Creature comforts lost

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By Stella A. Estremera

Spider’s web

Saturday, May 31, 2014


HOW easy it is to lose sight of the beauty when discomfort attacks you from all sides. I admit guilt. Very guilty, as scorching heat shrunk my skin and squeezed out every drop from my otherwise very productive sweat glands.

That was what Bongao, Tawi-tawi did to me.

No matter how I took in the calm sea, the crystal clear waters, and the deep blue colors, all these were forgotten as I scurry away to find the very rare cool shade and rarer aircon.

One thing that short trip taught me: anything can be worse and we just made it worst.

Leaving Davao when rain was scarce and it took a lot of prayers to cajole down some raindrops and the threat of rotational brownout was still hovering over all of us, I thought that was bad. Then I landed in Sanga-sanga Airport in Bongao, Tawi-tawi, and suddenly, Davao weather was cool.

Then I spent a night sleeping on a blanket made into a sleeping mat on the floor right beside the veranda door of my hotel room because the generator had ran out of power and there was just the slight sea breeze bringing in some cool air, so slight, you have to be right there by the door. In Davao, we ranted and raged against the threat of a power interruption. Out there, power interruption is a reality and it can last the whole day, the whole night, or for as long as supplies are not replenished.

Which brings us to how we design our houses and our establishments and how it will be in the future.

Imagine living through worsening power supply conditions with the type of houses and buildings we have built. Tiny windows all covered up with glass, some are not even designed to be opened; ceilings and roofs with no vents to allow air to circulate… Everything is designed to keep the cold produced by the air conditioner in. Ergo, turn off the power, render the air conditioner inutile, and what have we got? Groans of frustration amid arms wildly fanning up some air.

Look around, go from house to house, and realize, yes, we have long allowed our colonized identities to dictate how our houses should look, ooh-ing and aaah-ing over chalets and condo units, and chic glass houses, making them our dream houses, not even realizing that the designs we dream of were made to keep the cold out and the heat in.

Sweat. Sweat hard. When all it really takes is to put some vent just above the window of our houses to let the hot air out and the cool air in.

Throughout history, we have seen the bahaynabato, a house with a solid stone foundation that locks in the coolness of the bare earth with the main house above full of windows. We have the torogan of the Maranaos, and yes, the bahaykubo in all its different forms. For a time, we even have the Gabaldon school buildings. All have huge windows, vents on the ceilings, and vents on the floors, vents above the windows and vents below the windows. But now, we do not want any of that because the sign of success instilled in us is an air-conditioned room.

That was how it was in that hotel room. There was just the sliding glass door of the veranda. No windows nor vents to let the natural light and ventilation in, and a useless airconditioning unit hanging on the wall. While right outside are houses on stilts in the deep quiet of the night broken only by the barks of dogs chasing a motorcyclist or two. The surroundings are fast asleep while guests groan and swear. There were just concrete walls and a glass sliding door with no screens at that.

Thus, there I was, barely able to see the Paradise my friends were ooh-ing and aah-ing about Bongao as I sweated under the scorching sun, scuttled to dark corners to escape the sun, only to be chased out by the sweltering humidity contained in unvented halls. When creature comforts are lost, appreciation goes out the window.

I just hope that after that sweltering summer and the promise of more sweltering summers, Filipino architects are already learning their lessons and learning them fast; and are also honing their skills to communicate to the recalcitrant client that western architecture can never ever be southeastern just above the equator.

***

(saestremera@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 01, 2014.

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