Breaking Boundaries: The Sou Fujimoto and Calma Properties Collaboration
The Museum for Architecture + Residences is a concept of cousins Carlo Calma and Ed Calma who were bold enough to invite the Japanese starchitect Sou Fujimoto to design their dream. This confluence of creative geniuses will be replicated with accuracy by Calma Properties, Inc through which they are joined by Carlo’s brother, JP Calma.
“Carlo and I would talk about a museum that could be a hub for cultural knowledge, exhibitions, archiving, and excessive cataloguing of the past, present, and future of architecture. It will also be a venue for architectural dialogue,” said Ed, the son of another luminary in the architectural scene, Lor.
The family has a property in the Nuvali district of the City of Santa Rosa in Laguna, where this first museum for design and architecture in the country can be built. But like true visionaries, Ed and Carlo looked farther and deeper. They saw a Water Gallery in the basement. They saw spaces for commercial and residential uses, and even unique apartments with onsen (Japanese hot spring public bath) suites.
This is already the second project of Calma Properties, the first being the Monument + Film Archives Museum, a redesigned 80-year-old house in Quezon City, that was launched in May 2019. Both projects fit the stimulating vision of the Calmas’ young development company which is about “maverick projects that push the boundaries in architectural thinking and design, [as well as about] promoting preservation of heritage, the environment, and very culturally informed projects.”
If your imagination is (to borrow from Ian Fleming’s famous James Bond phrase) stirred by this vision, then it will be shaken by the breathtaking design of the Museum for Architecture + Residences of Fujimoto, currently one of the most sought-after architects in the world.
The Japanese architect and Carlo met through a common friend. A few e-mail exchanges later, Fujimoto hopped on board the project. “There were a few reasons why I got excited about this,” relates the starchitect in this interview conducted in his Tokyo office. “The first was that I have never built anything in the Philippines. So, I was excited to see the entire background of culture and climate.”
He then cites the biggest reason for accepting this collaboration: “The vision of the client, of Carlo, because he is an architect and an artist, and I felt we would make a nice interaction together, we will have good synergy. We do not have to start from the very, very absolute zero point. We share something, either as architects or as artists. So, it is much easier for me and much more comfortable to work in this situation.”
Then 41, Fujimoto was the youngest architect ever commissioned to design the 2013 Serpentine Pavilion in London. This annual architecture commission is a prestigious global platform for experimental projects by some of the world’s greatest architects starting with the late Zaha Hadid in 2000. A graduate of the University of Tokyo and a protégé of Pritzker awardee Toyo Ito, Fujimoto was named the Wall Street Journal’s Architecture Innovator of the Year in 2014; won the biennial Marcus Prize that honours emerging designers with a decade of exceptional leadership in the field; was awarded the Japan Institute of Architects Grand Prix in 2008; and his entry for the Japan Pavilion at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale won the Golden Lion Award.
The concept of this great proposal is creating a new typology of a high-rise building
- Sou Fujimoto
Born in Higashikagura, a town of flowers, forests, and hot springs in the Kamikawa Subprefecture in Hokkaido, Fujimoto grew up surrounded by nature and takes this influence into his design philosophy, acknowledging it to be an important starting point in forming his perception of space. “I like to integrate nature and architecture together because both comprise the living environment of the people. I like to extend the concept of architecture into nature and create a new definition of our living environment,” he says.
Ironically, he did not see his close connection to nature until he moved to Tokyo and got immersed, this time, in the density of an artificial forest. He has been quoted as saying that he found a striking similarity in the scales, densities, and floating pieces in both the forest and the city. In walking through the woods and in meandering through the streets of Tokyo, Fujimoto said you can still choose your own way. “This was when I realised that nature and artefacts, though different, can still create similar spatial experiences; and within the artificial spaces of the city, there are always natural elements,” he said in a past interview. To us, he stresses further: “Tokyo is kind of chaotic, but independent buildings melding together. It is not a real forest but the openness, the scaling, all these create a network.”
From the time he founded Sou Fujimoto Architects in 2000, he stayed true to this philosophy, clearly stating it through brilliant interpretations.
In Montpellier, France, the L’Arbre Blanc (White Tree) built in 2014 mimics a tree, with balconies branching out like its leaves. House Na, built in Tokyo in 2010, is like a tree house amidst the city’s urban jungle. The 2013 Pavilion of the Serpentine Gallery was, in the architect’s words, “a transparent terrain.” Lightweight and semi-transparent, it is also called The Cloud. “Within the pastoral context of Kensington Gardens, I envisaged the vivid greenery of the surrounding plant life woven together with a constructed geometry. A new form of environment will be created, where the natural and the manmade merge; not solely architectural nor solely natural, but a unique meeting of the two,” he said in a public forum.
The prototype of the Museum for Architecture + Residences shares the wide space of Fujimoto’s Tokyo office with those of already ongoing projects all over the world, or still ideas in the process of creation. This creative space that looks like a warehouse also serves as a laboratory for young students or graduates of architecture who desire mentorship from the young master. We meet two doing their internship, one from Shanghai and another from Columbia University in New York. Everywhere you look are buildings and furniture all scaled down to dollhouse proportion. Or drawings and sketches on paper pasted on the walls. It is a playhouse for creative minds.
The Calmas—Ed, Carlo, JP—gravitatetowards the scaled-down Museum for Architecture + Residences. They are clearly pleased to see their idea taking shape. Just eight months ago, Fujimoto accepted Carlo’s invitation to come to Manila and meet the family, as well as visit the project site. “I gave Sou a brief, like in a hundred words of who we are and what we want to do. And then I asked if he was willing to come to Manila,” Carlo says. To his delight, Fujimoto said yes, admitting to being curious to see the Philippines, which he has never been to, and experience its culture; as well as being very interested to meet the Calmas whom he felt were kindred spirits that shared his visions.
After visiting the site, Fujimoto started discussing ideas with his team. A paramount concern was climate conditions; a challenge was the height of the building. After a few months, he had settled on two options which he sent to Carlo. After much deliberation amongst the Calmas (including the older generation), one design was chosen.
It is uncanny to see a design from a creative mind who has not seen the rice terraces or houses on stilts refl ecting these images native to the Philippines. But this must have been the result of, what Fujimoto says as “respecting the culture of the place on which the architecture is built.”
We have been destroying our architectural heritage instead of preserving and improving it.
- Ed Calma
“It is like a rice grid,” Ed says, settling on this image. “The rice paddies are in a grid but flipped up vertically and three-dimensionally. So, it really blends with the area, which is flat, and was once rice fields.”
Fujimoto echoes: “The concept of this great proposal is creating a new typology of a high-rise building. I got inspiration from the climate in the area [tropical, with rain and strong sunlight]. We extend our structure like a grid to make a nice integration and to make an architectural reinterpretation of the rice field in a vertical way.”
But what excites Fujimoto about this project is the museum. “If it were just commercial and residential spaces, this project will not be very different,” he says. “But because there is a museum which will offer an interactive programme and where conversations about architecture can take place, the whole thing suddenly becomes cultural. This makes the project very special.”
PRESERVING THE VISION
Call it a brilliant business concept or plain pooling of talents and resources but Calma Properties, Inc, started in 2017, ensures that architectural visions like the Museum for Architecture + Residences are preserved and protected. The development company’s strength comes from the expertise of the Calmas, from designing to building.
“There are two reasons why architectural quality gets diluted,” says JP, CEO of the company. “First is the developer’s bureaucracy and second is the contractor’s bureaucracy. Materials are downgraded, the programme gets cut. It’s all about the bottom line but never about design.”
“It’s never about keeping the design or improving the design,” Ed agrees. “A project should not translate to more money because the budgets are already there in the beginning. But apparently, the more developers squeeze the budget, the more profits they get in the end. We want to improve the product because we want to be known as the company that delivers good products and not markets them well. People do a lot of marketing, heavy marketing, making their project the best, the tallest, the biggest. But at the end of the day, with so much cost-cutting, when it’s built, it disappoints.”
“Generally, consumers get short-changed with the developer’s bureaucracy,” follows up JP. “With our set-up the value will be definitely different.”
What Calma Properties will promise is a wholistic development involving all the necessary disciplines integrated towards the same direction or vision. “Building has always been compartmentalised. An architect designs, a landscaper takes care of the outdoors, an engineer makes sure the structure is sound. But this shouldn’t be. Real architecture is about merging all these disciplines into one vision,” Ed elaborates, promising that with Calma Properties, the family’s imprint will be there, “from the first draft to the last wastebasket.”
Sou has a vision that we also want to be part of our vision
- Ed Calma
This promise is something the Calmas hope would be followed by other development companies. “Developers are free to do something really bold,” Ed says. “It is not about following the trends but about leading the market to a better place.”
JP adds: “If other developers start to follow our style, that will be for the benefit of the built environment.”
“The whole city, the whole country will benefit,” Ed underscores. “We have been destroying our architectural heritage instead of preserving and improving it for tourism. But the urban design defines the city, that makes the country.”
Fujimoto is intently listening. They are his first clients who are architects, as Carlo has pointed out earlier. But the Japanese architect sees this as a plus basically because they are all of one mind, one direction. He likes it. “This relationship is amazing, a creative interaction,” he says.
Ed sums it up well: “Sou has a vision that we also want to be part of our vision.”
- Photography Marc Henrich Go
- Art Direction Anton San Diego