Monday, November 19, 2012

Estudio Damgo - Support a Sustainable Cause

We have reached our fundraising goal!

From all of us at Estudio Damgo, we are thankful for your generous support.  The following is a message of gratitude from Amy and Ray:

Can it really only have been two weeks??

...But here we are - only TWO WEEKS into the campaign - and we have already received $3,800 from friends and family all over, with more donations coming in.  This - coupled with our incredible MATCHING DONOR - means Malaunay is getting her daycare (complete with new furniture)!!  And Year2 Estudio Damgo funding is already underway... Wow.

It is humbling and touching and incredible to see our widespread network come together so quickly.  Even those of you with whom we haven't spoken in years, and those who may not even know us personally, but you saw a good thing happening in the Philippines and wanted to help.  All we needed to do was ask.  Thank you, thank you - we could never say it enough.

Amy & Ray

'Tis the season to be thankful and nurture gifts from the heart.  In light of the holidays, Estudio Damgo is asking for your gift to support the construction of the daycare which is scheduled to be substantially complete by March 2013.  The estimated material costs are around $8,500 (or 350,000 Philippine pesos).  Currently, we have raised about $1,000 (or PHp43,000) $3,500 (PHp145,000).  Please go to the donation site (click on the button at the top of this page) to help offset costs for building materials, fuel our trucks, and lunches for students and volunteers who are working hard to complete this project.  We have an anonymous patron who will be matching all donations; which means if 150 75 people donate as little as $25, we've covered our costs. There is an option to donate tax deductible through the website starting Monday, November 26.

This is an exemplary project on many levels.  Foremost, Estudio Damgo is building a daycare to support the needs of a rural community.  With this pioneering design-build opportunity the project promotes honest design and craft for public welfare and demonstrates that architecture can be a service for the 99%.  This is especially critical in the Philippines, where these concepts are less practiced.  

The Estudio Damgo is a pilot program for teaching architecture students a skill set different from traditional architecture studios where students learn by doing; which means they have to work out the details on a real project.  Also, students walk away with a foundation in community and sustainable design that will ultimately have a rippling affect towards the greater, public good.

Thank you for all the positive feedback to this blog! I've really enjoyed sharing my story with you and hope you will continue reading.  Thank you in advanced for your generous gift.  Warm wishes this holiday season.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rice is Life

Today I participated in my first organized athletic event.  A shout out to Katie Alberg, Rebecca Cook, and Eileen Burns you'd be proud, that I ran the 10K in the annual Dam Marathon hosted by our university.  It was mandatory that all students and faculty run at least a 10K.  As the days were nearing the event, around campus, more and more people were asking if I was going to run.  After some deliberation, I decided that I should stay in stride with the school's policy and run this course.

To beat the heat, we had to register and be at the start line by 4:30am.  The gun (or fireworks in this case) went off at 5am and @ 3,000 participants were off to a starlit guided tour of the city and surrounding countryside.  For the more serious runners, the course is named the "adventure marathon" because it is routed up through the foothills outside of Dumaguete, where competitors must dodge rocks, weave through tropical fruit trees, and balance over makeshift bamboo bridges.  The 10K course stayed within Dumaguete's city limits.  I finished with the morning tropical sun, piercing the time clock at 1 hour and 20 minutes.  Not a bad time considering I didn't train and my running shoes were chaco sandals.  It was so exciting to see the first marathon runner (he was Kenyan) sprint through the finish line at about 2 hours and 30 minutes!  So impressive.  The experience was less daunting than expected.  I'd do it again, and maybe next year I will actually train for it and wear the appropriate shoes.

*The Dam Marathon is the only marathon that celebrates rice.  It is sponsored by PhilRice partners hence the slogan "Rice is Life".

 Architecture instructors smiling after the run.  Richter Tia, me, and Ray Villanueva.

Stretching it out after the 10K.

Estudio Damgo - Week 2

This week on the job site in Malaunay, it's all about site work, excavation, and getting dirty!  Student's learn first hand how important site access is to a construction site.  The project is located in a rural barangay, or small village, in the foot hills outside of Dumaguete.  The road we take to the site is narrow and follows the Okoy river.  There are a lot of twists and turns in our commute, and to make this journey even more difficult, the last kilometer of the road is under construction, which means we have to off load the dump truck and trek everything up a steep and rocky hill to the job site.

This glitch in coordination lends to creative problem solving methods on how to haul 100 hollow concrete blocks up the hill.  The students approach is to team up and slip the blocks onto a wooden post.  This method looks easier than it was.  It was challenging to haul even two blocks up the hill, we had to take several breaks in the shade.  Nevertheless, as we were climbing the hill, the elementary students came running down to greet us.  Some even helped carry the blocks up to the job site.  It was very heart warming to see two girls, no more than 10 years old, take a stick and haul a concrete block in the same manner.  They managed to get the block all the way to the job site, proudly smiling with sweaty brows.

Students unloading the 100 concrete blocks from the dump truck.

Much progress has been made by the full-time, fifth year students.  The daycare foot print has been marked out by nylon line.  Our task today was to erect a shade tarp and shovel out the new septic tank.  Many of the students find it easier to work barefoot.  This would not be tolerated in the states, but everyone is very aware and agile, and nobody came close to stubbing toes or clawing their foot with the shovel.  Thank goodness.  At the end of the day, we managed to excavate about 1/3 of the total volume required for the new septic system.  Fifth year students will enlist volunteers to help finish up the work to stay on schedule this week. 

Fifth year students, Rick and Von with foreman Jay, plumb temporary forms for the the hollow blocks soon to be placed in the newly, excavated trenches.

Fourth year student, Efren, lifts a huge rock from the septic excavation site.  It was the largest of a number of stones we ran into all day.

Students wait out the heavy rains that suddenly rolled in at the end of the work day.  We had to pull over the dump truck and take cover on our trip home until the rain lifted enough for the passengers to ride in the back without cover.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Balikbayan Box is Here!

The balikbayan box is unique to the Philippines and standard practice for Filipino families living in the United States to stuff a 24x18x24 cardboard box full, ship it across the wide Pacific, to end up in the hands of their relatives living in the Philippines.  Anything can be shipped, as long as it fits.  Weight isn't an issue because the boxes are transported at a flat rate by a slow moving container ship.

On board with this plan, I packed a balikbayan box from Seattle, WA before I left to transfer architecture books, construction tools (for the design build studio), and of course, many of my favorite Seattle comforts.  I shipped the box from Seattle two months ago, and it has arrived today!  Much like a kid at Christmas, I finally got around to busting into the packaging and relish in the joy of being able to taste good chocolate, sip strong coffee, savor smoked salmon, and celebrate with a glass of wine.  One of the unexpected surprises were two bundles of dried sage that I harvested from Eastern Washington.  The smell of the sage was a wonderful impetus to reflect on fond memories of my time spent on the arid side of the Cascades.  Truly a gift touching on all my senses.

As I was unloading my things from the box, I took a moment to read an article Takeshi-san (my Japanese housemate) gave to me because he was mentioned as a Dumaguete resident artist to watch. Reading the art section in, Smile; a Magazine for Cebu Pacific, it highlighted all that Dumaguete has to offer creative types.  The young progressive vibe present here is partly due to being a university town for the Central Vasayan region.  Dumaguete is home to four universities and three colleges; the article states, "a kind of place that draws out this kind of enthusiastic, innovative involvement: small enough to remain personal and manageable, big enough to attract and absorb people from all over and the worldly influence they bring."
This article has shifted my perception of Dumaguete, Takeshi-san, and my potential here.  Dumaguete may be a diamond in the rough. It's virtually a clean slate that has a beating heart to foster creative projects.  Networks are being woven and youthful, innovative resources may be tapped.  This can put a twinkle in a young architect's eye.  

Now that my things have arrived, the transition feels more complete.  The balikbayan box is a convenient option to ship items from the US to the Philippines; however, this service doesn't work in reverse.  Is this an indicator that I'll be staying for a while longer?

Above: Unopened balikbayan box.
Below: Assorted items from the balikbayan box.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Teaching is Fun and Energizing!

I enter each month with an intention, (like it or leave it) it has been a regular practice for the past two years.  Witnessing many positive changes in my daily strides, I continue with an uplifting mantra that "teaching is fun and energizing" for the month of November.  Getting settled into my new home and job; I've transitioned from West to East, from professional practice to academic, and from a developed leading nation to a developing island.  This move requires a lot of patience and some undoing of old habits and patterns.  There have been moments where I have been concerned and questioned this undertaking, but at the end of the day, I see so many round, smiling faces happy to greet me, which eliminates any anxiety and doubt that may have been lingering in the periphery. Particularly, the first studio review that was conducted last Friday, assured me that teaching here was something worth venturing.

The students had two weeks to design and model their first studio assignment.  The assignment was a hypothetical corridor connecting two buildings set in a hypothetical industrial site.  The premise is to evaluate the student's current understanding of formal design elements: such as hierarchy, proportion, scale, rhythm etc., all derived from the bible of Frank Ching's Form, Space, and Order (and no other!)  This assignment also determines the student's capabilities regarding craftsmanship and time management, so as the semester progresses, more complex programs may be adjusted to meet realistic expectations.

It was fun to revisit the corridor assignment, for it was an inaugural studio project during my undergrad days at Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Thank goodness I kept my old studio programs, course syllabi, and readers throughout undergrad and graduate school.  These have been priceless! and it as been fun to relearn the programs through a teacher's lens.

As typical architectural studios go, the students showed me three examples of their design concepts and reworked them for the next week until they finalized a constructed model and sketch drawings of a plan, section, and elevation denoting Ching's formal design elements.  When Friday came around, I had invited three colleagues to review the student works.  Two were Filipino, male architects and the other, a German female art instructor.  It was a fantastic discussion!  I was quite impressed by the art instructor's comments.  Even though her formal training had not been in architecture, she was very explicit and thorough about each student's project.  It was energizing to have a lively discussion with colleagues, which benefited each student's assessment of their own work.    I was even more pleased when one of my students spoke with me after the reviews to share her enjoyment while listening to the contrasting comments between the Filipino architects and the German artist.  A great ending to the week!

Above: Two examples of student models that were constructed for the Friday review. Very Creative!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Estudio Damgo - First Day on Site

Today we had our first construction day on site for Estudio Damgo (Dream Studio).  Estudio Damgo is the first design+build studio ever taught in the Philippines.  Ray has been the lead instructor since last Spring when they organized the project to design and construct a daycare classroom for a small rural community in the foothills outside of Dumaguete.  The site is about a 30 minute commute from campus. Our transportation for getting to this remote site is an open air dump truck.  As we leave the city and climb into the rural countryside, the roads become more narrow, rocky, and steep.  We follow the Okoy river for most the way.  Evidence of washed out bridges are now under construction from past typhoons and flooding.  At one point there is a stink of sulfur, where a huge geological vent steams through holes in the rock a few meters from the roadway.
Above: The usual suspects from left to right in the bed of the dump truck: Efren, Rick, Von, Jay (back), Leigh, Daryl, Ray (back), Cheyenne (front), Rhea (back), and Al.
The new daycare is located on existing elementary school grounds.  When we arrived on site, the kids were shyly interested about all of the commotion.  Soon enough, they were back to being playful, curious, and slightly mischievous by running around us and some of the kids were lighting off fire crackers nearby.  We'll have to make sure the kids stay clear of the construction area when things get a little more serious.

Our first task was to clear out existing plantings and rocks located where the new daycare will be built.  We accomplished this in about an hour!  Good work guys.  Afterward, the elementary school teachers invited our group to eat freshly made chocolate rice, white beans with sardines and cooked rice.  I only ate the chocolate rice.  Yum.  Everyone was pleased to have that late morning snack before we made our return trip down the hill and back to campus.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

All Saints' Holiday

On November 1st and 2nd, Foundation U was closed for All Saints' Day.  Traditionally, this Catholic holiday is celebrated in the Philippines, like other Spanish colonized countries (Mexico etc.), families honor deceased relatives by decorating graves with flowers and burning candles.  This gives a whole new meaning to "All Hallows' Day" (Halloween). Taking advantage of having a four-day weekend, we decided to vacation at Camiguin Island.

It took us a full day to travel between Dumaguete and Camiguin.  We took two ferries, a van shuttle between the ferries, and multiple pedicabs/jeepneys.  It was well worth the day of travel to spend two full days on an island known for the sweetest lanzones fruit, White Island, seven volcanoes, and some of the largest clams found on the earth!

Above: Flowers take over the streets of Tagbilaran City, Bohol Island during All Saints' Day.  We had to pick up a van shuttle in this city to take us to the second ferry about an hour ride away.

Camiguin is only 64km around.  So it was easy to see most of the sites when we rented motorbikes the first full day on the island.  Our first tourist destination was to snorkel at the Giant Clam Sanctuary (located bottom right on the map).

The guide points out seven species of Giant Clams in this tank display before we head out to see them in their natural context.  The clams can get as old as 100 years.  The largest clam in this tank is only a teenager.
 Above: Unused Giant Clam shells collected and displayed.  My head could fit in that one to the left.

Above: While I was snorkeling, I accidentally brushed up against coral and it wasn't until after I was out of the water, that I noticed several scrapes on my left thigh.  The guide immediately took me aside, grabbed a few fruit pods from the ground, and crushed them onto the fresh wounds.  A few other sanctuary workers helped to apply this tropical/herbal remedy they called "NuNu".  It stung when it was applied, but they assured me it was a medicinal treatment for my ailment.

Above: Hazy clouds roll in while the sun is setting to the west.  The clouds foreshadow a rainy "monsoon" tone experienced the following day.  Our last day on Camiguin we took a ten minute boat ride out to White Island, which is essentially a sand bar north of the mainland.  White Island is constantly changing due to currents and human intervention.  The colors are brilliant here, set against the ashen, volcanic backdrop.

Picking up lanzones for the ride back to Dumaguete.
 Taking a lunch break on Bohol Island.  The food was fantastic at Nuts Huts resort.
After lunch, we took a river boat taxi to the town of Loboc on Bohol Island.  The civil engineers and planners of this bridge miscalculated its location.  The construction abruptly stopped to avoid a collision with the second oldest church in the Philippines. The church's facade dates back to 1596. The bridge is now an over sized pedestrian and viewing platform.
We took this green jeepney to the port to grab our last ferry home to Dumaguete.  While we were bumping along the dusty roads, two men came running up to get a ride.  In their hands, each were holding a cherished fighting cock, oiled and groomed for that evening's bout.