ArchiKonst Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 1, Issue 69, January-March 2016



By:  J. Albert Gamboa

The isle of Boracay, in its virgin state, had no electrical or indoor plumbing. As recent as the early 1990s, its waters were clean, and concrete structures were prohibited on the beachfront – a far cry from the runaway commercialization today.

Such unregulated growth could potentially social disruptions. Filipinos should learn from the jewel of the Mediterranean coastline – Cote d’ Azur in the south of France – which has undergone more than a century of tourism development. Yet the French Riviera has retained its status among the most celebrated coastal destinations in the world.

Another shining example is Bang Rong, a small community in Phuket, Thailand where residents banded together in 2000 to form an agro-tourism association aimed at better managing the local hospitality industry. Bang Rong’s pier has evolved into a popular attraction, with kayaking tours around the mangroves. Residents of the self-sustaining community realized the importance of those mangroves that were instrumental in protecting them from the wrath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Boracay’s location in the province of Aklan, just off the northern coast of Panay Island in Western Visayas region, is strategically at the center of the Philippine map. Aklan is now booming, and several private companies are investing a total of PhP 20-billion for power and infrastructure development in the province over the next three years. These projects include solar, wind, and hydro power generation plants with a combined capacity of at least 70 megawatts.

Among the first to operate is Petro Energy’s wind farm in Nabas, a coastal town overlooking Boracay. In 2015, the project consisting of 18 wind turbine generators started feeding energy to the Visayas grid. This was Aklan’s maiden export of power sourced from the single biggest renewable energy venture in the province.

Investments are also on the rise in the municipality of Malay, which is home to Boracay’s three barangays. Ayala-owned Manila Water operates a 25-year concession there and is set to expand the coverage of its water supply business to the entire Aklan.

New resorts have sprouted on the front and back beaches of the “World’s Best Island” as voted by global readers of Travel + Leisure Magazine. The latest to open is the 285-unit Azalea Hotels and Residences, the first four-star quality serviced apartment-hotel on the island developed by the leisure arm of publicly-listed 8990 Holdings, Inc.

Azalea Boracay is a five-storey structure with apartment-sized suits on a sprawling 5,700 square meter property. Just a few steps away from the famous Bora shore, it is centrally located at the island’s main business district of Station 2, and is easily accessible via the Jetty Port Road.

Designed and built by GSN+p Architecture Studio, Azalea Boracay has a refreshing look that is spacious and wide open. Archt. Gene Arthur Go, Senior Managing Partner of GSN+p, said the project involved sustainable construction practices such as the use of LED lighting, low-flow toilet fixtures, and non-toxic paints.

Each suite is equipped with separate dining and living areas that are fully furnished; a full kitchen, adequate storage facilities, and a sizeable bathroom. Units range from 30 to 75 square meters in size. The hotel features a roof deck with sectional seating areas, a mini bar, a kiddie pool, and an adult infinity pool showcasing a panoramic view of the island paradise.

Ditas Yutuk, president of Azalea Leisure Corporation, said: “Vacation matters and it doesn’t take an arm and a leg to have a great vacation with your family and friends.” She pointed out Azalea’s concept of locking in the cost of a lifetime of future vacation at today’s prices, thereby giving good economic value for money.

Azalea is now offering lifetime vacation shares in the form of preferred shares. Members will be entitled to perpetual vacation rights in Azalea’s existing hotels (Boracay and Baguio) as well as its future resorts (Cebu, Davao, Pampanga).

Vacation shares are transferable and could be passed on from generation to another. Family members will be assessed monthly dues for the maintenance of these establishments.

Veering away from the traditional timeshare concept of locking in the members to buy at least one week of stay, Azalea will give them the flexibility to secure shares from a minimum of one night to as many nights as desired.

Nowadays, environmental measures are being implemented to prevent over-development and preserve the world’s best beach as a holiday haven. Just like Cote d’ Azur and Bang Rong, can Boracay become a sustainable paradise for future generation?

Download PDF: [Archikonst Magazine] Preserving Paradise – Sustainable Tourism in Boracay (original copy)

World’s First Negative-Ion Hotel

gsn web 2016_HOTEL_H2O_1

MANILA, Philippines — The newly built Hotel H20, like most other hotels, offers guests pining for a relaxing getaway a quick and well-needed respite without even having to leave the city.

gsn web 2016_HOTEL_H2O_2As it is, Hotel H20, which opened only in April last year, already offers a first in the Philippines, with 41 of its rooms having wall-mounted aquariums for your personal indulgence—allowing you to savor the curiously rich marine life, while at the comfort of your room.

While ocean-themed parks offer a view for a limited time and at quite a price at that, guests at Hotel H2O can enjoy such a similar view throughout their whole stay in this urban getaway.

However, the country’s first “ecology” urban resort hotel even offers a bigger “first” as it claims to be the world’s only hotel to be fully painted with the Eco Paradise Bio Sealer, which emits negative ions, according to H2O general manager John Eric Mendoza.

Providing healing, wellness

“More than just giving guests aesthetic pleasure, Hotel H2O, perhaps more importantly, provides healing and wellness,” Mendoza said in an interview with Inquirer Property.

Mendoza explained that this kind of paint, aside from being odorless, emits negative ions that attract dust and other allergenic and pathogenic particles and clumps them together. Eventually, these clumped particles would become heavy enough to fall in a mass that can be easily cleaned, instead of these staying suspended in the air.

“In effect, all our rooms and the rest of the hotel’s interiors are practically free from floating dust and inhalable particles,” Mendoza said in an earlier statement.

Mendoza related in the interview that guests who have stayed in Hotel H20 even called back to affirm an improvement in their conditions, particularly those who have asthma. The negative ions have also been reported to curb depression as these help uplift one’s spirits, he added.

2016 HOTEL H2O


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Bluprint Magazine, Vol. 02 2011 


Sea Luxe Treatment: Marine-inspired luxury as far as the eye can sea

Written by: Arch. Juan Carlos M. Hubilla

On April 2010, the Manila Ocean Park unveiled its newest attraction – not a new addition to its marine menagerie, but a boutique hotel, Hotel H2O. Offering 147 luxurious rooms, world-class amenities and services, this sea-inspired getaway uses technology to pamper and rejuvenate its guests.


Designed by GSN+p Architecture Studio for China Oceanis Philippines, Hotel H2O is a unique part of the Manila Ocean Park Complex. It is a member of Worldhotels, a global organization of hotels and hospitality establishments noted for their service, charm and character – “Unique Hotels for Unique People,” as the website states.

Unique it certainly is, in both design and function. The hotel’s upper-level reception area is accessed from a small exclusive lift lobby to the left of Manila Ocean Park’s main entrance. The aquatic theme is evident from this foyer with its palette of high-gloss graphics on fritted glass, mirror and matte-finished metallic surfaces, glassy mosaics, and biomorphic patterns. The aqua, blue, silver and black theme continues and evolves at the lobby level. Rounded columns, bubble-inspired light fixtures, circular and curving lounge furniture and arched patterns dominate the receiving and meeting space.

To the left of the reception counters is the hotel’s Zenyu Eco Spa, offering gym and spa facilities as well as negative-ion hot beds and the fishy-sounding but utterly relaxing Fish Foot Spa.

Immediately to the right of the counters is the hall leading the guestrooms, and further to the right are the hotel lounge and suites. Whereas the blues and silvers of the lobby and hallways have an underwater feel, the paler earth tones of the lounge bathed in generous daylight from west-facing windows lend a more beach-like atmosphere. All public areas on this level – reception, spa and lounge – have a continuous floor-to-ceiling view of Manila Ocean Park’s atrium.

In addition to the hotel lounge, guests can also unwind or be entertained in Hotel H2O’s other venues: White Moon Bar and its al fresco sunsets and bay views, Liquid bar’s all night pool and swimwear parties and Geniuses Bar’s chic and spacey jellyfish atmosphere, and a world is Asian cuisine at the Makan Makan Asia Food Village. For larger events, the hotel’s function hall can seat up to 300 guests and share 100 foot long aquarium, the other side of which is viewed from within Manila Ocean Park.


Of its 147 guestrooms, 41 feature massive aquarium rising from headboard height to the ceiling and running the length of each room. A mirror of the same height along the abutting wall’s length enhances each room’s already generous proportions. The aquariums are actually individual windows into a larger tank that runs through all the guestrooms in the middle of the four structures. A crystal – clear four-inch thick glass wall keeps the guest dry and the sea creatures wet. The Parkview Room’s floor-to-ceiling window overlook the Hotel H2O’s pool and light and sound show area, while the Bayview Rooms look out to Manila Bay. Peering down from the bay view side, there is no simple ground; just a breathtaking view of sea, sky and, at the right is the Manila sunset.


In terms of energy efficiency, Hotel H2O utilizes solar panels to present its power requirements. The hotel also built and maintains the storm sewage treatment plant to throw out pollutants before releasing water back into the bay. A more relevant technology employed, or rather literally applied, throughout the entire Hotel H2O is its negative ion-releasing Ecoparadise paint. According to Ecoparadise, their products employ a technology that “uses living microorganisms to change the inherent properties of materials like ceramics, plastics, fibers and liquids to produce a range of stable deoxidizers.” These deoxidizers supposedly discharge negative ions continuously without getting depleted.

Hotel H2O’s Marketing Communications Manager Mike Sagaran explains that negative ions from these odorless paints free the interior air of airborne dust and particles by attracting and clumping together these potential allergens and pathogens. Once they have adhered to one another, the particles become too heavy to stay afloat and drop to surfaces and floors making cleaning easier and more efficient.

Hotel H2O’s luxe undersea-themed decor and motifs brought me back to those retro-futuristic lairs of James Bond villains: gorgeous interiors, machine gun wielding bikini-clad beauties and a sinister secret contraption ready to feed unwary guests to some slithering underwater beastie. Sans the swimwear – clad ladies, Hotel H2O’s sleek interiors, amenities, and invisible negative-ion effects have all the good looks and fun of a super spy movie without the villains – despite the real live Manila Ocean Park sharks next door.

F&B Magazine, September – October 2009


An experienced design team shows how customer experience is driving fast-food restaurants to update and upgrade their designs.

Flashback to the early 1980’s. The era of quick service restaurants dawned upon the Philippine dining scene. The proponents of quality, service, cleanliness, and value changed the face of cafeteria and canteen dining. Fast-food brought dining out to an aspirational level and created standards for the over-the-counter ordering process, color schemes, ventilation and lights and food packaging, and all other customer points of contact.

Enter the 1990s. Almost all quick service and fast casual restaurants, both new and old, were starting to look incredibly similar, particularly the tables and chairs (the good old reliable monoblocs), colors of interiors (red and yellow, anyone?), the children’s play area, menu boards, and even restrooms. The industry standards became undeniably boring, monotonous, and needed a reinvention, fast.

Fast forward to the new millennium. Customer tastes have become more sophisticated and diners are more exposed to a gamut of dining choices. The faster-the-turnover mode for fast-food is no longer the market theme. Now, customers would rather linger, thereby leading to cushioned seats, drop lights, huge in-your-face murals, sofa booths,  and up-to-the-smallest-details in restrooms. The overall look has elevated all restaurants, from quick service to fast casual to fine dining, to a level that encourages differentiated individuality, design and operations synergy, and the enhancement of the restaurant brand essence.


Architect Gene Go, Managing Partner of GSN+p Architecture Design Studio, saw these design trends and capitalized on them. “Nobody did huge lifestyle murals during early- to mid-2000, but once we started proposing this to McDonald’s, it became sort of standard,” he relates. The initial reaction was not immediately acceptable, but this dramatically changed. Slowly, everyone followed suit. And a new dawn of restaurant design was upon us.

What prompted the changes, in an industry where red and yellow colors were staple and associated with the food business? Definitely the changes were not exclusive to the Philippines. The rest of Asia was undergoing dramatic changes too. Customer’s lifestyles were a major factor (i.e., the intense need to be connected, the 24/7 breed, the on-the-go individualism, the upwardly mobile attitude). The growing café industry, with its “unique” approach to design, was also a boost. The competition landscape, in general, yearned for a much needed differentiation.

Gene Go, together with Ronald Soriano, Alberto Nepomuceno and partners, has helped fuel this design transformation among their impressive roster of restaurant, including Kenny Rogers Roasters, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Tokyo Tokyo, Gotti’s, Kimono Ken, Bo’s Coffee, Congo Grille, Fish & Co., Hooters Bar, North Park, Super Bowl of China, Makansutra Asian Village, and Mrs. Fields Cookie Cafe. Although they also handle corporate, commercial, retails, and residential projects, more than half of their revenues are generated from restaurants.


Architect Go believes that it takes the collaboration and integration of four key ingredients to complete a good design: the architect, the kitchen planner, the menu developer, and a concept. This is where the design meets functionality. And it starts with the client brief containing very clear parameters on how this is to be executed.

Here’s a compelling reason why others have to reinvent their look and immediately undertake the much needed renovation: some studies show that restaurants which spend a great deal on renovation will stand to gain 20-35% increase in sales. It clearly justify the expense. What used to be a practice many years ago, painting retouch here and there, no longer does the trick. Wallpaper changes is not enough. New, bold, and exciting design concepts have to complement the brand values and the functionality that go with it. It’s now time to change the mindset of some fast food and fast casual players.

However, design monotony will eventually creep in. And we might witness again the homogenization of restaurant design, because of the similarity of their looks and design. With customer experience as the main driver for design, the most logical question is, how will tomorrow’s be different?


McDonald’s Philippines is acknowledged to be among top three countries in terms of new designs. So when McDonald’s threw a design transformation challenge a few design agencies, GSN+P was one of those who took it to heart and explored possibilities. McDonald’s ranks its design agencies annually, with GSN+P ranking among the top five at the time. After they were awarded the project, the architects took on a localized design approach, although they were still largely regulated by the Singapore Head Office.

With the McDonald’s Libis Branch (beside Tiendesitas) as their initial test ground, the partners asked, “What was wrong with McDonald’s existing design?” Architect Nepomuceno thinks, “They were too clinical,” which served the purposed then of projecting cleanliness. So, Architect Go and his partners began their research in the toilets of fine-dining restaurants. They asked, what amenities are available here that can be applied to quick service restaurants? Vanity life-size mirrors, diaper-changing contraptions, toilet bowls and urinals suite for kids? These were the start of redefining the customer experience.

The next change was to soften the mood and evoke a cool atmosphere, instead McDonald’s signature bright colors. More subdued yellow lighting was installed to encourage lingering, and to bring the dining experience somewhat closer to a fine dining ambiance. Also, the Party Place, usually reserved for kiddie birthday parties, was reinvented to cater adults, making it open to the public during weekdays, and no longer exclusive to kids. The addition of McCafe, McDonald’s upscale cafe concept, provides strong band pull in line with the new design paradigms.

What about the exterior facade? Brand icons, like the golden arches “M” and Ronald McDonald statue, were retained because of brand’s recognition and their strong pull factor. Some periodic icons though, like the french fries on the building, had to go, giving way to a more streamlined exterior. Al fresco dining was added on the roof deck, now a standard feature among most restaurants.

The end result of this design transformation is a fast-food outlet like no other – where one can enjoy a burger and fries in a cozy, relaxing, and even luxurious setting.