Bayanihan, Building a studycenter in Tacloban, Philippines

Ivar V. Tutturen, Trond H. Hegvold and Alexander E. Furunes


During the autumn of 2010 three norwegian architect students initiated and built a studycenter for streetchildren in Tacloban together with their families and a local help organisation

”This project is making a difference in the lives of the people of the community. It empowers them and brings back their confidence in themselves so they can make a better situation for their family as well as the community. The beautiful outcome of the fathers’ hard work, the mothers’ ideas and the wishes of the children are seen now as the new Study Center is standing there. The beauty of the building is beyond physical structure.”

Nerren Homeres

Tacloban is a tropical harbour town in the Philippines with a official population of 200 000 inhabitants. Including the slum the number is almost doubled. One of these areas is Barangay 36, ”Seawall,” which is one of the poorest areas in the city. The families are struggeling every day to get food and work. Prejudice and fear makes it difficult for them to get a job to improve their own environment. Because of this, many of the children have not gone to school or have had to drop out to beg for food on the street. The local help organisation Streetlight offer the families help to get the children of the street and back to the public school. They do this by providing the most primary needs, such as breakfast, lunch, school uniforms, school books and help ith homework.  At the moment they are helping 42 streetchildren and 28 homeless kids, putt he organisation wants to help more. Our motivation to go to Philippines was to gett he opportunity to work with a contextual architecture, and to start a design and building process that involves the users. The aim was to develope a project that was grounded locally and to think strategically so that each step of the building process could have the most possible side effects.

”These three architecture students brought back one good attitude of the Filipinos, ”the Bayanihan system”, in the process of making the new study center. “Bayanihan” refers to a spirit of communal unity or effort to achieve a particular objective. And everyone feel the spirit of oneness, participation and cooperation, as everyone is involved not only on the planning stage but throughout.”

Nerren Homeres

Breaking the barrier

In the beginning it was important to get a good overview of the social conditions, what ressources exists in the area and local knowledge is available. It was important to establish trust and a common goal for everyone that participated. The Philippines have extreme social differences and as white and western we were quickly put in the very top of the hierachy. The people of the slum, without education or resources, were in many ways treated as people from the very bottom of this hiearchy and as outsiders of society. It was a chalenge to breake these social barriers and establish a common fundation for a equal dialogue. Through workshops with games, drawing and 1:1 testing we managed , with help from Ate Nerren Homeres, to make the mothers, fathers and the children equal participants in the design and building process as us. The goal was that everyone could get responsibility and earn knowledge from the design and building process so that they could continue the project by themselves. In adition to the collaboration with streetlight and the people of Seawal, we got to involve the city planning office and local businesses in the process.

” Our dreams are our motivation to work hard and to give our best to every opportunity that comes our way to achieve those dreams. And it is heartwarming to know the beautiful and wonderful dreams of each student in Streetlight. Their dreams lead and motivate us more to work together, as the construction of the new study center has been started and the spirit of oneness and participation is more intense in everyone’s heart.”

Nerren Homeres


Even though physical models and drawing are good tools to comunicate architecture, we quickly realised it wasnt enough to create the motivation that we needed for the comunity to run this project. We realised that the families had to be emotionally and personally involved for them to see the reality of, and the potential in of building a school for their own children. With help from Nerren we initiated a series of workshops. In the first couple of workshops we let the children tell about their dreams for the future and what they wanted to be when they grow up. In the next round they explained what they needed to study and do their homework. They mentioned a library, different study spaces, reading spaces, lighting, good air, specific chairs and tables etc.

The drawings and the sketches by the children we showed these to the mothers that came together to discuss ways of realising these dreams. The mothers wanted to contribute by arranging workshops and collecting building material for the interior and furnitures. They participated in draing plans and they made shure that they corresponded to the needs of their children. They also helped out with practical things like the food and daily managing of the events, which is their responsibility in Streetlight. During the next workshop with the fathers we showed them the childrens dreams and the mothers contribution and chalenged them on how they could contribute. They responded by saying they would build the study center building for their kids.


”It is seldom we have fun like we had in the workshops. The big workshop was the most exciting one. The fathers and us were gathered together to do actual work in making a table, a chair, a door towards the ocean, a window and the lamp. It was nice to see the result of what we did after a long day of working. I was with the group who made the design of the window. I am also happy and proud of the design of the door that my husband made..”                                                            

Quote from one of the mothers


Exchange of knowledge

With two carpenters­­ from the slum as teachers for the untrained fathers, and with guidance from the local city planning office, the buildingsite became a good place for knowledge exchange. We started the process with simple tasks, such as digging and cleading the buildingsite. We also built a small cinema screen in front of the future study center.

One aim was to use local materials, bought in the slum from people and businesses that needed it the most. We focused on training and craft knowledge and climatical challenges. The cinema screen was made by ropes so that the wind could pass through. We showed images from the workshop and the building site and movies for the children every friday.

This became an event to bring everyone together to discuss the week that passed.

”Now that the study center is finished, it looks different from the other buildings here in Tacloban. All of us mothers are saying that it is beautiful with the natural materials that were used. The fresh air from the ocean is nice and the place is huge and clean. All our effort, hard work and the time we spent on this project are worth it! We were playing, enjoying, making drawings and having fun in the workshops, and now we see the results of all that we did. The drawings we made are now a building.”

Quote from one of the mothers


The families and streetlight take over

When we left the studycenter was half done, and after a rain period the building process continued. The fathers kept working on the building site and the mothers continued to arrange workshops. The common platform that was established in this project can hopefully help the fathers to get a better job and ressourches to improve their own environment in the slum. The effect that the project had on the children that could see that their parents actually cared about them and did an effort to improve their future was especially important. In this way, the parents that had no education could participate to help their children on their education.

The studycenter was finished June 2011. The aim is to build two more school buildings so that more children can gett his offer and so that the children that is already there can  continue coming to the study center when they start high school and college. This will happen when streetlight have gathered enouugh financial funding. For us this project made us realise the potential of architecture to manifest dreams for the future and to create a strong involvment and collaboration between the people involved.

“After all the years that have passed, we thought that our lives will be nonsense because of the problems we are suffering every day. We thought that our future will never be changed. Without the new Study Center, we can’t say to our parents that we love them and without the activities we have in the past few weeks, we don’t know that our parents have the strength to do this… Because of all the efforts you’ve shown us, we can now face tomorrow & say “we can achieve anything…”

Goodbye letter form one of the schoolchildren on the day we left.

The building as it stands now





Before going to Philippines we stablished a non-profitt organisation, studioTACLOBAN, to gather money for this project. The cost of building materials was aproximately 30 000NOK. Salary and funds for the workshops was another 30 000NOK. The project was sponsored by Aplan Viak, Eidsberg sparebank, Gjensidige Brannkasse Rakkestad, Gjensidige Brannkasse Eidsberg, Per Knudsen arkitekter, Rojo Arkitekter, Sparebank 1 SMN and Øystein Thommesen.