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This is where the retired diplomat-politician would rather be? pulling weeds or giving local farmers a better livelihood
AFTER LIVING the life of a diplomat and politician, former Senator Leticia Shahani now likes to spend her time pulling weeds in her Pangasinan home, or visiting her carabaos.

Her home in Urdaneta, Pangasinan, is a bahay kubo, symbolic of the simple life. However, it is not the traditional hut on stilts.

Its modern architecture derives from tradition, but using local materials. The house feels more like a resort with large cabanas overlooking rice paddies.

Shahani acquired two lots?one for her residence and another for a farm. A proponent of the fight against poverty and moral recovery through education, she wanted to give the farmers livelihood.

?Pangasinan is farming country,? she says. ?Unless you farm, you won?t understand what people are doing. The farmer has no other source of income except planting rice. The prices are controlled by the cartel. There?s no money to buy shoes for the children or clothes for the wife.?

The second lot is a carabao farm and a modest dairy processing unit.

With the help of Philippine Carabao Center, she aims to establish a demo carabao farm which doesn?t require much technology to breed carabaos and produce milk. ?It should be something an ordinary farmer can duplicate. It doesn?t need much money,? she says.

At 81, Shahani is still active as board member of the South Center, the think tank of Group of 77, and Dean of Miriam College?s International Humanitarian and Development Studies. In her free time, she hies off to her farm to try and help make the lives of farmers a little better.

Bold shape

She tapped her friend, architect Francisco Mañosa, to build a bahay kubo that would reflect her lifestyle as a farmer. Unlike her OFW neighbors who constructed medieval fortresses and Mediterranean-ish houses, Shahani?s residence expresses both a sense of home and a sense of place.

However, Mañosa warned her that a typical bahay kubo is an open plan, where every member of the family cooks, socializes, eats and sleeps. What about privacy, and what about her guests?

The architect then designed a bolder version of the bahay kubo. The effect was a cluster of individual and interconnected ?huts? designated as the kitchen and dining room and the four bedrooms. Each unit uses the same space aesthetic, such as lofty ceilings and wooden finishes.

Although Shahani?s bahay kubo is composed of multiple volumes, it blends with a farm setting, evoking a village effect.

The architecture has a powerful visual impact, with its modern abstraction and streamlined detailing. Yet it communicates strong elements of the past.

Like the typical bahay kubo, it stands on stilted columns that create a silong, an open space beneath the house. It provides a room for the driver.

The house bears Mañosa?s trademarks: the finials on the roof, canopies over the windows, and a slanted sunshade in the front resembling the tukod, areas for shared space and nine-meter-high pitched roofs.

Shahani admits she and her engineer fiddled with the design by creating a skylight over the atrium. That open space would be used for public programs and parties. Shahani notes that Mañosa?s dramatic volumes and grand scaling add luxury, despite the modest construction.

But there was one splurge. Since the traditional cogon roof would eventually decay and be blown off by typhoon, a thatched roof of German plastic was installed.

Shahani wanted the materials to be sourced locally. From her farm, she used several teak trees and mahogany for the flooring. The exception is one guest room, which used narra parquet recycled from her mother?s house.

Since bamboo flourishes in Pangasinan, most of the finishes were done by a local artisan, the late Alfredo Vicente. ?People think bamboo is a poor man?s material. I wanted a house which people would admire because of the bamboo,? she says.

DIY and ?under the tulay?

To prevent termites, the wood in her house was treated by Entom Pest Control, a company started by entomology students.

?I was DIY. I cut the teak and the wood, but I didn?t have an oven for drying. The wood was still moist when the house was being built. Where there?s moisture, there is bukbok. Entom injected the wood, and has been maintaining it.?

Everything is screened, including the traditional wooden slatted floors in the public areas.

Shahani furnished the space very sparsely?custom-made, baroque rattan furniture and lighting sconces and lamp shades by Vicente; spindle chairs and narra table from her home; heirloom Oriental jars and antique brass lamps from her mother and accessories from ?U.D.Tu? (as in ?Under the Tulay? or Quiapo bridge).

The soft furnishings are blankets from Ilocos and India. Before the coffee table was about to be built, Vicente died.

Shahani prefers the monastic and minimalist look, letting nature be the focal point. ?I don?t want too much furniture. I want the space,? she says. ?In this house you can be with others or be by yourself and enjoy nature. It?s built so you can enjoy the elements?the sunshine, the rain, the sounds of birds and crickets, the wind.?

The movement of light and shadow changes the ambience of the interiors throughout the day.

Although the house is traditional in concept, its openness to the landscape, abundance of sunlight, interplay of public and private spaces, and dramatic volume make this kubo genuinely modern.