It may be a struggle to maintain a green lifestyle — at its most basic, it requires making your own compost and producing as little household waste as possible — but for couple Howie Severino and Ipat Luna, the choice to go down that oftentimes lonely path was a no-brainer. Howie, a broadcast journalist for TV network GMA7, has for many years been producing stories that sound the alarm on climate change and its brutal effects; Ipat is an environmental lawyer.
The home they’ve built, in the quiet municipality of Mataasnakahoy in Batangas, is right on the edge of Taal Lake and is as green a home as it gets. The 1,500m2 property that the couple has christened Kapusod sits on a swathe of sandy loam made extra fertile by volcanic ash from two major eruptions, and the foliage from the trees is so lush it almost obscures the structures within the lot: the main house, a few guest cabanas, an outdoor dining area and a treehouse that offers a spectacular view of the lake.
At Kapusod, Howie and Ipat — along with their teenage son, Alon, and two dogs, a black Labrador and a Shih Tzu — get to live the dream of slow, soulful living away from Manila: sleeping to a soft, cool breeze and the ambient sounds of nature; hiking in nearby Mount Malarayat and Mount Maculot; cycling around the trails of Batangas (Howie is also an advocate for life on two wheels); taking contemplative strolls to the lake; kayaking at a meditative pace early in the morning; and dining on the bounty of Batangas: fresh banana heart, fiddlehead fern, heirloom rice and tawilis, the world’s only freshwater sardine, endemic to Taal Lake.
Kapusod is right next to the Pusod Taal Lake Conservation Center (Pusod TLCC), a non-governmental agency that the couple helped found (and still support) along with Filipino-American siblings Malou Babilonia and David Pollard. The center is dedicated to protecting Taal Lake and advocates ecosystem conservation in the Philippines. But it’s in this home of seven years where the family implements most of their own concepts of sustainable living. “We read a lot about the environment and this is a place where we can walk our talk,” says Howie. On a tour of the property, he shows us the compost heap that helps break down leftovers and an outhouse for visitors that uses a filtering system to help recycle used water and waste.
The main house, designed primarily around available materials, is built from bamboo and repurposed hardwood like narra and yakal salvaged from Ipat’s old family home in Lipa. “When building a house usually you start with your design then find the materials,” says Howie. “We started with a pile of materials and asked ourselves, ‘What can we do with this? What kind of design can incorporate these old materials?’”
To build the house, they sought the help of architect Rosario “Ning” Encarnacion Tan, an expert on bamboo architecture and an old family friend. The pioneering advocate of vernacular architecture and author of Folk Architecture — released in 1989, it included an exploration of how structures work in people’s lives as well as with other living things — had suggested many of the design elements around the couple’s guiding brief: to let the outside in.
The result is a two-storey main structure with a semi-alfresco ground floor that does triple-duty: as a receiving area for guests, dining room and open kitchen that Ipat and Ning had brainstormed on so that, as Howie explains, “Anyone can prepare food and wash dishes while appreciating the trees and listening to birds.” A stump from a felled talisay tree (also called a tropical almond tree) has been repurposed into a kitchen table; random driftwood upcycled into benches and stools; and bamboo built into everything, from cabinets to structural support beams. There’s even a chandelier made of bamboo. Upstairs, in the living quarters, the bamboo theme continues in the flooring and wooden pegs.
The choice of bamboo is a crucial part of the house’s sustainability concept. “Right now we’re in a critical global situation,” says Ning. “Concrete, glass and steel are non-renewable resources. It’s really destroying the earth if they are managed improperly and overharvested – both of which are happening. Bamboo architecture is a sensible solution. It fills all the requirements and criteria of sustainability.” This includes locking carbon, says the architect, which means that when bamboo rots, it goes back to the earth. “So you don’t let the carbon get emitted into the air.”
The design does leave the house open to the elements. The upside? In the daytime, a sun-dappled living room with natural ventilation is paradise on earth. The downside is that if the wind whips a downpour in, it soaks the ground floor. There’s also the symbiotic relationship between habitat and inhabitant that keeps the family mindful of their living situation — as a house made primarily of bamboo, it needs constant care. “It’s a living being. If there’s no tender loving care it will rot,” Ning says. “It’s still living. There’s a lot of air in it. There’s a certain ‘lifeforce’ within. You need to truly live inside and care for it or else it will be taken over by other living organisms like fungus or rats.”
It’s a give-and-take that Howie and Ipat are more than happy to live with. “When we see birds flying around inside our house, it makes us happy,” says Howie. The house itself is a living thing in more ways than one — as an ongoing passion project it changes as the family evolves. “It’s a hodgepodge. It’s stuff we like. And because of that, it reflects who we are.”
For more information on Kapusod, visit fb.com/kapusod
This article first appeared in the November 2018 issue of Smile magazine.