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Writer’s Recap: Cultivating sustainability and development with ‘EULAT for Culture’

Time and time again, the “tragedy of the commons”—a phenomenon of the abuse of open resources for profit—has recklessly mired the environmental landscape. A rallying cry against environmental degradation, the Philippine-Italian Association’s conference titled EULAT for Culture: Filipino Design Links with Asia, the Americas, and Europe presented three talks illuminating the spirit of sustainable development. The lectures were part and parcel of the weeklong EULAT for Culture series, which collectively focused on the sharp intersection between global issues and design.

With this installment of the series held on October 18 at the Instituto Cervantes in Intramuros, Manila, the talks addressed the intertwined nature of green architecture, urban planning, and government policy. “Designers don’t normally have meetings with policymakers; their relationships are not very deep,” Conference Director Marian Pastor Roces imparted, citing the lack of relevant spaces where both fields can interact. Providing an avenue for discussion, the event heralded interdisciplinarity as the cornerstone of sustainable development—tackling the issue from all sides of the epistemic spectrum.

Gathering materials 

Italian architect Romolo Nati began the conference by establishing a foundation of sustainability and green development in his talk titled Sustainable design and development in emerging cities in the Philippines. Throughout his lecture, he emphasized that environmentally friendly buildings and communities do not grow overnight and that he and the Italpinas Development Corporation (IDC) have been planting the seeds for green architecture in the country since 2009. He cited his final calling to “see architects and designers follow the same path [of sustainable development] we are trying to create” as his basis for starting his mission in the Philippines.

In hopes of transforming the state of Philippine architecture, Nati’s approach undertakes a passive green design, wherein structures are designed to produce renewable energy and utilize different weather conditions—harvesting rainwater, enhancing natural ventilation through strategic design, and installing solar panels—surrounding the buildings to elevate living conditions. 

Implementation has taken root in emerging cities such as Cagayan De Oro in Mindanao and Sto. Tomas, Batangas, where the IDC aims to address the problem of the existing affordable housing gap in the real estate market. “Everyone must have access to green buildings. If not, we won’t have any impact on the environment,” Nati propounded. The IDC purposely chose cities with sizable percentages of Overseas Filipino Workers, so they may have housing options in their hometowns. He claimed, “[It is] challenging to create something beautiful but at the same time accessible in terms of price and also sustainable, but [it is] not impossible.”

Go for the green

Following Nati’s talk, architect and Concep, Inc. founder Nathaniel Von Einsiedel championed environmentally-critical urban planning through his lecture, The Ecosystem Approach to Community Design and Development. As a fellow at the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners, Von Einsedel shared that his work alongside real estate developers and local-level politicians assesses the complex interdependence between humans and the environment. Through this, he aims to “treat environmental goals equally with social and economic goals, thus leading to sustainable development.” 

Von Einsiedel’s design plans put great value on “ecosystem services”, which he defined to be the natural activities of living organisms that protect the environment and aid human communities. To illustrate, he explained that biological processes by trees serve as a safeguard against climate change; similarly, vegetation sifts out harmful pollutants in stormwater. However, it was with dismay that he emphasized, “[Since] we do not see [these services, we] very often take [them] for granted.”

Due to this, natural resources fall victim too often to exploitation by corporations. “When real estate developers look at land, usually the first thing in [their] mind[s] is profit,” Von Einsedel lamented. He also pointed out the woeful case of Typhoon Ondoy back in 2009, where the deluge of floodwaters occurred in the lower areas of Marikina. With no proper drainage system in the area, several families unfortunately perished. “We need to conserve ecosystem services because they can protect and improve a community’s resiliency and quality of life,” he posited.

As such, Von Einsiedel proposed that the ecosystem approach be involved in the development of land. This can be done through a series of steps: harboring a keen understanding of the land’s distinctive environmental surroundings, forming biomimicry projects for the conservation of soil and water, creating more outdoor spaces, and adopting zero-waste strategies in the construction.

These plans came to fruition with Von Einsiedel’s watershed management project in Binahaan, Quezon, where he worked with six municipalities to plant trees—thereby preserving the drainage basin. Proudly presenting his magnum opus, he proclaimed, “When you look at nature, it’s something… one should [appreciate] the kind of contribution it gives to us. In a sense, it’s a matter of survival.”

From the ground up

To round out the discussion, policy analyst and Brain Trust Inc. President Ella Antonio began her segment with a 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) update on the Philippines’ front. Based on statistics last year, the Philippines is ranked 95th of 163 countries and seventh in the ASEAN region. 

Antonio divulged that the country is constantly improving and working toward achieving the aforementioned goals; current initiatives such as AmBisyon Natin 2040 and the Philippine Development Plan are put into place to achieve the SDGs. In the same vein, she made it clear that while sustainable development takes into consideration the country’s environmental, economic, and social climate, culture must be considered in encouraging the growth of green cities. “Sustainable development covers a lot of ground, but are we, as designers, able to incorporate all the dimensions of development?” she asked the attentive audience. Von Einsiedel adds that through understanding the designs of historical Philippine architecture—the built-in ventilation from the bamboo foundation of nipa huts and the mixed-use infrastructure influenced by the Spanish plaza-centric city planning—not only are we able to see how our ancestors lived, but how they maximized sustainable resources for their homes. 

“[Sustainable development must be a goal] not just for the sake of attaining it, [but for] uplifting lives,” Antonio conveyed. Where the ecosystem finds itself displaced by urbanization, Philippine society needs to build toward a future rooted in renewable resources. EULAT for Culture proves this is possible as it allows us to reflect on the history of our structures, lest we find ourselves entangled in irreversible ruin.

By Clarisse Bernal

By Summer Sanares

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