By Johannes L. Chua

Maaliwalas, like some Filipinos words, has no direct English translation. Maaliwalas can mean airy, breezy, well-ventilated, even cozy. It is used to describe a place that gives a feeling of ease and relaxation, an ideal state of being, or a peaceful state of mind.

Maaliwalas is also often used to describe a house, specifically the ones seen in countryside scenes. Houses are made with materials from the bounty of the earth—stone for the foundation, bamboo for the support, wood for flooring, and dried palm leaves for the roof. Even with the harshness of the sun, the might of the wind, or the torrents of rain, these houses remain sturdy, adapting to the elements to keep the dwellers comfortable and safe.  

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of people. It has also changed the way living is done on a day-to-day basis, and how people now look at their houses not only as a functional piece of space, but a sanctuary to heal, to be well, and to stay sane. The pandemic also forced dwellers to ascertain if their houses are prone to breed invisible “intruders,” one of which is a virus that has already spread havoc in lives and businesses.     

With all the solutions and remedies presented by architects and engineers at this time, one of the more interesting ideas came from 28-year-old JM de Jesus. He is an architect taking up an MBA who suggested that an ideal post-pandemic house can be “traced back to the bahay kubo of our ancestors.” 

“The concept of maaliwalas is not something new, but I strongly feel that we have to revisit our past, in order to solve the present problems, and for us to be ready for the future,” says JM.  “The bahay kubo, though simple and easy to build, maximizes proper ventilation and lighting, which are just practical and logical ways to design a home. These basic principles, however, were somehow lost in our modern buildings and structures.”

Maaliwalas - Young architect suggests a ‘maaliwalas’ design for an ideal post-pandemic house

Proper ventilation, JM says, promotes quality air to flow through space. It allows fresh air to constantly replace indoor air. “I think it’s not just about this particular virus, it’s about the air circulation and movement that introduces oxygen and expels harmful gases and contaminants, which may contain the virus.”

Studies have revealed the impact of the spread of virus inside an enclosed air-conditioned space, as seen in how a customer of a restaurant in Wuhan, China was able to infect other diners who were seated in the direction of the air-conditioner’s wind. Virus spread, according to scientists, may become more minimal in well-ventilated spaces. 

JM says that an ideal post-pandemic house is not only equipped to “fight” the spread of the coronavirus, or whatever virus that the future may bring, but also one that can survive the country’s weather and elements of nature. 

“The maaliwalas concept is fit for the Philippines’ tropical climate. What I’m trying to say is that far too often, we box ourselves in from the elements. While it is important that we are protected and sheltered from these elements, it is far better to be able to leverage the weather and let it work with us, rather than shut it off completely,” explains JM. “With strategically located openings, high ceilings, and proper orientation, we are allowing the elements to enter our space to our benefit through natural daylight, fresh air, and lower utility bills. This is the main idea behind the maaliwalas concept.” 

While we can’t avoid another virus-based pandemic from happening again, the best way is to adapt to the new normal and it starts with one’s home. JM admits that it was a challenge to convince real estate developers to pursue a sustainable path before, but the pandemic may somewhat become a “catalyst” to give tried and tested housing solutions another look.

“Everyone can benefit from living inside a maaliwalas house. If anything, I’d simply like to give people an idea that this design principle exists and it has far-reaching effects on our daily lives,” says JM. 

Far too often, developments and houses are built with the initial costs at the top of mind. And this has to change. 

Everyone can benefit from living inside a maaliwalas house. If anything, I’d simply like to give people an idea that this design principle exists and it has far-reaching effects on our daily lives.

“I heard someone say, ‘Accountants design buildings, not architects.’ I think it’s somehow true. But buildings are not just numbers, they’re also responsible for our wellbeing, our mood, it’s where we make our memories, and, in a broader sense, buildings shape our lives.”

A good example, JM says, would be the contrast between the basement home and the mansion in the movie Parasite

“Of course, we still have to consider the economy of a house, but I believe that at the minimum, no one deserves to live in a dark, damp, and poorly-ventilated space. How often do you go into a house and immediately say, ‘maaliwalas?’ That is already a yearning for a space that gives you the feeling of freedom, relaxation, and ultimate bliss.”

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