A Natural Fit

8X8 Design Studio harnesses the calming energy of a tree-filled property for the design of a wellness pavilion

Words Miguel Llona and Patrick Kasingsing
Images 8X8 Design Studio

If any positives could be taken away from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the heightened awareness for health and wellness that it has inspired in people. Staying fit and strengthening our immune system is imperative to reduce the risk of falling ill to an airborne (and highly infectious) virus, but restrictions and lockdowns imposed to curb the virus’s spread have made it difficult to pursue a healthy lifestyle, with gyms being high-risk places. For those with little to no space in their home to exercise in, it’s been a constricting dilemma for most of the pandemic.

This isn’t a problem when you have the luxury of owning hectares of land to build your personal gym in, as in the case of the Wellness Pavilion. The client’s brief for the project, undertaken by 8X8 Design Studio established by principals Adrian Alfonso and Pearl Robles, was a structure that would “blur the idea of rigid workout sessions and integrate it as part of a lifestyle infused with nature.” A structure that would connect a person with the surrounding greenery while they’re working out would surely invigorate their body, mind, and soul since the color green is often associated with renewal and relaxation—two things sought for in these stressful, overwhelming times, which the client wanted to attain.

The property doesn’t lack for the qualities needed to put someone in a “natural” mood. It consists of a few hectares of farmland, 60% of which is populated with mature trees (mostly mango trees planted in a grid pattern). The Wellness Pavilion is meant to function as a separate yet complementary feature to the existing structures within this property, which includes the client’s house and garage. A clearing in the middle of a mango grove was chosen as the pavilion site—the ideal setting for the client’s vision of a wellness place enhanced by the lushness of nature, so the design team made it a point not to cut down any trees in the area. 

“The Wellness Pavilion was a structure that would blur the idea of rigid workout sessions and integrate it as part of a lifestyle infused with nature.

The location must have inspired the 8X8 team to channel the spirit of Mies van der Rohe as well, as they sought to erect a modernist structure amid the abundance of mango trees in the area. The structural form they designed for the pavilion certainly calls to mind the Farnsworth House, embodying the “legibility and boldness” of the famous structure as 8X8 puts it. From afar, the Wellness Pavilion’s silhouette is a simple concrete box supported by structural columns at its perimeter, with the interior spaces encased in glass walls to create sightlines of the vegetation around the area. Following such a form is intentional as it allows the team to explore several dualities for the design—the indoor and outdoor, the urban and rural, and polished and raw textures. The duality of horizontal and vertical components was also emphasized, as seen in the horizontal lines of the structure intersecting with the vertical patterns of the tree lines.

The structure takes up 372 square meters of space, measuring 31 x 12 meters. The entire structure is slightly elevated from the ground and tops out at 7.8 meters in height due to a roof enclosure built on top of the ground floor structure, with the latter accounting for 4.8 meters. The addition of a roof enclosure to the roof deck was made midway through construction, which may diminish the bold horizontal lines of the Pavilion. To circumvent this problem, a separate volume made of slim steel members with diagonal bracings was built to softly sit on top of the ground structure.

The space programming of the ground floor structure is as straightforward as its structural form suggests, segmented into two sections: the workout area containing the lounge, gym, and mini-bar, and the relaxation area containing the steam room, sauna, and dipping pools. The placement of the structural columns at the structure’s perimeter frees up the interiors, allowing for flexibility in the configuration of spaces and opening up sightlines to the outdoors. Plank-form concrete walls were used for the majority of the partitions, a more cost-effective alternative to cladding walls with natural stone finishes. Significant investment was allotted for the glass panel system to be used in the gym area. Because of the possibility of strong winds from typhoons, the client invested in the glazing system by Rabel Systems from Glassbox, which assures heavy resistance to extreme wind loads, especially in an open area. The ground floor glazing are all operable through a combination of sliding and pivoting mechanisms, allowing the gym to open out to the perimeter walkway and even the courtyards.

The choice of materials is purposeful, meant to separate the structure from the greenery surrounding it yet remaining unobtrusive with its simple form. The 8X8 team wanted people to have a mental perception of the structure’s texture from sight alone, so a palette of finishes such as bare concrete walls, metal for the columns, and wood grain for the ceiling planks provide a tactile impression for anyone stepping within its spaces or viewing the project from afar.

While the Farnsworth House is a clear inspiration for the structure, the key difference in 8X8’s design is the incorporation of tropical design elements. Even with the natural barrier provided by the nearby mango trees, the design team wanted to provide an architectural response to the sunny climate in the form of eaves extending to 2.8 meters that shade the interior spaces, which also allows the creation of decks around the structure that serve as pathways. One can even set up a table and chair in these pathways to take in the lush tree lines should they wish, if not for the generous outdoor spaces that the 8X8 team developed for this purpose.

Though initially conceptualized as a personal gym, the client eventually expanded the Wellness Pavilion’s intended use to become a gathering space for visiting friends and family. The outdoor spaces around the main structure are paved to become courtyards on the northwest and southeast sides. A wide fire pit and barbecue area was created for the main frontage which serves as the focal point of entry into the gym, with a 9.45 x 1.45-meter long magkuno dining table adjacent to the firepit extending the function of the area for outdoor cooking and dining. Perimeter walls composed of locally-sourced Nasugbu stone surround these courtyards. All of these raw textures serve as another tactile contrast to the softness of the greenery, continuing the 8X8 team’s exploration of duality in the pavilion’s design.

While the Wellness Pavilion merely appears to be an affluent iteration of a gym and wellness center, its unique program raises the ideals of what health and wellness should encompass. Exercising in well-ventilated spaces with views of nature is a nourishing activity for the body and mind—particularly in these pandemic times—and the pavilion’s open-plan design encourages moments of deep reflection and meditation for its users. Its extended function as a place for social gatherings, however, is what gives the project another dimension. After all, one’s health and wellness won’t be complete without the company of loved ones. •

Project Team

Principal Architects:
Pearl Robles – Alfonso
Adrian Alfonso

Team Members:
Kerby Barcenas, Alexis Yburan
Bianca Roque, Trish Sampol
Miguel De Lara

Construction Team
Civil Works: W. Olazo
Finishing Works: Aqius Construction Corporation

Specialty Trades:
Glazing System: Glassbox Philippines Inc.
Polycarbonate Roof: K-Plast, Inc.
Natural Stone: Euroasia Marble and Granite, Inc.
Junckers Wood Floor: Filtra Timber
Tile Finishes: Homestudio
Mechanical System: Airconex Philippines, Inc.
Tylo Steam Shower and Sauna: Signal Trading Corporation
Hot and Cold Dipping Pool: Jemolisa Inc.
Pipe-in Music: Gearhead Inc.

Gym Equipment: Technogym by E-Sports
Modular Cabinets: Lignio Inc.
Lighting Fixtures: Steltz International Inc, Greengroup Inc.
Toilet Fixtures: Kuysen Enterprise
Kitchen Equipment: Focus Global Inc.

Miguel Llona is a writer who has written for numerous print and online publications. He was a former editor at BluPrint magazine, and currently serves as marketing consultant for an interior design firm and a structural engineering company. 

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