land is big so there’s space. I don’t remember the size of it, but we can fit a decent-sized museum. We’ll be archiving, there’ll be a place for architects to have a venue. And we’ll pick up very relevant architects, young architects in practice today, who will define new ways of thinking.

Not necessarily Filipino?

Yes, there has to be an international dialogue.

What will you archive? Your dad’s work? Locsin’s work?

Everyone’s work. It won’t be just us. We’ll be curating the Museum for Srchitecture but it won’t be a family thing.

Read More: Succeeding Success: Eduardo and Lor Calma

Not purely Filipino either?

Regional, international.

Even American? Don’t they get enough exposure already? 

We need a venue for dialogue, so we can’t just focus on one region. It has to be a dialogue between Western and Eastern, the thinking in the United States versus Europe versus China, versus Southeast Asia. We want to get architects with small practices that are not part of the globalization of architecture.

And you want them to—

Dialogue. That architecture doesn’t have to be homogenized.

BluPrint Museum for Architecture + Residences

How will the dialogue take place? Is the Museum for Architecture spearheading face-to-face conversations? 

Yes, we will be inviting people to talk there, to have forums.

How will those activities be sustained? Is it through a foundation?

Yes, through a foundation and it’s going to be supported by part of the maintenance of the building. It puts value into the development. We’ll also offer it to architects who want to exhibit work. Anyone who has a voice, who has very interesting ideas, we want to amplify their voice.

Why are you doing this? Isn’t that helping the competition?

We can’t design everything.

And you’d like to have well-designed neighbors?

We have to increase the number of architects who do good work, right? And we want to put them on a pedestal for people to recognize them. Because in the end, I’ll be retiring, right. Looking forward, you want things to continue. Like my daughter’s taking architecture and she will continue it, but we’re thinking that this would be, kind of uh—

Sounds like you’re thinking of the country.

Yeah.

How will you curate the Museum for Architecture?

We’ll come up with a committee, identify people who are creating new things, new ideas. It’s not about who’s doing the big office building or the number of projects that you do, it’s about people who are starting up and creating new ideas.

Read More: Ed Calma revives a Mission Revival bungalow in Makati

How will you find them?

That’s why the museum is for them. That’s why Carlo is putting it out. They submit work, we look at it, we invite them.

Can they start submitting their ideas already?

No, it’s still too early. We’re still discussing the mechanics of the museum.

Let’s talk about the design.

You saw the video? It’s like a ziggurat of sticks and then eventually it will be covered by green. It’s so conceptual.

Could you explain that?

It was derived from the manipulation of the site, the context. It used to be a rice field. The rice field looks like a grid, right, with pathways crossing the rice field. It was like an upward extrusion of that, and a manipulation of that grid. The thing wasn’t derived from laying out apartments or the typical way developers and architects start, which is they start with a plan, they start from units, number of units. But this one, the form came up first. And then Sou wanted to integrate nature and architecture very clearly.

BluPrint Museum for Architecture + Residences

The site drove the concept.

The site drove it. The form itself was kind of arbitrarily done. It wasn’t derived from functional factors. We put in the function after. We made the function fit.

Oh, that’s so contrary to Form Follows Function! 

Carlo thinks the same way. He thinks of the driver of the form through the narrative of the site and the program without functional constraints limiting him.

Would you not enforce discipline in the units for buildability and reducing waste like sirujo?

That comes after. That’s during the development of the concept. But to come up with an initial concept, you don’t even think function. You think how the form will fit the site and your ideas about architecture.

Read More: Lor Calma & Partners glazes a home inside and out

And you guys gave Sou a free hand.

Totally free. Even the second option that we wanted to build, but it ended up being too expensive, was a series of platforms. In between each floor there’s a garden. So it’s levels of units alternating with gardens, which is great because each unit would have its own garden. Maybe that’s a future development somewhere. 

Who gave Sou the brief?

Carlo.

How’d you choose Sou?

We thought he had a really different perspective when it comes to design. Not the typical Japanese. We pre-qualified a few Japanese architects, but Sou, he just really was so out of the norm. Most architecture graduates, they get mentored by a famous architect, but he didn’t go through that. From school, he went on his own, discovered things on his own, built small things on his own, and then he came up with his own theory of building.  That’s why his stuff is pure, original. He didn’t get it from a mentor. His approach is so child-like, simple. He is artistically interprets structure. 

Tell me a little bit more about meeting Sou.

We had dinner, I showed him my house; he said it’s nicely designed. He’s a humble guy, a very humble guy. When we went to his studio warehouse in Tokyo, it was really down and dirty. He explores a lot of ideas by model making. I can show you some of his stuff. And he never tires of creating ideas. He stores it, archives those ideas for future reference.  

BluPrint Museum for Architecture + Residences
The Museum for Architecture is envisioned to hold gardens on every floor.

(Ed showing photos in his camera of Fujimoto’s office and his models)

See, this is just one proposal for this particular project, but he came up with 50, 50 ideas! This one here, this is one site. And he made 20 proposals for that one site. And look at the way he thinks! Simple moves. And then he archives it. Nobody does that.

Leandro Locsin did. I thought you archived?

I do. Usually when you approach a project you have several ideas that you look at before you target towards one idea.  We do it electronically. He does it the traditional way, through models. Look at this, he’s blurring the border between architecture and landscape design. And furniture.

Who’s doing design development?

Sou.

Construction drawings?

Everything will be Sou. It’s his concept in collaboration with Carlo. Carlo defined the parameters for Sou. Sou came up with several options and we chose from the options. We chose this one because it worked, financially. There was the other one we liked but it looked it would go over (people’s budgets for condominium units). The building’s going to be in Nuvali. I’m not sure that people would pay that premium for Nuvali. But this one we chose would be a competitive-priced condominium.

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It’s a residential building with an onsen (a Japanese hot spring bath). You have your own onsen. There’s a main onsen below. In the basement area, instead of a big-sized pool, you have an onsen. It’s a pool, it’s heated, there would be male-female because everyone has to undress. Then other onsen would be scattered around the building, on different floors.

I haven’t ever tried an onsen. Have you?

No, I haven’t tried it myself.

Then why do you want to put onsen? Whose brainchild is that?

Carlo’s. Because the market will have Japanese. There’s a Japanese community in that area. There are Japanese restaurants.

Who’s the architect-of-record?

I guess it’s going to be me. But we’re having Sou do the details, all the way. We want it to be purely how he wants it—the details, the construction drawings—because Sou has a very specific way of doing things. Most of his work, if you look at it, it’s so simple, so out of the norm. He has good engineers who also think out of the box. Have you seen one of his houses, (the NA House)? It’s multi-level, each function has a level, and then the structure is very thin metal rods, and it’s open, rather exhibitionist. He’s not the typical architect.

BluPrint Museum for Architecture + Residences

The challenge is the contractor. Who will do it his way?

We’re the contractors. JP’s family. My uncle is a contractor, MDCC. They’ll build it. My dad and my uncle were pioneers. They did things together.

(Ed’s father, Lor Calma, is a pioneering Modernist architect and furniture and interior designer. He co-founded the Philippine School of Interior Design and headed the Philippine Institute of Interior Design when it was first formed. Ed now runs his father’s firm, Lor Calma & Partners. 

Lor’s brother, Pablito Calma, is an engineer who founded Multi-Development and Construction Corporation or MDCC, which through its 45 years, has retained a reputation for fine craftsmanship in interior finishing.)

Sou will be very involved in the construction documents and there will be a lot of back and forth with the contractor. Developers normally bid out the work. We won’t bid this out since MDCC is building it. It won’t be the typical process.

Sounds like the Cuervas and the Nex Tower. Nova Group is the developer, the builder, and they retain ownership and lease the units.

The model will be similar to that.

Read More: NEX Tower’s humanist design makes good business sense

So they don’t compromise the design.

Exactly. The building looks good. It doesn’t just look good on paper.

Local architects don’t spend enough time coordinating all the other systems like MEP and structural with the architecture. BIM is basically a coordination software, it’s good for documenting and clash detection but there’s still design that needs to come in, in designing the details. The buildings that are nicely done are those where the designer also does the details for construction. Every single thing is figured out—every single module, every single alignment. And the head architect doing the technicals has to be design-oriented also.

So the Calmas are now going to develop and build their own projects! What are your roles?

JP and Carlo are my cousins. JP is the CEO of Calma Properties, Carlo is president.

And you are?

Helping out. (Ed is Design Consultant for Calma Properties, Inc.)

It will be very different from other developers because it is going to focus on real architecture. In general, developers don’t spend on architecture, on architects. There are a few who do, but we need more, we need more.

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