Bahay kubo: The vernacular heritage of theBahay kubo: The vernacular heritage of the

Bahay kubo: The vernacular heritage of the Philippines


The pre-colonial Philippine architectural design was defined using the native houses on stilts known as the bahay kubo or the Philippine provincial cube house. Even though wooden houses on stilts are built all over Southeast Asia, the bahay kubo is referred today as “ethnic” or “traditional” to Philippine dwelling (Yamaguchi, 2016). It is built out of indigenous and organic materials which are readily available, climate appropriate and it exemplifies the design principles of a ‘green’ vernacular and traditional dwelling. Typically, the bahay kubo is made out of two essential parts: 1) the private area which is raised above the ground where occupants can store their belongings and rest, and 2) the kitchen – usually detached or an extension of the roof of the private area that is built on the ground (Klassen, 1986). Every region in the Philippines has its own version of the bahay kubo but share common features like; the house is raised above ground by post or stilts; serviceable space for the basement or silong; tall and steep thatch roofing; and large awning windows.

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The distinctive traditional architectural models that most modern Filipino architects make references to as Filipino style is the bahay kubo (Figure 1) and the bahay na bato (Figure 2). Moreover, the bahay kubo is an indigenous domestic house while bahay na bato has been a product of reciprocation between Filipino and Spanish people which were developed in the 19th century as a domicile of choice among the wealthy populace (Zialcita & Tino, 1996) and derived its spatial arrangement from the pre-colonial style native hut.




By tradition, bahay kubo is built out of organic materials, on a post and lintel structure fabricated with bamboo and banded together by vines with dried palm leaves or cogon grass thatch roofing. This type of building construction is not exclusive to the Philippines. This methodology is also typified by the Indo-Malayan architecture across Southeast Asia (Trota, 1992). Although each house type in the Southeast Asian region has its own distinctive character, they all share common building features such as 1.) he main house are built on stilts, 2.) the interior of the house utilizes open space planning and 3.) the use of organic and indigenous materials. The logic of building on stilts has more to do with health, comfort, aesthetics, and understanding the building material, rather than the over simplistic reason to avoid a flood (Sudin, n.d). Moreover, the use of slanting roof is sensible in an unpredictable tropical climate. The sharp roof pitch allows quick removal of rainwater and forms a sloping ceiling best for ventilation.

The longhouse in Borneo (Figure 3) and rumah bolon (Figure 4) of Indonesia are fine example of stilt house that were built on the same method as the bahay kubo. What differs bahay kubo from most of its Southeast Asian counterparts are its size and use of space (Sakili, 2000). The longhouse in Borneo and the stilt house in Indonesia were built to accommodate the whole clan or community.  On the other hand, the bahay kubo was constructed for a single family. However, the construction of either house would require community participation (Alarcon, 1991). Affluent homeowners engage the help of master craftsmen, while a common family gets the whole community involved, regardless of who is the builder.

Figure 3. Longhouse of Borneo


Figure 4. Rumah bolon of Indonesia




By Philippine tradition, village dwelling is constructed with the help of the community, which includes neighbors who are often considered as relatives (Noche, 2006). Building a bahay kubo will require a number of people, more so, to transfer the entire house, if the family wants to relocate (Lichauco, 2000). This activity is known as bayanihan, which means communal unity to achieve a common good and giving voluntary assistance out of camaraderie. The bayanihan (figure 5), originally referred to neighbors moving a house to a new location has been depicted by the paintings of Filipino masters like Fernando Amorsolo and Carlos Francisco as icons of revered Filipino traits of being compassionate and sense of volunteerism.


The bahay kubo has evolved through the ages. Its vernacular and traditional building construction principles gave way to many historic houses and edifices that was built after the pre-colonial era. The Spanish colonialization of the Philippines in 1521 to 1898, and by the Americans in 1898 to 1933, had greatly influenced the culture and lifestyle of the Filipinos, replacing the ones made by the natives from the built environment, language, culture, and the arts (Zialcita & Tino,1996).

A new architectural design was created during the colonial period of Spain, this was evident in the houses that were built in stone and wood construction (Locsin, 1993). The bahay na bato (house of stone) is a typical example of arquitectura mestiza or mixed architecture, a hybrid of Philippine and Spanish design built in stone on the ground floor and wood or timber of the upper floor (Villalon, 2002). What makes the bahay na bato (Figure 6) noteworthy is that the fundamental form of the house stayed precisely the same as the bahay kubo, but the bahay na bato’s elevated wooden skeletal building was walled by a stone shell on the ground floor and a wooden covering on the upper floor (Hellman, 2000). Instead of a thatched roofing, the bahay na bato was designed using tejas, a fired terracotta roof tiles (Manahan, 1994). And its enclosure, functions as ventilation made entirely of ventanas, a

sliding lattice window glazed in capiz (translucent shell).


On the other hand, during the American period, a new colonial architectural model (Figure7) has been adopted widely with little regard to the tropical climate of the Philippines (Yamaguchi, 2017).  New materials such as concrete, metal and glass were introduced, likewise the frame construction method which makes the house structure

lighter and freed from the boxlike form of the bahay na bato.


The design of the modest Filipino dwelling has changed dramatically during the American period, imported styles in a chalet-type and bungalow houses designed in a Victorian manner were among the preferred styles of the wealthy locals. Although the prevailing design style in America in the 1900s was Art Deco, Victorian house style with iron railing, stained glass windows and tower-like structures became popular in the Philippines (Yap, 2000). This design made possible by the interpretations of the Pensionados (Filipino scholars of 1903) who went to the United States to study architecture, engineering and administration at the expense of the colonial government.

The organic, renewable and readily available materials were replaced with concrete, metal and glass which created interior environmental consequences to an American suburban type of house in the Philippines (Oliveros, & Baltazar-Florendo, 2013). Most residential and commercial establishments were built enclosed in glass and concrete walls, often become unbearable during the summer season. Thus, air conditioning units were required. And the flat roofing, which was common during that period, were not suited for the torrential rains. Preference over mechanical and equipment dependent houses against the natural passive cooling strategies of the traditional dwelling was favored among urban residents. In many places, the traditional bahay kubo and bahay na bato was replaced by a more modern and light structured building despite the problems and adaptability issues.

During the Spanish and American colonial periods and even today, the house on stilts is the basic residential style, especially in the rural areas (Espina, 2001). This supposedly native style house was always an antonym for permanent urban houses. Often compared with the bahay na bato, equating these to the poor/wealthy dichotomy (Yamaguchi, 2017). Moreover, the bahay kubo being part of the quotidian life of the Filipinos is often overlooked, underappreciated, and misunderstood (Mayo, 1991).