TROPICAL TRANSIENCE

Most airports, be it international, domestic, or even private, are merely seen as terminals.  They are either the starting or end point of one’s journey.  The Caticlan Airport is categorized as a domestic airport.  However, it also embodies a distinct function that warrants attention in its design process.   It is a gateway.  As a gateway, Caticlan Airport is a transitional node.  A unique role that is critical in the experience of the traveler, who is in all probability, a vacationer.  For those coming from the busy and stressful urban world, this is the first taste of the respite they can look forward to.  Thus, it is essential that this halfway stop not simply maintain one’s sense of anticipation, but heighten it.  This can be a challenge, as if one gets the “resort feeling” too soon, subsequent stops may become sources of frustration, thereby making the final destination anti-climactic.  Conversely, for those returning from their escapades, the airport should be able to ease them back into the faster pace and rhythm of life in the city.

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To resolve this stark difference between the urban city and the vacation destination, a merging of nature and the built environment was seen to be the arising answer.  Nature on its own is already an exemplary model of design.  Drawing inspiration from the different forms already found in nature, the challenge became selecting the best and most appropriate element in nature that will provide the form an airport would need – a form that would allow for an airport to function seamlessly and efficiently, while using systems that are ecologically sound.

Elegantly designed, nature already provided the answer in the form of the Palm Frond.  A palm frond looks deceptively simple.  Hidden are intricate systems that make shuttling of energy and materials efficient.  It is versatile, able to adapt to its changing environment without compromising the functions it has to perform.  The placement of the building systems into the core structure then becomes natural.  Lighting, power, air conditioning, security systems, data and technology systems, and even rainwater collection all methodically fall into place.  Space articulation and ambulatory circulation subsequently flows easily into the visually compartmentalized albeit open space.

Furthermore, beyond the physical form of the airport, it is equally essential to address the unique characteristics of our Filipino Culture.  Designing an airport that is Filipino, even in architectural terms, will therefore go beyond aesthetics.  Architectural styles emerge from two general factors after all: environment (climate, topography, available building materials), and culture (traditions, history, religion).  Addressing the unique traveling practices Filipinos have, such as the long (extended) send-off and pasalubong giving, becomes a precedent factor in the total design.  Even the manner standard airport proceedings are undergone is distinctively Filipino.  Space articulation takes a twist in both macro and micro levels.

For the Filipino, it is all about family.  It is the fount from which traits that makes Filipinos a beloved nation spring forth.  It is why Filipinos are so hospitable, why Bayanihan is possible, and every welcome is warm.  It is why OFW’s abound, and every goodbye heartbreaking.  The family is where each individual begins to form his identity and the concept of his worth.

One should not overlook the environmental aspect.  The Philippines being in the tropics faces climactic conditions such as heavy rainfall and abundant sunlight.  Several efforts to address environmental viability are implemented.  Passive, simple, low-maintenance systems are preferred.  One such method is waste-water management, where gray water and storm water are collected, filtered, and reused into the building.  New advancements in green technology that are readily available shall also be put to use.  Currently, there are less invasive air-conditioning systems that eliminate the need to use harmful CFC and HFC refrigerants.  One such HVAC system is Magnetic Refrigeration.  The heat byproduct from the process is integrated in to the water tap, therefore doubling as a water heater.  Solar panels on the roof harness the abundant sunlight we enjoy in our tropical climate.  The airport generators are linked to the city power grid where it can exchange electricity with the city.

By adapting modern technologies, modern forms, are we then straying from Filipino design?  Should we slap on standard Filipino details and decals all over?  Will visual cues of banderitas, pahiyas leaves, wicker basket weaving, capiz windows be the only way our architecture can be identified as Filipino?  Too convenient.  We define our architecture by the way we practice it.  We define our style by rooting it to our personalities and going back to our core.

The assimilation of nature and the urban setting in the airport provides travelers room for the psychological and emotional transition that they need to undergo.  The palm frond is typically associated with existence in the tropics.  This vision of a palm frond in the form of concrete, glass, and steel imparts a visual cue of leisure, fun, and relaxation amidst nature to the arriving traveler.  On the other hand, to the departing traveler, the sight of technology and cues of urban lifestyle, eases him back into the bustling city life.

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