The WAFX Award herald’s the world’s most forward-looking architectural concepts, and is awarded to future projects that identify key challenges that architects will need to address in the coming years. Horizon Manila by WTA Architecture and Design Studio is the overall winner of the 2021 WAFX Award at the 2021 World Architecture Festival after first winning the WAFX Water Category.
What is the future? When you close your eyes and try to imagine a better tomorrow what is it you see? Do you see flying cars and cities on mars? Or do you see a better world of green fields and white shores? When I think of tomorrow, all I want to see and hear are children playing and laughing; creating memories in thriving communities. The future is all about the next generation. It is about us finding a way to prosper in the human environments we have built for ourselves.
Manila is the capital of the Philippines and the center of a growing Metropolitan region of 30 million souls. It is the densest city on earth and houses over 1.78 million people in what limited land is left for living space. The incredible pressures put upon this scarcity has created an almost unbearable living condition for many of its people. People travel 3-4 hours each day just to get to study or work in Manila. Behind this veil of urban misery and pain however is a beautiful city with mountains to the east, a lake in the southeast, and the bay to its west. A city of canals and rivers, of plazas and of distinct communities and closely knit neighborhoods. It is a city of happy people, where you hear children laugh and play on the streets.
Horizon Manila is a 419 hectare reclamation project in Manila Bay. This project will reclaim 0.2% of the bay and provide almost 10% more land to Manila. It is about finding space for 150,000 Manileños at the geographical and political heart of our country. It will increase the available public open space by over 50% in the city with its canal park and provide almost 20km of waterfront living. It is an incredible opportunity to reimagine what Manila can be in the future.
A reclamation project means having to consider the blank landscape that you get. We introduced geography into this greenfield site by creating 3 islands connected by a canal park that serves as a center for the urban valley that’s created by the built form surrounding it. This urban valley is the setting for the different communities at Horizon.
Communities grow around common interests anchored by shared spaces. We wanted to grow distinct communities and we wanted to determine what makes communities. We wanted to simultaneously grow 28 diverse communities that are reflective of the barangays that are the basic blocks of our country.
Each of these communities or barangays grow around a shared common ground that is reflective of the various historical districts of Manila. Where you can walk from Divisoria to Binondo, to Sta Cruz and Raon, from Ermita to Intramuros, from Malacanang to Espana. It is this great diversity of urban neighborhoods that gives character to each district and barangay and makes Manila distinct and dynamic.
We wanted to complete this ecosystem of neighborhoods by inserting various urban amenities and public spaces. We’re creating new neighborhoods that grow around botanical gardens and museums, theaters and shopping streets. The main fabric or framework of this masterplan is about the various social interactions that lead to the growth of small hyperlocal communities. This is the solution we propose for how to grow and manage a megacity like Metro Manila. This creates an almost pixelized more digestible kind of urbanity. Where each pixel serves as a hyperlocal barangay that provides a mix of typologies and uses centered around a common ground.
Master planning a city in the 21st century is not about a top-down command and control perspective. It is about growing more human and more organic communities. It is about a very human and social environment.
Each of the 28 communities in Horizon will have its own vectors of growth, different centers of gravity, and varying intensities of development. They can grow simultaneously around the various seeded points of interest that serve as individual catalysts. Communities will grow around schools and churches, around ball courts and parks, around plazas that harken back to the Law of the Indies that has shaped each and every Filipino town or city. They can grow around shopping streets and theater rows, around innovation labs and wellness centers, around markets and fairgrounds that serve as the heart of all Filipino communities.
Each of the 28 barangays are designed to grow individually but also link together and form an urbanistic relationship as we would find in any healthy ecosystem and generate faster and more balanced growth.
We are trying to build human environments that prioritize not just social interactions, but also strengthen personal mobility in the most traffic congested city in the world. We are building a city where you are always 400 meters away from the nearest tram or ferry station and anywhere in the 3 islands is always just 15 minutes away. This is done with three intersecting major road loops formed by tree-lined sidewalks and bike lanes, arcaded walkways and a tram line that connects the 3 islands. More than half of Horizon’s streetscape will be primarily pedestrian. This is reflected in the pedestrian roads and bridges that crisscross the islands.
This is the kind of human environment we want to build an environment overlaid upon green networks that will bring back bird songs into our daily life, like that of the humble maya that we used to see everywhere in our city. These green corridors serve not just the wildlife but allow us to comfortably walk across the 3 islands all the way to the water’s edge.
How do you get us Pinoys to walk under the hot tropical sun? We’ve interspersed points of interest distributed every 400 meters or so that pique the interest of the curious Pinoy. Whatever direction you walk in, there is always something interesting going on just around the corner, and these barrier-free public spaces will always be open and allow you to join in. We’ve also created a diversity of building heights that allow us to shade the streets. The districts have building densities that alternate between shaded and open neighborhoods so you’re never too long under the sun or in dark shade.
The critical need for more housing in Manila is addressed with a diversity of housing typologies and densities. One of the key features of Horizon is the incorporation of the city’s first CBD public housing program. Providing instantly inhabited districts that not just further quickens growth and development, but also provides public housing for 8-10,000 families. This assures the new city of access to service workers who are the vital lifeblood of its day to day operations.
Public Space and Sustainability
Civic spaces are a critical component of nation building. Public housing needs to be reinforced by much needed public space. Horizon Manila will provide an additional 50% of open green space to the city. This access to public space allows us to reconnect with nature and allow us to reconsider our relationship with public space. Manileños perceive the fronts of our homes as the only public space we own. This lack of connection is what leads to detachment from and degradation of our public parks and waterways.
The reintroduction of canals, reservoirs, and waterways into our city serves to rekindle the memory of what it means to live by the river. This is at the core of what it means to be Tagalog, people of the river. Awareness is created and strengthened by exposure. The canal fronts and seafronts of Horizon will always remain public and showcase a diversity of experiences. The shoreline will reclaim our lost mangroves with over 70% of the shoreline planted with mangroves. This allows everyone to walk all the way to the water’s edge and enjoy walks by the shore with the sunset and the skyline view. This will be the reclamation of our legacy.
One of our legacies will be how we deal with the unfortunate annual water scarcity we are faced with. This is the greatest challenge for our future. Horizon will provide over 3 million cubic meters of freshwater reserve by harnessing and collecting the annual rainfall that falls on our islands. This will be able to serve over 5 months of reserve and provide freshwater back to the old city.
City of Tomorrow
We named this project Manileño to highlight the focus on our people. We look at the future as uncertain. Technology is uncertain. What is certain is the continuation of the thread of life. Cities are about people. The future is about building strong communities. Our communities are about life. Life by the water. Life in our beautiful city of Manila.
Read the article by D+C.