The Public Home (An Essay on Architecture and Cultural Identity)

The Public Home

An Design Concept for a College of Architecture Cafeteria Using Signification

Filipinos are generally friendly and sociable. We tend to associate almost all of our daily activities with interaction with others. We love company; we love to do things while having a person beside us even though he or she is not necessarily helping us with our work. The mere presence of someone while we are performing certain activities counts, especially when eating.

For the design concept of an Arki cafeteria that expresses Filipino cultural identity, I have chosen to liken it to a nipa hut or a bahay kubo. The bahay kubo itself already expresses Filipino culture. However, how does this translate to a cafeteria?

A bahay kubo, first of all is organic. Thus, organic materials are used in the cafeteria such as wooden chairs and tables and few plant materials. There are big windows which allow fresh air to enter. The materials used in the design and its organic feel signify that the Philippines is a tropical country that is rich in natural resources. Unlike the modern design, which is used in most cafeteria and restaurants these days, organic design also enhances the people’s appreciation of nature despite the modernization and industrialization we are experiencing today. This kind of design reminds us of who we are and what our home should be. Besides, according to Harry Garnham, author of Maintaining the Sprit of Place, the unique character of a place is based on many items, some of which are climate, unique natural setting, and the use of local materials.

Speaking of home, this concept also signifies that the cafeteria suggests a feeling of being at-home; safe, comfortable, and loved. In this design, tables accommodating only one or two seats are avoided. This is because, just as mentioned above, Filipinos love eating with their family. This is also to signify that the College of Architecture is like a home to the students and the teachers who treat each other as family; and in a family, no one has to be left alone. As much as possible, the communication between the users is enhanced. Thus, the dining tables accommodate more people, resembling a typical family dinner table.

So, the cafeteria aims to make its users feel comfortable, at ease, and loved (that is, through the enhanced interaction among users). However, it is also necessary not to make the users “too” at-home. Though when we think of home, we also tend to visualize soft sofas with cushions and beds, that is not the idea of this cafeteria. The chairs and tables don’t have to be like sofas, but just the typical dining seats and surfaces. This is to take into consideration that what is being designed is still a cafeteria which has a lot of users and a group of people shouldn’t occupy a particular space for a long time. Also, no group of people should “own” that space and regard it as their territory and discourage other users than themselves from using it (which may sometimes happen). Even though the concept of the cafeteria is a bahay kubo, it is still has to be considered as a public space equally accessible by everyone. This is one reason the cafeteria, like a bahay kubo, has minimal divisions – to avoid considering a space as a private one. Again, the cafeteria is open, allowing interaction not just among the people sharing one table but also for everyone within the entire room.

People say that eating is a sacred ritual for many Filipinos. They consider it as a special activity that is almost never complete without company. This is one nature of the Filipinos. Among the things upon which a strong sense of place is often based are the values of the people, according to Garnham. Therefore, I chose to highlight that value. However, the “bahay kubo” concept attends not just to this company-oriented nature of Filipinos, and the natural resources of the Philippines, but also the true function of the cafeteria. It is basically an eating place. Through the signification, it may feel like a home for the users, but not necessarily a home which they could consider as their own private property.

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