After this pandemic must our homes adapt? Architect Carlo Calma shares his ideas on rethinking how we live

It’s happened before: the reshaping of homes and communities because of a disease. The popularity of white tiles, the rise of closets to replace bulky armoires, the birth of the powder room—these are but some of the elements of modern design that sought to prevent disease by keeping dust at bay and allowing for easier cleaning. Indoor plumbing and the sewage system were born out of the painful lesson from the cholera outbreak in London in the 1850s. The bubonic plague pushed Leonardo da Vinci to design a heathy urban plan. In more recent times, there was Le Corbusier whose designs maximised light and air, in the same mould as Richard Neutra’s Novell Health House.

Closer to home, top architect Carlo Calma has been caught in a similar creative web as he, like the rest of the metropolis, weathered the two-month quarantine period. “Making the most of this time, I’ve been doing a lot of reflections about our homes and our cities,” he says. His musings have resulted in the inevitable: it is time to reshape, again.

Top on his priority list are health and hygiene. “You could build an area before you enter your house for sanitising and disinfecting, where you can wash your hands and change your shoes and clothes,” he describes. He pushes the envelope further: “Or even have a room with UV light, which can be connected to your laundry area.” Calma likewise suggests reconfiguring the pantry to safely receive delivered goods. This “disinfecting room” may just be a staple in future homes, like today’s powder rooms which were designed in the early 20th century as an alternate bathroom for delivery people and guests before entering the main house, thus preventing the spread of infectious diseases. 

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In a quarantine state, the role of sunlight and fresh air can never be understated. During the tuberculosis epidemic of the late 19th and 20th centuries, “sleeping porches” became popular. Usually protruding from the second floor of a Victorian house, a “sleeping porch” provided a space to not just beat the summer heat but get ample sun and air, which were the pre-antibiotic cures for tuberculosis. In some health resorts, they were called “cure porches.” 

Undoubtedly, balconies and gardens offer this same healthy option to enjoy ample sun and fresh air. Post pandemic, Calma sees them as “healing spaces,” the bigger the space, the better of course. But he does not see a small space stopping anyone from engaging in urban farming in the backyard or the balcony.

The natural space also gets a new twist on Calma’s drawing board. He has recently designed The Loop House for a couple: the husband being a bike enthusiast while the wife, an artist and a green thumb. “The aim of the house is to create a new typology which merges infrastructure and domestic space,” Calma says. In his design, the architect has made a seamless connection between the street and the house, between the outdoor and the indoor, and vice-versa. This is achieved with the inclusion of a bicycle lane inside the house, from ground level to the rooftop garden. “We wanted to integrate a continuous loop  from the street so when he wakes up, he can easily hop on his bike from the master’s bedroom and do his routine around and up and down the house. Or, after biking with friends, he can easily access his house from the street because of this connection—a kind of direct urbanism.” By the way, the bicycle lane doubles up as a handicap and wheelchair access for the homeowners’ parents. 

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For the woman of the house, Calma designed “a series of floating gardens, with different plant species to create stacked microclimates.” Offering a unique mountain experience in a house, Calma explains that “these elevated gardens with carefully selected plant species emulate a forest.” To sustain these gardens, Calma’s vertical terroir collects water for storage, mist, fog, drainage, and watering of the plants. The main rooftop garden is a haven that blends modern materials like cement and glass with trees and foliage. On one side is a wading pool and an infinity lap pool. “The house reacts to nature and conserves energies needed for living. It also gives back a sense of calmness, becoming an ecosystem of nature,” Calma explains. 

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That this house is a paean to nature is established early by the façade. Front right is a cantilevered spoon for a tree. Made of chrome, it rests on a natural boulder, a beautiful interplay of man-made and organic. “I always like playing around with gravity,” Calma remarks about his spoon design. “To me it is also a metaphor for a palm on which rests nature’s fate. I like to combine the sublime with the practical.”

Faceted funnels, like terrariums, are carefully situated in both levels and in areas that, Calma says, “can create photosynthesis as well as sensual spaces with intriguing fractal lighting effects.” This play of light and shadow can be enjoyed in the lady of the house’s office studio, the family room, the masters’ bathroom, and the chapel.

Giving the impression of comprising several levels, the house is really made up of two, with the roof garden counting as third. But because the bicycle lanes, or the loops, extends up to the top, that feeling of space and height, like what one may experience climbing up a mountain, is generated.

On the ground floor are the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, and a powder room. They are all bathed in sunlight, or moonlight, coming down all the way from the top. On the second level are the private areas including the bedrooms.

In all levels, the presence of the loop looms large. “I was inspired by concrete,” Calma says, “so I added perforations on the loop walls.” These perforations not only bounce off light but, in some areas, exhibit perforated portraits of the members of the family.

Even the portals that lend striking geometric patterns enveloping the house are more functional than ornamental. They collect and funnel water, creating several waterfalls on one side of the house.

“I really wanted to create an intelligent home that responds to the local climate,” he says. Unfortunately, construction of The Loop House had progressed for only a month when the COVID-19 pandemic went on full gear. Work had to stop but Calma is ready to roll as soon as possible and estimates to finish this project in a year-and-a-half after restarting.

Outside the milieu of the home, Calma sees changes in the urban masterplan as well. In his creative mind, this includes “infrared thermal temperature scanner installed not only in the airports but in dense areas of the city; markets that only hold cold storages and with sanitising zones; and buildings that are easily convertible to hospitals when the need arises.” 

He also sees urban farm cooperatives in barangays and derelict buildings or abandoned parking lots as hydroponic gardens. In quarantine, Calma’s mind went hyperactive. He came out of it not only drowning in ideas but bursting with an earnest belief that “if spaces can be purposefully designed, they can assist in the prevention, containment, and treatment of infectious diseases.”

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