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DOWN TO EARTH

Ar. Ronnie Yumang and the Necessity of Regenerative Design
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Imagine a giant bowl filled with the world’s natural resources. The bowl has a bottom. Its contents are finite. They will one day run out. But the bowl is large and we are small and we drink and consume. We believe we are the only ones important. Our population grows. Industries emerge and balloon. The water line is getting lower and we do not notice. The bowl is half-empty before anyone points out that the contents are running out.

Sustainability raises its hands and thinks it has an answer. A core tenet of the green architecture trend is to minimize the carbon footprint. “Let’s only drink what we need,” Sustainability says. We listen and scale back our consumption, but what is enough is difficult to measure. We just skim off the top, we sip less and less, but the bowl is not filling up. Despite our efficiency, we are getting thirstier. Eventually, when we pass, our children will have to make do with the puddle left at the bottom. If this pattern continues, extinction is imminent. We will not see it in our lifetime, but our descendants will.

The rawness of the structure was emphasized echoing the meaningful narrative of Maka Forest Villas and its Regenerative lifestyle. It is how nature works celebrating plenitude and all life forms vital to the ecological cycle. We live “more of less”. By embracing the abundance of the site’s cold breeze and other intangibles we regain spiritual joy.

As Secretary General of the United Architects of the Philippines, Ar. Ronnie R. Yumang knows that the bowl is running out. Sustainability, with its good intent, has become a byword but it does not address a crucial concern – replenishing the construction resource used. An ASEAN Architect, a certified Environmental Planner and an advocate of native/ endemic species, Ar. Ronnie has no qualms calling out the architecture and construction industry as one of the biggest contributors in destroying the planet. LEED-certified Green buildings are indeed resource- and energy-efficient edifices. However, Ar. Ronnie pulls back the curtain to reveal enormous tons of concrete poured (and quarried) to build these structures. This then raises the question: Are these buildings truly sustainable and environmentally healthy? “Can you imagine how much concrete was used to build those buildings?” he questions, “How many mountains were leveled to get the cement, gravel, and steel? Worse, how deep, far and wide was sand quarried that causes to vanish an island and exposes the killings on some parts of the globe just to trade sand, which is not renewable for the next 250 million years?”

If sustainability and conservation are not enough, what then? How can one answer the question that sustainable design has failed to solve? The solution is infuriatingly simple, but decades of conditioning to take and absorb and control has clouded humanity’s mind to the obvious answer: if we have wounded the world, then we must help it regenerate.

The genius loci dissolve man’s understanding of dimensionality. Nature encompasses the boundaries of architecture, interiors, and landscape. I had willingly submitted, nature owns everything here and I became part of  the whole systems

The solution is infuriatingly simple, but decades of conditioning to take and absorb and control has clouded humanity’s mind to the obvious answer: if we have wounded the world, then we must help it regenerate.

Growth and Regrowth

It is an understatement to say that Arch. Ronnie Yumang has come a long way. Growing up on the streets of Sta. Mesa, selling newspaper to get by, he understands–more than anyone–what it’s like to have nothing. His meals were comprised of one egg a day–with coffee or sugar to lend rice some flavor. To make ends meet, he worked as a newsboy, sloshing through city floods and fighting to keep his merchandise dry. It was an unkind upbringing, an all too common life in the grit and smoke of Metro Manila. But instead of resentment, Ar. Ronnie cultivated empathy and resilience. “I appreciated having nothing. I did not complain, because I felt I was luckier than most of my friends.”

“Keep in mind,” reminds American rapper Ludacris, “that when you hit rock-bottom, there is nowhere to go but up.” Armed with the harshest lessons of life, Ar. Ronnie’s took hold of his destiny and pulled up its trajectory. As a pioneer graduate of PUP, Ar. Ronnie blazed through the architectural board exam, placing 16th nationally. “It boosted my confidence,” he shares, “Of course I knew the hardships wouldn’t just end there, but it gave me and my parents’ hope.” Finally, this was his chance. A chance to obtain a higher quality of life.

His humility and hardwork earned him the attention of firms and employers scoping out the new blood. Ar. Ronnie wanted his success to extend past himself; he wanted PUP make its mark, to break free from damaging stereotypes and be legitimized by the industry. Fortunately, he didn’t need to campaign too hard. PUP graduates like Ar. Ronnie proved to be hard-working, resourceful, and easy to work with. Diamonds in the rough, these people. PUP grads–and Ar. Ronnie–found gainful employment and training after being scouted by premier companies.

Native and endemic trees such as “As-is”, “Tibig”, “Antipolo”, “Binunga”, “Lubi-lubi”, “Bignay” and the whole forest’s health will be restored thereby improving the habitat of other living organisms. The wood bridge crossing ‘saluysoy’ pond is a rain water reservoir for the whole Maka facility going the exclusive villas.

A dab hand at architectural rendering, Ar. Ronnie thrived with steadiness of wrist and clarity of vision. “Some renderings are still hung in a few companies in Makati,” he mentions. Fixated on the deconstructivist leanings of the radical designs and theories of Peter Eisenmann, the experimental theories of Coop Himmelblau, and the reckless elegance of Frank Gehry, Ar Ronnie lived an architect’s dream and nightmares. He even gave back to his alma mater, mentoring the poor yet talented and persevering PUP students, demonstrating what he knows best: making beautiful drawings and exploring the very limits of architecture. His interest in modern art and rational discourse helped him cross paths with the beautiful and strong character of Marison Joya Baldovino, niece of National Artist Jose Joya, which later became his loving wife and his staunchest supporter and critic.

But it wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies. The law of gravity affects us all, and when you fall, sometimes you fall fast and hard. The early 2000s brought about an exponential jump in technological advancement. The leap was quick and disruptive, and Ar. Ronnie felt his business jolted by its quake. But this young man from Saciego was made of stern stuff. His scars are trophies. “I am beautifully broken. I am comfortable in the lowest of the low,” he asserted, “At least I know things can only get better. Get through it; learn the lessons.” He was definite in his goal: to create ripples in the architectural world. He would move the earth itself to get what he wanted.

View of the serene “Dalisay” Villas which features forest moss garden,  native scented blooms and a heated pool. The experience of the place reflects the intentions of the design and describes the regenerative nature of the system.

And move earth, he did. After the drought of non-paying clients and unprecedented technological shifts, Ar Ronnie found a creative oasis in growing, searching, and earth-balling native/endemic trees and plants. He and his wife Marison built an arboreal paradise in the heart of Fairview. Starting with growing bamboo during a cultural boom of Japanese zen aesthetics, Ar. Ronnie branched out, creating for himself a financial and literal Eden. Eschewing the typical plant nursery layout, Ar. Ronnie opted instead to build a park accented with salvaged material. The place was christened “Redsong” after the Jose Joya painting. “[They] thought it was beautiful, so we turned it into an events venue and rented it out,” he remarks. Redsong was a hit, but it was never about personal gain for Ar. Ronnie, who saw himself in the struggles of contractual workers. “Redsong helped me create jobs. Architecture is massively project-based, but what about the worker with no steady income?” Like a sapling reaching towards the sun, Ar. Ronnie grew from an employee to an employer.

Working with the land taught him a lot of things. “Nature can teach us a lot of things,” he says, “just look enthusiastically, you will discover a new world.” This renewed appreciation for world conspired with his own personal history and triggered something deep within the young architect. A seed was planted, one might say, which will grow into the philosophy and practice of regenerative design.

The Chiasma Concinnity is envisioned to be the first Regenerative community in the Philippines. It will engage with the site’s deep ecologic culture that the lives of the community will be embedded with it.
The CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) bridge boasts of its structural properties paving the renaissance of timber as construction material.

A Wrong Turn

Today’s architecture is all about independence of structure. One builds a building, and that’s the end of it. As long as it conforms  to the Vitruvian theories of beauty (Venustas, Utilitas, Firmitas: Beauty, Utility, and Strength), the building is sound. This adage is centuries-old, but Ar. Ronnie believes that the modern problem of resource scarcity requires modern solutions. In man’s bid to subjugate and control his environment, he has forgotten to coexist with it.

Highlighting several terrifying examples of reckless architecture, Ar. Ronnie waxes on man’s failure as the Earth’s steward. He mentions a housing project in Cagayan that scraped out a whole mountain to build luxury villas. The elimination of the nutrient-rich topsoil made it untenable for plants to grow and drove out species that relied on the now-absent flora. The fragile cycle of its ecosystem was disrupted. The development destroyed the native kamagong, a nearly unbreakable hardwood endangered and protected by the Philippine government. Ar. Ronnie scoffs at the self-congratulatory solution offered by the developers, “Sure, they planted trees, but they were an invasive species. Plus, their advertisements to post a photo of (the development) with the caption: Live in harmony with nature?” He explains that planting trees and making beautiful landscapes do not show harmony with nature, “Without understanding and respecting the fragile state of even the smallest biota, we will never be in harmony with nature.

The organic pool features aquatic plants as natural cleaner. Some parts of the pool will be made of primitive clay construction method.

Ar. Ronnie continues to expose the harm caused by reckless conservation practices with the tragedy of the Bilar Man-made Forest in Bohol. “Enter the forest and listen. You won’t hear anything. No birds, no animals. Nothing,” he illustrates. The Man-made Forest is categorized as a “biodiversity-dead zone,” and will remain as such until it is cleared and replaced. Aside from the implanted mahogany trees, nothing grows on the forest floor. “Mahogany leaves secrete a substance that kills other plants,” clarifies Ar. Ronnie. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and the desolate beauty of the Bilar Man-made Forest stands as a testament to our shortsightedness.

Chiasma will use CLT’s (Cross Laminated Timber), Rammed Earth construction system, Earthen (adobe) floor, CEB’s (Compressed Earth Blocks) and use of other heritable wisdom.By following the nature’s course our architecture breathes, seamlessly integrates and becomes part of the site’s ecosystem.

The New Deal

The intent is there. The awareness, too. We know the Earth can’t take any more. Ar. Ronnie understands that sustainability will lock us in a war of attrition that we will inevitably lose. Which is why he is campaigning for the alternative of regenerative design. With tensions high due climate change and resource scarcity, something is bound to give. Regenerative design posits that it should be us. We should give. As soon as possible.

For regenerative design to take root, Ar. Ronnie proposes a reexamination of architecture’s guiding principles. If the pillars of Venustas, Utilitas, and Firmitas are not enough to support the weight of our dying world, then architecture must erect a fourth. “Oikos.” Ecology. “Man is not a supreme species. We need to be within that cycle ourselves,” he shares, “The structures architects build need to make sense within their ecosystem.” Regenerative design reminds us that we are right here. Countless animal species are going extinct, natural resources are dwindling, climate shifts are affecting whole continents, and we are still here.

The whole Chiasma Concinnity development revolves on the principle of Life Centric Design where man is not supreme but within the sphere of the site’s ecosystem. We are changing the way we think and do architecture because we know how to listen. We understand what nature wants us to do. The future of architecture is about environment and value of life – we are doing it now.

The Plan: To move past simple conservation to replenishment. “We’re all caught up in the conversation of minimizing our carbon footprint when the simplest solution is to just plant a tree,” Ar. Ronnie laughs, “In 8-10 years, they’ll grow.” Dissatisfied with the perplexing rationale of sustainability in maintaining the Earth’s health, Ar. Ronnie nonetheless understands that a shift this radical will take some time. In the meantime, he soldiers on, spreading the message of regenerative design. “I won’t complain,” he emboldens, quoting the words of the blessed St. Francis of Assisi, “I will start by doing what’s necessary; then I will do what’s possible; and suddenly, I am doing the impossible.”

The Maka Forest Villa Pavilion synthesize the relationship between architecture and natural environment where natural and artificial becomes one.

Into the Woods

For change to take place, it must first come from within. “I don’t just talk the talk; I walk the walk,” Ar. Ronnie smiles as he introduces the Maka Forest Villas. A two hectare development nestled in the uplands of Alfonso, Cavite, Maka Forest Villas is regenerative lifestyle’s proof of concept. Every fixture, structure, and amenity in Maka has been replenished or adaptively repurposed. The lumber used was locally sourced. The building components were taken from excess material left over from other projects. The immaculately arranged stones in the meditation garden were donated.The base property itself was a poultry farm. With Maka, Ar. Ronnie overcame the first obstacle of every large-scale systems shift: money. “I practically made Maka for free,” he beams, his motives realized by Maka’s success, “People might embrace this kind of architecture once they know it’s not prohibitive.”

The Maka Forest Villas is guided by the principle of wabisabi, a worldview characterized by the acceptance of the flawed and fleeting. Influenced by his background, Ar. Ronnie looks at beauty in a different way, accepting change and entropy in an industry obsessed with permanence and precision.

A striking colorful environmental land art by Ar Ronnie Yumang entitled “Habitat-loss”, mimics the wildlife’s loss of their home due to ‘kaingin’, logging, and wrong planting practices that seriously affects biodiversity.

Wabi-sabi knows that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. It’s a philosophy without pretense. Whatever will be, will be. Wabi-sabi is in the fallen trunk of a tree, its rot becoming home to dragonflies and lightning bugs. It is in giving permission to the spiders to build their cobwebs, letting them eke out their existence someplace dark and safe. “I celebrate decay, because with decay is the start of a new life,” Ar. Ronnie believes.

Above: The blooming Erythrina variegata or native “Dapdap” nestled with endemic “kilyawan”, blue collar king fisher and the endangered endemic Scops owl (Otus megalotis) is a magnificent beauty to behold every morning and afternoon. Below: The meditation garden provides positive energy through earthing and forest bathing. The space encourages intimate conversation between man and the tree.
Above: This structure was used to be the storage of a huge poultry farm. Arch Ronnie Yumang adaptively reused the space, demolished unnecessary walls, scavenge on available surrounding materials and turn it into a sought after Alfonso, Cavite staycation “Muni” rooms. Left: Bathing at Maka Forest Villas is a ritual. Guests truly savor every seconds of body and spiritual cleansing. The corten steel lavatory is a sculptural highlight leaving our guests in amazement. Right: The hanged “Kanayi” is a stark reminder how a lowly clump of shaved and weaved “voyavoy” protects life from the harsh weather of Batanes.

Equal parts luxury lodging and forest sanctuary, Maka exudes the vibe of stumbling upon a fairy cottage in the middle of the woods. Maka is an old Tagalog word that means “a place where good spirits reside.” The word captures the idea of heaven on Earth and this inspiration is evident in the whole place. Plants and animals interact freely with the man-made structures. The biological concept of cells drive the aesthetics, the artificial and natural interwoven to strengthen each other. 70% of the property is biodiverse open space, home to endemic trees, flowers, and animals. The remaining 30% footprint was constructed from renewable sources. The villas boast of low-resource building processes like rammed earth and earthen floors and walls, compressed earth blocks, and the concrete-less mud pond–all vernacular knowledge and techniques were used instead of non-renewable concrete.

The “Kalinaw” Villla deviate from usual iconicism but rather rooted for significance and relevance to life and its environment.

Regenerative design is different. It can evolve and empower and remind us what we stand to regain.

There are so many ways to illustrate the myriad global urgencies that brought about regenerative design. An empty bowl. A house on fire. A growing fever. A skyline garlanded with smoke-belching factories. A lonely polar bear floating on an ever-shrinking ice floe. There are so many ways to interpret data and highlight how far we’ve fallen. But as someone keenly familiar with the rock bottom, Ar. Ronnie Yumang knows that with enough time, effort, and cleverness, we can climb back up. “With decay, comes life,” he reiterates. Sustainable design has done its job–it has warned us of how much we stand to lose. But regenerative design is different. It can evolve and empower and remind us what we stand to regain.

 

 

WORDS: John Ravino Duanan
IMAGES: Joya Properties Inc., Yumang Design Studio

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