Dec. 10, 2021, Manila, Philippines – Horizon Manila by WTA Architecture and Design Studio is the 2021 WAFX Project of the Year at the 2021 World Architecture Festival (WAF). The project was awarded as the winner of the WAFX Water Category in July 3, 2021 and was announced overall winner during the last session of the last day of WAF, December 3, 2021. 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 is a 419-hectare reclamation project that is currently the largest reclamation project in the City of Manila. The project is meant to serve as a new hub for growth and development for one of the densest and largest mega cities of the 21st century. Its concept – the Manileño – presents a bottom-up community-centric organic growth model in contrast with the archetypal command-driven top-down master plan. It centers on creating shared experiences and building distinct community identities by establishing soft boundaries and edges.
This masterplan is composed of 3 islands bisected by a 4 km long canal park that recalls the identity of the Tagalog (River) people who settled along the mouth of the Pasig River. It focuses on people and local activities as the main determinant for diverse and organic growth. The goal is to grow 28 unique communities or barangays along the water’s edge. Each of the 28 communities will have its own development guidelines and will promote mixed-use development in each locality. Barrier-free developments with complete accessibility for all, such as open spaces and parks, will be obligatory and urban infrastructure promoting social connectivity will be the defining framework for the city. Shared experiences that tie the communities together are developed through activated public spaces with programs that strengthen the vitality of the streetscape. Placemaking features that stimulate local experiences define these spaces. They range from the ubiquitous streetball culture of Manila to lush tropical gardens, from water gardens to civic and religious plazas. Each place is a kernel of ground activity that evokes the culture and lifestyle of Manileños.
William Ti’s Horizon Manila (aka Manileño) just won one of the World Architecture Festival’s “of-the-Year” prizes and he’s already planning his entries for 2022
Interview Judith Torres Images World Architecture Festival and WTA Architecture + Design
It is 2:16 in the morning in Manila, 6:16 in the evening in London. My editor messages me in all-caps: WILLIAM TI WON OVERALL WAFX. At 2:22, he rings (I made him promise to call) but I am dead to the world. William Ti is awake, tending to his bonsai. The guy is an insomniac. He isn’t paying attention to the World Architecture Festival’s final program of the day because both his projects had already lost in their categories.
Then at 2:30 AM, a lone beep from William’s phone.
“Congrats! 😍” it says. For what? He wonders, a bit confused.
“What’s up?” he messages back. The friend forwards a tweet:
“Woooooooooh!!! I didn’t know!! Haha.” William calls his girlfriend in London, who isn’t paying WAF any mind, either. Excited by the news, she messages friends in Manila. But everyone except Andy Locsin, it seems, is asleep. “Congrats Will! A great win… two thumbs up!” messages Andy, who served as one of William’s mock jurors at the practice crits Kanto and GROHE organized for this year’s finalists.
Fortunately, Kanto is ready. The day before, my editor Patrick Kasingsing and I had prepared an article, Horizon Manila is WAFX Project of the Year, complete with excerpts of his winning WAFX presentation. So, oblivious as I and most of the Philippines architectural community was to the historic news, all Patrick had to do was click “publish” and our work for our coverage was done.
No, wait, we’re not done until the WAF major prize winner sings, of course!
Congratulations, William! I am just so in awe of how persevering you are. This is the fourth WAF you have joined, and Horizon Manila is your seventh shortlisted project. I am so happy you have been rewarded this year! Did you not have any inkling at all?
No, talaga! I didn’t even know the WAFX was out yet. I wasn’t watching because we knew that we lost the categories already. So I wasn’t really paying attention anymore.
But your panel with Peter Finch, Jeremy Melvin, and Jonathan Rose went well.
The discussion was awesome. We had an hour to talk, so it was substantial. Well, the hard part about reclamation is the justification for it, right? I think they got the idea that, okay, it’s population density that is the rationale for it, among all the other problems Manila has.
Which of their comments did you appreciate most?
When they started to ask about how we can actually build a community. And then the idea of how much impact it’s going to have on Metro Manila. I think they really bought into that. And I really do think this project will have a really big impact on Metro Manila.
They didn’t have a problem with reclamation because there are great examples of it around the world, Singapore and Amsterdam they mentioned several times.
They assume that when someone proposes reclamation, it’s going to be done responsibly. So, while there were a couple of questions from the audience about ecological impact and safety, you didn’t get bogged down debating the evils and lesser evils of reclamation.
Right. The edge of Manila Bay is already reclaimed land. Through the years as we reclaimed more and more land, it’s become a hard edge. And if you look at the water, it’s brown water. There are no fisheries or mangroves in the area. And that is what we will reintroduce. Also, the ecological impact is greatly minimized because we’re just basically taking sand from one part of the bay to another part.
There were two things they found most compelling. First, that Manila has an undeniable water legacy, which you quoted Daniel Burnham on, and which Jeremy Melvin, WAF’s curator, quoted back to you.
Water is part of our identity. The idea is to reintroduce water into people’s daily lives and provide a greater number of people access to these waterways. And that’s more important, really, than even making beautiful communities along the water, but about letting people actually get to the waterfront.
Second, your strategy to grow Manileño resonates with our culture and political make-up. Your proposal to nurture 28 districts or barangays really fascinated them.You mentioned they would have different densities and vectors of growth, different attractions (not just all malls), right.
Yes. each barangay is mixed-use. Each of the 28 has its own distinct housing typologies, ranging from villas to apartments and condominiums, even dormitories. And what we’re proud of is this affordable public housing district planned to house about 10,000 families—about ten percent of Manila’s informal settlers. So, it’s ten percent of our housing problem.
Housing needs a robust and vibrant local bubble to support it, so we use public space as something that reinforces this. What Horizon does is it actually increases available park space to every Manileño by 50 percent. It provides green sites, it provides space for people to breathe and grow. And yet, open space itself does not provide a complete urban lifestyle, right. We need to provide points of interest. And it’s these different points of interest that allow you to enjoy living in a city.
I think the lessons from a city like ours and Tokyo is that a megacity cannot be planned in command-and-control mode anymore. They’re too big and unwieldy for top-down planning. It has to be more like growing something organically, more like an ecosystem than a blueprint.
Though you would still need some development control, otherwise, it could be chaotic like Metro Manila, whose cities can’t get their act together.
A polycentric city is actually good, Judith. It’s just that, of course, the interconnectivity between each center is the question, right. So, Metro Manila being polycentric is not bad; it being fragmented in governance is the culprit behind the chaos. Kind of like the US now during the pandemic, right, each state with their conflicting policies, fending for themselves.
This idea of the 28 barangays, each with unique experiences and building typologies rather than a uniform gesture throughout, was it inspired by principles you learned in your master’s in urban planning at NUS?
Honestly, it’s because I grew up in Tondo. Haha! I still remember my barangay, Barangay 244. The barangay revolved around playing basketball in the street. And that brought us together, people from different walks of life, right. I think it shows how a community grows around a shared experience. And that’s something our architecture has always been looking to and addressing, like the Book Stop (WTA’s shortlisted project at WAF 2016)—the hyperlocal stuff. And that, I think, could be our contribution to the global conversation on architecture. I feel it’s something we can expand on, what with the entire Philippines being made of barangays, right?
Yeah. The Pinoy’s propensity to identify with his tribe rather than the Philippines as a nation is seen as a weakness but you’re putting it out there as a strength.
Well, if you look at how we responded during the pandemic, right, everything was coursed through the barangay. Because it’s the frontline. There are lessons from the barangays that are useful for developing neighborhoods.
I am very heartened by the different residential typologies. Affordable housing for 10,000 families ensures a mixed-income development, which private developers don’t embrace—they all want to be “exclusive.” So people can’t afford to live in their developments and we’re stuck with the same old problem of workers commuting from far-away bedroom communities to the office buildings in the fancy new CBDs.
But I think the most fantastic feat, William, would be implementing your ideas. How will you safeguard against cutting corners? Who’s your advocate?
Well, we’ve been working very closely with the developer. And the more positive reactions you get, the more encouraged the developer is to follow the plan, right. That’s really my interest in this and why I’ve put the concept and the plans out there.
William, what are the non-negotiables for you where Horizon Manila’s implementation is concerned?
I want the canal park in with the water retention program, I want the mangroves, I want the public waterfront and the loop in the tram system. Just those systems in place and I’m sure it’s a better city already. Of course, the parks and certain public buildings. That’s it. Those things will change how we look at our city. If I can get those things in, I’ll happily retire.
What impact do you hope this WAFX win will have?
Manileños get to be who we are. People of the river, people who came from the sea. It kind of says that we shouldn’t change who we are to fit modern society. I’m not saying we should all live in vernacular nipa huts, right. I’m saying how we live as a people is significant—how we have our own neighborhoods, how our barangays shape us, how we like to have spaces where we can actually congregate. Have you seen Barcelona with eateries in the middle of the street? That is a physical representation of tambayan on the street, right. I think we need to seek out the things that make us Filipino—not the materials we build with, but how we live and how we structure our neighborhoods that are distinctly Filipino. That’s something to explore further.
How many of you and how long did you work on this, William?
A good 15, maybe 20 people for six to eight months.
How frequently did you meet and discuss?
Everyday! In all honesty, because of the pandemic, I had time to focus on this. If it were not for the pandemic, I would not have spent so much time trying to figure it out. Like, we really like sat down and talked things over and researched. Okay, this is how we can do it. Or this is how it’s done. But then maybe it can be done a different way. And okay, if we do it this way, is it better? Yes. Why don’t people do it? Because they can’t be bothered. Because they’re not paid enough. They don’t have the time to think of all the details.
The usual masterplan does not include detailed stuff. It’s always zoning, major highways, a golf course… throw in the big gestures. Imagine if you had to fill 400 hectares? The easiest way to fill up a 440-hectare development is by inserting big chunks. No one wants to comb through a plan with a fine-tooth comb and figure out what happens at smaller scales.
But that’s what guarantees life and vibrancy.
And that’s how it should be done. Because if you want to do something new, then you’re researching and trying to figure out a new way of doing things, which takes so much more time. If you’re doing it the way you know how to do it, just doing the same thing as before, you can fast-track the plan. But to do something different, you have to figure things out, it’s like coming up with your own formula.
Will you still join WAF now that you’ve won a major prize?
We know what we’re entering next year. It’ll be the same as this year, one that everyone’s gonna love, one that everyone’s gonna hate.
People don’t hate your ideas, William. It’s fear and a lack of trust in government and big business, especially because of the magnitude of the project.
Well, this new project is a big one. It isn’t by the water, so there probably won’t be as much pushback.
How about some words of encouragement to young Filipino architects who’ve got a vision of a better world?
We’re talking about a human environment that we’re trying to make for each and every one of us. And that’s why architecture is our passion. Because what we do actually manages to move the needle forward. We’re not just saying, “We have a beautiful city want to preserve.” We’re saying, “We want to build a better city.” That’s really significant because each and every architect, you know, will change this city. The more we plan for positive social impact, the faster that change will come.
And what is the relevance of WAF to all of this?
It proves that Filipino architects are good, that we know what we’re doing, and can contribute to the global conversation on architecture. We have this tendency to fear, to be insular. We say, “Why are we doing modern architecture from the West?” But it’s a global dialogue, we live in a global village. If we have contributions to offer to the pot, then there is no shame in taking from it.
That’s what we need to do, put in our own contributions, add flavor, and eat from the same dish. So that’s really why WAF and all these global platforms are valuable. They allow us to say, “We exist! Hey, we’re doing good things and you can borrow from us as much as we can borrow from you guys.”
That’s our hope, you know, because there’s only so much you can build yourself. Like now, I’m not really looking at projects I can do as an architect (the firm has some 40 projects ongoing). More like, what ideas can we come up with and delve deeper into, and hopefully others can take off from those ideas. Because we can only build so much ourselves and it’s how many others we influence that matters. That’s what I think.
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.
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 Horizon Manila?
According to the World Architecture Festival (WAFX), Horizon Manila is a 419-hectare masterplan designed to serve as a new hub for growth and development for the Philippines’ capital.
“The new district is composed of three islands bisected by a 4km canal park, creating many different waterside neighbourhoods, gardens and urban parks, to allow for a diverse, and permeable urban environment to evolve,” wrote WAFX on its awards page.
According to WTA Architecture and Design Studio, this project will reclaim 0.2 pecent of the bay and provide almost 10 percent 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 percent 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,” WTA said.
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.