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04/15/14 Surfer-Architect Buji Libarnes

That tireless maxim, “Go with the flow,” can make Buji Libarnes’s life hectic sometimes. In the past week, especially, as the architect-surfer took a bunch of Australian REEF ambassadors on a goodwill tour across Luzon’s prime surf spots: three days in Baler, a quick tap into Manila before hopping a bus to La Union, then Manila again before driving back up north to Baler.

When I finally get him on the phone, he says he’s at an auto shop. Something about a tire, but that he’ll indulge a chat anyway. Go with the flow. It’s a dictum he’s applied to projects that span surf resorts (Kapuluan Vista in Pagudpud) and mall salons (Basement in SM Aura). He and Nikki dela Paz, his partner both in life and in Libarnes + dela Paz Architecture, have become known for slick, simple structures that stand seamless with their environment.

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That adherence to flow is also the foundation of Coast Thru Life, what started out as a blog that’s now a store serving up surf apparel distinguished enough for the city. Over a choppy line, NOUS spoke to the Coast kahuna about his foray into container housing, the evolution of Philippine surf architecture, and the shack he’s finally building for himself right in front of those life-governing waves.

What led to putting up Coast Thru Life?

It started out as a blog to share the beauty of the surf lifestyle with Filipinos. Yung pinapakita namin na unang-una, para ma-appreciate nila yung mga dagat natin at maging aware sila about keeping our oceans clean. Tapos pinapakita namin yung side ng surfing na pwedeng magkaroon ng simpleng buhay. Hindi mo kailangan ng maraming clutter sa buhay mo. To go with the flow, basically. When you have flow, things fall into place. Hindi siya pilit, hindi siya out of place.

When did this idea of a surf-inspired lifestyle click for you? 

Yung buhay namin medyo nag-eevolve siya around surfing at ng season ng alon. So i-adjust namin yung buhay namin dun. Paano ba kami mag-su-surf as much as we can? Kailangan pa rin may balance ka. Yung coast is when the land meets the sea, so parang ganun din—we want to spend as much time as we can in the ocean, but at the same time not forgetting our obligations on land. Hindi pwedeng maging surf bum nalang. Kailangan mo pa rin maging responsableng tao.

Any favorite Coast Thru Life pieces right now?

On Coastthrulife.com, we’ve got everything button-up shirts to chinos. I have to say yung leather surf pouch. It’s a collaboration between Coast Thru Life and Bags by Rubber Tree. Genuine leather siya na hand-stitched by Ruben and Tina for us. Leather pouch siya for the gentleman surfer. Yun din yung pinapalabas sa clothing namin sa Coast Thru Life. Hindi siya yung typical surfer’s getup, yung parang board shorts na mahaba tapos sando na pang-Boracay. Yung pinapakita namin are timeless clothes inspired by ocean living. So mga damit na pwede mo ring gamitin sa city, pero ‘pag nasa beach, okay pa rin siya.

As an architect, do clients go to you for a particular aesthetic?

Siguro if it’s a beach project, ako yung iniisip nila kaagad dahil I know about the lifestyle and living in surf spots. Yung mga materials na ginagamit namin, very basic. Hindi kailangan mahal. We try to use materials na natural, hindi yung synthetic o tile na mukhang kahoy.

Working together on each project, what would you say you and Nikki bring to the table? 

I work more with my hands so kung may mga freehand rendering or sketches, mas-magaling ako dun. Si Nikki naman yung magaling sa computer, so siya yung kung natapos namin yung design, yung nag-t-translate sa AutoCAD talaga. Ideas, kaming dalawa.

Could you talk about a recent project and how you both went about it?

 Meron kaming ginagawa sa Baler ngayon na apartments for surfers. Basis namin kung ano lang yung importante. Hindi namin siyang ginawang compartmentalized masyado dahil maliit lang yung space. Binawasan namin yung mga walls para mas-free-flowing. Tapos importante syempre meron kang storage for your boards. Kino-consider namin yung setting niya at saka yung orientation syempre ng sun at ng hangin.

Do you get the occasional arbitrary project?

For a commercial project, siguro working with containers, yun yung medyo tricky—kailangan kong aralin, yung proper installation, kung mas-cost-efficient nga ba talaga siya than yung traditional construction.

And are there any projects you’re excited to take on?

Sa La Union, nakabili akong maliit na property, so tinatayo namin ng simple na container house. First time ako gagawa ng para sa akin. So sana lahat ng gusto ko maisama within budget. Yun yung challenge. In the future, sana makapagtayo din ng apartment na long-term rent for Manila people.

Are we at a point where there is Philippine surf architecture that distinguishes itself from other aesthetics?

Sa tingin ko yung ibang architects, parang nagiging aware na rin sila to infuse mga elements ng architecture na Filipino. Halimbawa ginagamitan na ngayon ng oversized na capiz windows or capiz sliding doors. Marami tayong bamboo tapos anahaw, cogon for roofing. Tapos yung mga gumagamit ng ventanilya para sa cross-ventilation. Actually, hindi pa maramimay ilan lang na good example. Isang game-changer is yung Flotsam & Jetsam Resort in La Union, kaka-open lang nila. Nakita ng mga La Union surf resort owners na pwede palang magkaroon ng ganitong kagandang resort kahit bamboo lang yung gamitin o anahaw.

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