The property developer and Asia’s Most Influential honouree proposes a daring idea: a quieter life away from the hubbub in a truly sustainable home that will be probably your last.
“Okay, let me backtrack,” starts Victor Consunji, CEO of property developer Victor Consunji Development Corporation, champion of sustainability, and also, in this afternoon chat with Tatler, no-nonsense truth-teller. “The nature of real estate is that it is a very high carbon footprint industry.”
The 44-year-old “friendly neighbourhood bricklayer”, as he refers to himself on Instagram, appears on the little Zoom screen under the shade of a sun-drenched garden as he makes his case for the future-proof home, one that considers next generations and the strange turbulence of the past few years. In his grand vision, the houses at Vie at Southern Plains in the sleepy suburbs south of Metro Manila may also be the last home you’ll move into.
The dream home has a green cost
Because we live in a part of the world where devastating typhoons, earthquakes, and other natural calamities occur, houses must stand solid and strong, which makes the process of building resource-intensive.
And then there are the necessary updates to keep a house up to speed with the latest technologies, or even just up and running (the yearly roof repair before typhoon season). “Every time you have to touch a house, every time that you have to fix something, it all adds to the carbon footprint of the property,” says Consunji, who adds that an older home can be more wasteful to update.
That your dream home has a green cost is what Consunji seeks to resolve in Vie, his newest residential development of 650 homes spread across 85 hectares in Calamba, Laguna in the Philippines, and which will also launch in the surfing hotspot of Uluwatu, Bali in Indonesia.
Consunji makes clear that sustainability is at the core of the community and “not the fluff” or “top one per cent”. Instead, the homes are themselves sustainable both from the perspective of environmentalism and usefulness. He adds, “We build our houses to be a primary home, which means that it’s almost hopefully the last house you'll ever need.”
‘All of these materials go somewhere, right?’
Consunji offers an easy example to help understand his idea: “So, let's talk about something as simple as a bed. If you buy a bad cushion, in about a year, it's going to be lumpy, broken. You have to buy a new one. It's not just that you're buying a new piece to replace the old one, you also have to dispose of the old one. This has to go somewhere,” he says. “Houses? They're kind of the same. You tear down the house… all of these materials go somewhere, right? They don't just magically disappear.”
Careful material selection, one of the signature sustainability features in Vie, is applied to the things you don’t think about such as what’s underfoot. Instead of wood, a precious resource that may need to be replaced every couple of years, there is more robust concrete, which can last for decades.
Naturally cooled air is another built-in feature. Homes employ the stack effect—Consunji offers a quick lesson at this point—to create natural ventilation, where cool air from the outside is drawn inside, and as it warms, rises to the top and exits the house via vents. “And so you have a nice breeze passing through the house at any point in time.”
“We build our houses to be a primary home, which means that it’s almost hopefully the last house you'll ever need.”
Then, there is the light that appears to envelop all. In the Brutalism-inspired houses at Vie, it streams from light wells, skylights, and floor-to-ceiling windows, making the open-plan spaces with high ceilings and slide-away walls feel even bigger.
“Over a timescale of decades, the amount of savings that you have for yourself, for the community, and for the environment is significant,” Consunji says. There is no need for round-the-clock air-conditioning or always-on lighting, reducing the carbon footprint of the home.
The CEO, who is an engineer by training, notes another unseen but crucial element in construction: the foundation. VCDC makes it a point to install foundations (and columns and supports) that can carry up to four storeys, even if the house has only two floors. The cost to build a stronger foundation is fractional for the developer compared to the financial and resource costs to retrofit a house—tear it apart, in some cases—just to add a third floor down the road. “Because you don't have to constantly shape this house into what you need, then it's sustainable.”
Sustainability complements pragmatic wants
But do people even want any and all of these thoughtful ideas? “In all honesty, 95 per cent of the buyers have no care as to whether or not the house is sustainable. What they care about is if the house is right for them,” he says.
Would-be homeowners are pragmatic, asking only about parameters—number of rooms, floor area, access—which, says Consunji, is really an analogue for: “I want a well-built house that's not going to fall apart. I want a house that I can live in for a long time, so I don’t have to worry about buying new homes later on”.
“You come to this realisation of what’s actually important: What is it that you want out of life?”
Vie delivers on the primary ask—a solid house that lasts—but also offers what people don’t know they want: features that make living less of a burden on the environment. Sustainability options are complementary, not contrary, to what buyers are looking for. In his experience, unless you present an alternative idea to whatever people have in their heads, they won’t realise “this is a better option. This is the life that I’m aspiring to be in”.
A new perspective is born from the flux
The old dream home might have been a chic apartment with the right address in the middle of the city. The pandemic has changed all that—people are now looking to plant roots somewhere quieter, surrounded by family.
Consunji, who despite having traveled abroad during the pandemic, says he himself found his perspective shift during the past two years. “You come to this realisation of what’s actually important: What is it that you want out of life?” he says.
“And I think the answer to that is most people want to hang out with their very small circle of close friends and their family,” he says. “A lot of people got tired of it. ‘Why do I need to live in the city when I can have a better quality of life outside [it]? How often do I really need to go clubbing? How often do I really need to physically show up at work if everything is being done online now? Why waste hours and hours every day doing these things, being stuck on the road to go to a place I'm not even really excited to go to?’.”
Consunji’s community of sustainable homes is under an hour away from the Philippines’ biggest business centres; in exchange for the buzz of urban life, his proposition includes open spaces, a view of the mountains, and, he says, a better quality of life with family. “This is the new mentality that everybody has… You still have the perks. It's not so far away. You can get everything done, but ultimately, you're happier.”
Victor Consunji is a 2021 Tatler Asia's Most Influential honouree.