WAF shortlists Kenneth Cobonpue and Zubu Design Associates’ Cor Jesu in Cebu

The unusual collaboration of furniture designer and architecture firm will make a fascinating presentation at the WAF in Amsterdam this December 2019
  • July 17, 2019

  • Wriiten by Steffi Sioux Go and Judith Torres

  • Photographs courtesy of Zubu Design Associates

It isn’t every year that an architect and a furniture designer present their design at the World Architecture Festival. But then, why not? After all, the winners of WAF’s Small Building of the Year 2017 were Norwegian designer Alexander Furunes, Filipino firm Locsin Partners and Associates, and a community of Typhoon Haiyan evacuees in Tacloban, Philippines. For four years, Furunes and volunteers from Locsin held numerous workshops and listened to what the community wanted, with mothers, fathers, and orphaned children literally drawing plans on paper and working with models to show the architects how they wanted to live.

In the case of this shortlisted project, the Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu chose one of its most famous graduates, the internationally recognized and multi-awarded furniture and industrial designer, Kenneth Cobonpue, to design Cor Jesu, their new school chapel.

Because he subscribes to modernist design principles, Cobonpue named Buck Sia, a fellow alumnus and activist for modernist architecture in Cebu, to be his collaborator.

Sia is the principal architect of Zubu Design Associates, a firm regarded for process-driven design and attention to detail. He knew that for Cobonpue’s design to be properly executed, it would call for intelligent detail in response. “I really wanted to embrace his message for the structure”, Sia says, deferring all conceptual authorship to Cobonpue.

The erection of the Cor Jesu Oratory is a welcome note in a much-debated narrative in the Philippines of non-architects designing buildings. Though the design is Kenneth Cobonpue’s brainchild, the structure would not be present without the implementation of its architect-of-record, Buck Sia. For the full story, read it BluPrint’s Volume 2, 2019.

Come December 4-6, Cor Jesu will be competing at the WAF in Amsterdam against other shortlisted religious buildings in Abu Dhabi, UAE; Singapore; Suratthani, Thailand; and Murcia, Spain. The World Architecture Festival is the largest, one of the most prestigious annual architecture global events. Over three days, well over 2000 architects come to listen to 50 international speakers discuss critical challenges to the profession, as well as to watch 500+ live ‘crits’ as architects compete in the WAF awards.

Below are the text and images Zubu Design Associates submitted to the competition organizers. The text has been slightly edited and some photos have been added for publication.

The Cor Jesu is an oratory for the Sacred Heart School – Ateneo de Cebu, a campus of 3000 students from early education to senior high school. It is located at the beginning of the main axis of the campus, connected to the main academic building at the center and the school stadium at the end.

The site is surrounded by decades-old mango trees at the back, allowing transparency between the landscape and the interior, while also offering privacy and a buffer against excessive light as well as noise from the main school building across it.

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The Cor Jesu was conceived as a symbol of Christian faith to express Ignatian progressive values and to underscore the Jesuits’ passion for education. The overall design concept behind Cor Jesu comes from the meaning of the phrase, which is, “Heart of Jesus.”

The undulating roofs take a contemporary approach to the curve of the heart while contrasting the modernity of the lines and composition of the structure. Complementing the expressive roof, the inclined posts create a sense of movement.

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As a holy place of meditation and prayer, it was important to maintain a serene atmosphere.

Another contrasting element of the building is in the materials used. While the concrete conveys coolness and strength, the bamboos show warmth and flexibility. Even on a tropical island like Cebu, the use of bamboo in this scale and complexity is the first of its kind and brings an aspirational and yet progressive approach to the material.


The Cor Jesu consists of two buildings: the 360-seat oratory building which is the main edifice and the auxiliary building which houses other supplementary spaces like the office, recollection space, indoor dining and comfort rooms. 

The approach to the oratory is through a bamboo portal that serves as a transition space. The array of bamboos paints the pathway with dappled light as it shields chapel-goers from views of the other buildings in the campus.

Kenneth Cobonpue was Maison et Objet 2014’s Designer of the Year

Entering the oratory, the spectators are drawn in awe towards the undulating ceiling that flows and ascends to its highest point above the altar. 

Did you know that Cobonpue and Disney collaborated on a Star Wars furniture collection?

With the intention to remain reverent to the oratory, its design language also considers the liturgical arts of the church.

Providing modern, beautiful, and raw pieces, the furniture complements the overall aesthetic of the building.

Cor Jesu is the amalgamation of a poetic narrative of concept, design, function, context, and detail.

Watch out for more articles on shortlisted entries by Filipino and ASEAN architects to the World Architecture Festival 2019.

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