In 1924, Floro Santos, a publishing executive at Philippine Free Press, built along Foch Street (now P. Guevarra) in Brgy. Little Baguio, San Juan, what would become the home for his family of eight children. Floro and his wife Maria called the two-story abode Villa Floro. It was one of the early houses built in the area.
The property is a good example of a 20th century American colonial era bahay na bato at kahoy or stone and wood house. It has capiz shell sliding windows, ventanillas, a metal openwork fascia, and lyre-shaped fretworks.
Over the decades, the residence has witnessed several historic events—it was a venue for social and civic affairs and a safe refuge during the war. The structure survived World War II by some miracle, but not the rapid developments that came with the passing of time.
The lot in P. Guevarra where the house was built was passed on as inheritance to the three descendants of Amelia Santos Barretto, the daughter of Floro and Maria. Since the house stood right in the middle of the lot, there was no way it could stay in its original location once the lot is divided among the all-female Barretto children. Fortunately, one of the three sisters, Amanda Barretto-Lim, was interested in keeping the house.
For many years, the now 98-year old property showed the usual signs of deterioration—fading paint and varnish, moisture damage on the wooden ceiling planks. Some panels of the capiz shell windows had missing pieces and their sliding mechanism were no longer watertight. When heavy rains accompanied by strong winds occur, the holes needed to be plugged in with rags.
Enter Dr. Gerard Lico. The task given to the architect and his Arc Lico International was to dismantle and reconstruct the house to a new site located along M. Infante Street. The project also entailed making the house weatherproof and earthquake resistant. Additional spaces were incorporated to meet the current needs of the residents, among them an audio-visual room, a gym, a modern kitchen, a home office, a six-car garage, and a personal gallery for the owner’s art collection.
It took three years—from July 2018 to July 2021—to complete what Lico’s firm considers “a groundbreaking feat in hybrid conservation in the Philippines.” In a Facebook post, Lico says Villa Floro, now called Casa Floria, is “a testament to the feasibility of moving old houses, infusing them with contemporary use and technology while honoring the past.”
By “hybrid” Lico means to say the use of both original and new materials to honor the structure’s past while making sure the building will thrive through time and current realities. “Thus dismantling and rebuilding the house, combining original and new materials with all its character-defining elements, memories, and significance intact is how,” Lico says,” we practice the ‘Hybrid Conservation Approach’.”
The firm’s efforts did not go unnoticed. Villa Floro won Best Project at the UNI Adaptive Reuse '22 International Architecture and Design Awards. The awarding body honors the best built and unbuilt projects in architecture, design and related fields.
Homeowner Barretto-Lim says her neighbors in M. Infante Street have welcomed the house warmly. “They say it is like an oasis in a concrete jungle,” she shares. “My hope is for this house to serve as an inspiration for others to preserve their old houses. [It’s proof] That old houses can be livable.”
Photos courtesy of Gerard Lico