4 Indigenous Materials Used in Filipino Architecture

Indigenous Materials in Filipino Architecture

As far as local real estate is concerned, current housing trends follow American and European designs. While impressive, these forms are not exactly the best for our tropical climate, which establishes the importance of using indigenous materials in Filipino architecture. Here’s why.

Using foreign materials and architecture style could lead to significant energy and operation costs, and it could continue increasing especially considering the building materials. Despite modern developments and affordable solutions, these foreign styles are not necessarily sustainable.

Advantage of Using Indigenous Materials in Filipino Architecture

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Bahay Kubo

The greenest methods and materials do not necessarily have to come from foreign influence or futuristic advancements. Sometimes, the greenest methods come from local ingenuity, history, and yes, natural resources.

Here is how the materials can be used.

Bahay Kubo

The Sawali Design Cue

The Sawali Design Cue

Popular in tropical countries, the Bahay Kubo has been designed with heat, humidity, and floods in mind. They are built lifted from the ground or on stilts so air could circulate from under, helping it cool, at the same time avoid significant flood levels.

With its indigenous concepts commonly referred to as the sawali, the Bahay Kubo is simple and remains effective today, especially when it comes to cooling. It is still naturally cooler than condos and houses, so with the right property type and space, as well as permitted landscape, the sawali can be applied to contemporary homes.



Probably one of the most commonly used indigenous materials in Filipino architecture, bamboo comprises about 80 to 90 percent of a typical Bahay Kubo. The material is versatile, so it can be used as strips, split, or whole timber varieties. It may be given the moniker “poor man’s lumber” and is usually used for furniture, bags, and wall décor, but it managed to experience a renaissance as a building material—thanks to increased interest in going green.

Today’s technology allows for bamboo to be cured. Bamboo has to be soaked in special solutions that eliminate the starches that make it susceptible to fire and termite infestation. It preserves the material, allowing it to last for as long as 30 years.

Rice Hull Ash Cement (RHAC)

Rice Hull Ash Cement

It is no longer practical to build a full-on Bahay Kubo these days, especially in the metro due to the risk of fire safety. Concrete is essential in modern homes, but the cement standard has a variety of ingredients, especially of volcanic origin, so it can be costly.

Ash from rice hulls or husks is an affordable and effective substitute. When burned under 700 to 750 degrees Celsius, the ash offers binding properties that make it a suitable additive to cement solutions. Rice is also common in the country, making it very sustainable in the long run.

Coconut Lumber

Coconut Lumber

Palm trees grow in different parts of the Philippines, but coconuts were planted primarily for harvesting purposes and its parts weren’t originally something that can be considered indigenous materials in Filipino architecture. Once the trees stop bearing fruit, farmers leave them to fall so that they can make way for new trees.

However, due to the increase in prices for more commonly used lumber variants, people have seen the exploration of palm trees as an alternative source. The once low-valued coconut trees have since then been promoted as a source of income for the lumber industry, with the material now being used as a source of veneer and other building products.

Santol Wood

Santol Wood

Santol or cotton fruit is quite common in the Philippines. What most people don’t realize, however, is that the santol fruit is ideal as a wood alternative. While the material is less dense compared to other wood variants, it is actually very easy to work with. With correct curing, this wood is highly resistant to wood borers, making it ideal to use as a skeletal framework.

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