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Hi, I'm Estan Cabigas, a freelance photographer from the Philippines and available for work and collaboration within the ASEAN region. TenZeroFour is my Architecture and Interiors website and blog.

FL Santaromana: A passion for modern and eco-friendly design

FL Santaromana Designs

Francis (left) and Gio (right), the father and son team heading FL Santaromana Designs

It’s bold, proudly standing at the hillside as you negotiate the steady ascent to Mines View Park. Amidst the greenery of pine trees that surround it, it is a breath of fresh cool mountain air in the Baguio skyline. But that’s just the exterior. Inside, you step into the lobby and have a feel of familiarity, the Baguio that you expect, cozy, welcoming. Step further and slowly the beauty of the building slowly unfolds. Beneath that spectacle of modernity, sleek lines and loftiness is a level of green architecture that takes into consideration the Baguio of today.

The hotel is a Santaromana design. And you have to experience one to better appreciate what they do.

FL Santaromana Designs/Casa Arkitektura Design Group has come a long way since it was established in 1986 by Architect Francis Xavier Santaromana. It’s a multifaceted ‘House of Architecture’ that provides architecture and interior design, environmental planning and project management. It specializes in institutional, educational, commercial and first class residential and resort development. With Gio, Architect Francis’s son, it’s on its way of becoming a corporate entity.

Starting out

Francis comes from a family of artists with two uncles who are architects. Instead of following the wish of his father to take up law, he took up Architecture in UP. After two years, he set up his own firm and teaching at his alma mater at the same time. For Gio, after graduating from high school in La Salle, it was more of looking at something where he considers he will excel in and enrolled Architecture at UST.

“The firm started with zero connections. We’re not one of those na ‘who you now’ but ‘what you know.’ We started out with landscapes, patio, garden, then interior design, one room, one house, then the neighbor. We believe starting small, building on the foundation and we can only go up. From residential to multiple model homes, from low rise to medium rise. From residential amenities and clubhouses and now to hotels and venturing to Project Management. “One home can evolve into a commercial project and we believe that a happy client translates to seven projects,” Francis adds.

Design approach

What I find interesting about the father and son team is how they complement each other. Francis with his pragmatism and experience and Gio, with his youth, introducing dynamism and experimentation, going out of the box, so to speak, when it comes to design. “We design both the plan and form at the same time. If the form is not good, then we adjust the plan.”

Although budgets and client can be limiting, both always push the limits of the design with clients. “We meet them halfway. We persuade them to spend a little more for a better design and convince them that it will be more saleable and more marketable. In the design process, I start with the grid, then Gio breaks it. It might be more expensive but we try. When we present it to the client, they love it.”

Although the firm can do different designs based on the needs and wants of the client, the firm is proud to give you that Santaromana touch, molding its design from the structure itself. They do adhere more on tropical moderne with a minimalist touch. The interior has the spaciousness, open planning and the loftiness, a functional space relationship while the exterior has the form and proportion. A signature of a Santaromana design might be the bold roofing which can be undulating, at different levels, steep slope and long eaves that gives it a distinct flavor that you can readily notice.

Designing beach communities

The firm has designed the themed beach community in Punta Fuego in Calatagan, Nasugbu, Batangas. It’s a series of Mediterranean style homes located at a sloping land. “Designing for beaches and coastline is different. You design for view and breeze so it include lots of ventilation, verandas. If there’s a sunset, you have to capture that.” Because it’s a coastal community, Francis adds that you have to deal with salinity too. “It can be expensive as you have to use special materials that don’t corrode. You have to look for alternative products too.

Green architecture

FL Santaromana Designs is proud to implement green initiatives in its projects. In fact, it has been recognized for its work in the De La Salle-Zobel Sports Pavilion which won for Excellence in Green Design (commercial category) and Excellence in Green Building in the HunterDouglas Quest for Design Excellence 2008. The sports pavilion is recognized for its energy efficiency and sustainability.

In Baguio City, Grand Sierra Pines Hotel currently on soft opening since February. Designed by FL Santaromana Designs, it’s a unique hotel, totally different from what you usually find in the city. It’s a green hotel in so many ways but still gives you that Baguio feel.

Grand Sierra Pines Hotel

The hotel is built on a former residential lot with an old house. The structure’s footprint was designed around the pine trees so much that only one tree, a distressed one, had to be cut down for safety. The building is u-shaped, opening south-southwest to a great view of the mountains and pine trees. The lobby and dining area, or much of the ground floor is al fresco all the way to the roof. The roof itself has a tent like structure that collects rainwater, bringing it down a pair of pipes along the elevator shaft and into a reservoir at the sloping side of the property where it is filtered and recycled.

This rain water addresses the needs of the hotel especially in the toilet of the rooms from flushing to shower and down to the tap, but not potable. This, for 50% of the year during the rainy season and deep well during the dry season. This makes the hotel not dependent on the rationed water in the city. To protect the ground floor from the rain, a retractable sun shade at the central opening will be installed. It will have the same material used in the tent like roof structure. In the pipeline, solar power will soon be a reality for the hotel. On the other hand, the wood from the old house was recycled. Parts have been used as wall decors and accent while the distressed tree has been used in the front desk.

Its mid-afternoon and sunlight has filtered down the ground floor of the hotel. I can see the clear blue skies and smell the scent of pine trees. As I look up, the translucence of the roof-tent brightened the area. This will be the future, I said to myself and I think FL Santaromana Designs will be there to build more eco and environment friendly but well-designed modern structures.

Text and photo originally published in D+C magazine, April-June 2017 issue.

Hi! I’m Estan Cabigas, a freelance architecture and travel photographer, writer and blogger from the Philippines and based within the Southeast Asian region. TenZeroFour is my primary Architecture Photography blog. Let me photograph your space, let’s collaborate.

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