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Jack of Hearts: Arch. Daniel Yu and Visionarch’s Life-Centric Architecture






The great orator and all-around political bulldog, Winston Churchill, once said that, “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” In an industry of bottom lines and cutting corners, sometimes the purpose of the end product becomes lost.


There is more to architecture than just looking for a space and building something there. A good architect will always have the end user in mind.


  • How will the inhabitants move between rooms?

  • What sights will their eyes first see?

  • Will they have everything they need within reach?


As urbanites, we live our entire lives within buildings. We arrive in a hospital. We study in schools and universities. We work in offices and agencies. We marry in churches and mosques. We have families in homes.



Buildings shape people’s lives, and the architect receives the responsibility of ensuring those structures are suited for the job.


Visionarch believes that architecture exists to add value to a project. Not just the value of a larger square footage or a statelier living space. Intrinsic value: the value of little things that make life enjoyable and exciting.


The value of walking to a park during your lunch break. The value of plopping onto a couch on a Friday night. The value of good neighbors who share their dinners when they make too much. The value of a better life.


Visionarch owes this empathy to their design philosophy: life-centric architecture. Architectural discourse has always revolved around form and function, and while those two aspects are indeed important, Visionarch and CEO Architect Daniel Terence Yu believes that “buildings have an implicit promise to people.” And that promise is, “Life will be better.”


This assignment of value gives buildings and the people who move in them a purpose. To build a building is to create an aspiration. A good architect’s job exists beyond linking form and function—he has to enrich life and identify solutions to strengthen the bonds between structures and its users.



To prove the truth behind their philosophy, Arch. Yu recounted an end-user survey they were able to conduct on one of their residential projects. They were able to talk to the unit-buyers and asked questions like, “What made you decide to purchase the unit?” The possible answers were numerous and varied, “Was it the design? The reputation of the developer? Is this solely an investment or was this a product in your price range?”


However, Visionarch discovered through that 64% of the end-users based their purchases on seeing at the unit as an improved life condition. For them, having a nicer place to live was a personal milestone—a level up in their station in life.


Essentially, it’s the promise of a better life. “People buy because they want to improve their lives,” Arch. Yu explains. Developers understand this. Just look at residential promotional posters and you can see how a “better life” is marketed: you see smiling people drinking coffee in their dining rooms, families enjoying themselves on long walks under tree shade, friends enjoying game night in the glow of living room lights.


These are shared human experiences and they all translate to improving the condition of life. Visionarch appreciates the significance of communicating this dream. Most architects try their hardest to convey the message of a better life in ways consumers can understand. Arch. Yu speculates, "Perhaps architects will speak of that message in terms of function: the design will be practical and logical. "


Or maybe through the abstractions: the building will be beautiful.” However, the industry-specific jargon doesn’t always fly straight to the point. “Function is important. Looks are important. But they aren’t everything.”


Arch. Yu gives the example of Hong Kong condominiums. HK condos purport to give you everything you need to survive in a compact space, but does it give you a complete “life experience”? Visionarch’s life-centric design principle seeks to incorporate different aspects of a person’s life so that its users won’t merely survive, but actually live.


Arch. Yu uses the example of a common smartphone to explain his point, “A cellphone is marketed for its speed and capability, and its many different functions. But if you look at your phone, what’s important to you are what it allows you to do. It contributes to your spirituality via a Bible app, it furthers your education via self-help apps, it maintains your connections with social media. This is the reason why when your phone is taken from you, a huge part of your life disappears.” Spiritual (Bible), educational (self-help).


Take away your phone and a huge part of your life disappears.” Visionarch aims to complete people’s lives through their architecture. Will my physical health be well cared for or looked? Will my family be safe and secure from harm or uncertainty? Do I have enough time to relax and pursue my hobbies and predilections? Health and wellness, family, rest and recreation, social community, good environment—these are on the minds Visionarch’s architects as they propose, design, and build their projects.


Theory is nothing without practice. And Visionarch flexes their philosophy with time-honed skill and poise. Arch. Yu gives several specific examples of their “life-centric architecture” at work. Along with tire swings and white picket fences, the simple garden is an almost permanent fixture in the vision of a dream home.


However, living in the city presents a complex challenge for aspirant gardeners.

Fact 1: gardens take up space—they need to. Roots can sometimes run deep and wide.

Fact 2: gardens are pricey. They just don’t make a lot of financial sense when you’re building a condominium, for instance. Expensive and expansive.


However, gardens also offer relaxation to both gardeners and admirers, and the added greenery can present physical and psychological benefits. Visionarch decided that the pros far outweighed the cons and formulated a clever solution: tripicalor “pocket” gardens.


Instead of individual gardens or plant boxes per unit, Visionarch designed a large central garden three floors high, nestled in the center of six adjacent units. The cost of upkeep will then be divided among the six unit owners. The end user gets a larger space to utilize, a chance to collaborate with neighbors and admire their work, and a miniature oasis s/he can help grow and beautify.


Condominiums are considered the definitive metropolitan space. More and more people have recalibrated their long term retirement plans to work towards owning a condo unit. However, most condos have a boxy, confining configuration. They have deep units—units that are nestled in a narrow configuration where the inhabitants walk through the living room, dining area, and bedroom one after the other.


This configuration creates an illusion of confinement, of being stuck in a hotel hallway ala-The Shining. Arch. Yu believes that condos should feel more like a house. To address this, Visionarch promoted a simple shift in the floor plan. Imagine a condo door revealing a unit where the room stretches to the sides. It’s a wickedly simple solution, but this very literal exercise in lateral thought is enjoying marked success. “Just tweaking the configuration a bit changes the whole narrative. People see the difference, and they feel that it’s bigger than it actually is.”


“Life-centric architecture” works beyond residential design solutions. This framework is viable and significant, to the point that it can be applied in city construction. Clark Green City and the Pampanga Megalopolis plan are getting a lot of buzz in social media spheres, and a lot of questions are popping up regarding their urban planning.


And the query that keeps popping up is the timeless, “How are you going to solve traffic?” Visionarch replies with a coy, “Why not eliminate the roads entirely?” Arch. Yu shares an upcoming commercial district with no visible roads. Instead of grey lines crisscrossing the aerial view, you see lush parks, manicured tree lines, and pedestrian walkways.


Everything is close enough to simply walk to and the scenery is pretty enough to enjoy on those trips. But you can’t have a commercial district without cars, you may remark. Visionarch answers this with Intercept ramps connecting the basements of the clustered structures. Cars at

the bottom. People at the top. Children can play in the parks, workers can enjoy leisurely strolls to and from different offices, all without the dangers of traffic.


Lastly, there’s the One Ayala. Currently in development, the One Ayala project is a mixed-use, transit-oriented development sponsored by Ayala Inc. Visionarch’s goal is a grand ideal: to combine all of Makati’s mass transportation modes into a single, unified system. PUJs, buses, and MRT—all inside one convenient hub. Private cars, you may have noticed, are absent from the equation.



That’s because the One Ayala aims to minimize reliance on private transportation. (This statement is not correct there are five basements for private cars, as required by our law) “We want people to rely more on the mass transit system. Overall, it [minimizing car reliance] will allow our environment to be more sustainable and will help decongest Makati traffic,” Arch. Yu says.


To accomplish this, the One Ayala project will repackage the commute and make it more accessible to everyone.


Visionarch has devised different strategies in making this happen. One strategy is by making the terminal comfortable but resilient enough to withstand the relentless Makati foot traffic. The One Ayala project features a concourse atrium, connecting the bus terminals with the train stations.


This streamlining allows for quick transfers and a dedicated space to wait out the harsh sun or pouring rain. The project dreams of a commuter experience where waiting is either eliminated, vastly minimized, or made comfortable where commuters can just disembark and head to their destinations.

“We’re not going to solve all the problems, but we hope it helps the daily troubles of the commuter. For one, it eliminates the ‘each man for himself’ attitude of the common pedestrian, which gives people a sense of system. That’s what we hope to achieve—to put some order to the chaos.”


“Life-centric architecture” is the real deal. It’s not a buzzword or jargon made to entice or confuse. “Life-centric architecture” flows in the veins of each and every member of Visionarch. It’s a firm that attracts those with future sight and radical creativity, but at their very core is a heart beating to make people’s lives richer and more meaningful. They don’t just take into account how a building will look, but how it will feel.


Will this condo unit feel like home? Will this campus feel like a conducive learning environment? Will this district feel like someplace workers can pursue dreams and careers? These architects fully understand their responsibility: in shaping buildings, they shape people’s lives. And in shaping lives, Visionarch can shape the world.


To know more about VisionArch, visit them here:


For more inspiration, here are some Emerging Filipino Architects today:


 

WORDS

John Ravino Duanan


IMAGES

Visionarch