Communing with Nature

Communing with Nature

Imagine sitting somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of the urban environment, sipping fresh juice or gorging on a native delicacy while conversing with loved ones or friends in a refreshing natural environment. This can actually be experienced here in Cebu, thanks to a creative tandem of an architect and an interior designer.

Describing themselves as “hippie souls,” Cebuano architect Marvin Albert Marinas and interior designer wife Sheryl love to be surrounded by trees and be close to nature. The designers, who owned a café in Mabolo, had to deal with the challenges of the pandemic lockdown and had to pick themselves up to “rebuild” anew from a business that they had run for four years. After reopening in their new location, which is the Alhibe Farm in Barangay Sac-on, Carmen, Cebu, their experience of getting up from the pandemic proved their resiliency—a quality that is best reflected in the main building material of their Agwas Café.

Locally sourced bamboo dominates the structure that served as the built shelter for Agwas (Visayan term for water system). Mimicking organic elements found in the farm and respecting the existing terrain and lush flora of the site, the designers made sure that their creation would speak clearly about their environmentally friendly concept.

“We built four leaf lounges. These are individual eight-seater open dining areas that are fitted in the farm’s slopes. Different elevations create interesting play of spaces providing privacy and own space for the diners to experience being surrounded with nature, explained Marvin, “each of the roof mimics a leaf’s structural system and form, cantilevered around four to five meters to protect the dining area from the natural elements and at the same time reduce the posts that somehow block the surrounding views.”

They used the vertical space of the old staff hut as an added dining space for bigger groups. Since the hut was surrounded with trees, the roof’s design irregularly fit it in between them and a portion of the roof was deliberately opened to let a tree trunk pass through. The designers, who took courses in bamboo construction in Bali, Indonesia, added a footbridge to access the second level dining area. Now, it is the most photographed portion of the Café. Marvin revealed that a grid-shell roof will be added soon to protect the bridge from the constant rain farm weather.

Waste disposal and septic systems were carefully integrated into the design and the designers made sure the natural spring sources won’t be contaminated by the structure’s presence. With their training and the abundance of bamboo here, the designers did not really encounter a lot of challenges in the construction, except in the permit applications since the use of bamboo is not embedded in the local structural code. They had to adopt international codes to the local context. Combined with creative manipulation of such delicate building material, the result was an architectural piece that melded well and harmoniously existed with its natural environment.

The refreshing commune with nature would not be complete in a café setting without the food. Marvin shared that their fruit juices and tisanes are made from fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs from the Alhibe farm. Merienda gets a native vibe with their blue biko that goes well with ripe mangoes and sikwate (hot chocolate). Another favorite is a local herb infusion soup made of malunggay and lemongrass. Truly, the café does not only provide you with a tranquil setting in the midst of nature but also affords you with some healthy treats.

Proof of the resiliency of bamboo in Agwas Café was how it was able to survive the onslaught of Typhoon Odette last year. This was a good testament to strengthen their promotion of bamboo as a good building material alternative that can outdo the conventional concrete and steel. As we continue to progress, we should be reminded that good architecture is not building on the site but building with it.


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