Liza Morales: Going Beyond the Usual Sustainable Design
For architect Liza Morales, working on sustainable design isn't just skin-deep. It focuses on creating healthier environments, future-proofing the home, and helping clients build their dreams.
Oct 15, 2021
Real Living's The Professionals highlights experts in architecture, design, construction, and real estate, shining a light on what it takes to create beautiful living spaces, and the people who make them happen.
* * *
Over the years, the idea of building a sustainable home has gained popularity, and yet, some are still intimidated by it. There are those who immediately think it will be expensive, presuming it involves working with costly construction materials.
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear sustainable design? Is it the idea of sprucing up a space with plants, investing in solar panels, or maximizing natural light? While these are all correct, there’s more to it than that.
Liza Morales, the lead architect behind Ecotecture Design, says that sustainable and environmental design covers the various aspects of a home or a building by giving much thought to every component that goes into it. “We actually deconstruct and say, ‘okay, what paints are we putting in there? Are they healthy? Are they safe? Do they have volatile organic compounds? Are we using recyclable materials?’ It’s not just skin-deep,” she explains.
Going beyond the usual sustainable design has become Liza’s mission, to say the least. For her, it’s about building healthier environments and helping clients future-proof their homes.
Spreading the word about sustainable design
Since Day One, Liza has been committed to achieving a greener future through Ecotecture Design and her practice. Her journey toward sustainability has opened her eyes on the contribution of construction-related activities to our carbon footprint and it’s through her designs that she aims to help lessen it. “[At Ecotecture,] we go by the mantra of ‘less is more.’ It’s not just an aesthetic mantra as it also covers the functional use of different materials. If we don’t need to have a specific material in there, then why do we have to put it? Using less materials is better for the environment,” explains the architect.
Suffice to say that Liza isn’t content with just scratching the surface when it comes to sustainability. She makes it a point to exercise due diligence when working on a project and by educating clients regarding sustainable design. By opening the eyes of the people, she collaborates with about the opportunities and possibilities with sustainability, she doesn’t just help them make the most of it, she helps break preconceived notions about sustainable design, too.
"If we could eliminate air conditioning altogether, that would be a dream."
Take for example building a sustainable home. Some would say it’s expensive from the get-go, but Liza and the Ecotecture team say otherwise. “We could be looking at the exact same structures but one would be taking advantage of the natural breezes and by having strategically located windows, while the other wouldn’t. It costs exactly the same but maintenance-wise, you’d have to pay for more energy-efficiency and air-conditioning for the other home,” explains the architect.
Liza recognizes the importance of maximizing outdoor air when designing home, saying there’s a science behind it that homeowners and design professionals can look closely into. “If architects can design homes wherein, you’re looking at breezes, the habagat, the amihan, and where these come in, plus, where you’re placing the windows and how high or low they are – if we’re able to take advantage of these, we’ll be able to do away with air conditioning. If we could eliminate air conditioning altogether, that would be a dream,” she muses.
Going beyond the usual sustainable design by building healthier environments
As sustainable design is more than just using the right materials, turning over a project to its owners isn’t as simple as making sure they have enough cool breeze or natural light. One of the many things Liza has learned as an associate at an award-winning firm in New York is taking into consideration the health and safety of the people who will use the house or building. As the architect puts it, “sustainability or green design actually intersects with creating healthy buildings.” Now that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, the need for healthier spaces is at an all-time high.
"A lot of clients we’re working with who are doing interior renovations for condo spaces are now exploring places where they can open the windows to the outside world."
One of the most important things people are concerned with these days is the quality of indoor air, something that Liza and her team are used to. “It was not that hard to segue into creating healthier environments because that’s something we’ve been doing from the get-go working on sustainability since it considers the health of the people occupying the building,” she says. “It was just natural progression for us to be looking more closely at the quality of indoor air,” adds the architect
While building healthier spaces has been something she has been working on for quite some time, Liza admits that the pandemic has also inspired a change in the way they design their projects. Not only has she seen differences in the needs of her clients, she also noted that there are homeowners who chose to move outside the city. “The way we design homes now is different. We would actually incorporate a disinfection area by the entrance of the home where people can disinfect their deliveries,” she shares. In addition to the need for disinfection areas, some clients are also looking into having a shower room and not just a powder room by the entryway so they can shower and change clothes before entering the home. Having a separate area for quarantining and the household help have become essential, too.
Even those who live in apartments and condominiums can reap the benefits of a healthier environment with Liza circling back on indoor air quality. “A lot of clients we’re working with who are doing interior renovations for condo spaces are now exploring places where they can open the windows to the outside world. The more outdoor air that you’re welcoming into your space, it’s just better for indoor air quality,” she says.
Future-proofing the home and continuing the sustainability journey
The pandemic may have changed the needs of homeowners when it comes to areas in the home, but it doesn’t change how Liza approaches any project – by collaborating with the homeowners. Any design goes through different iterations, taking into account the lifestyle of the owners, what they love to do, and who will be using the home. “This goes with any project we work on – pre-pandemic, during a pandemic, and even post-pandemic. Planning is everything,” says the architect.
"These plans are our clients dreams and aspirations for the future.”
This is also where future-proofing comes in. According to Liza, they try their best to introduce the concept of future-proofing to their clients, especially those who have young families. Future-proofing ties into the concept of sustainability beautifully because it not just ensures having a home that will grow old with its owners, it also lessens the possibility of working on renovations.
“It has to work with their lifestyle. If it’s going to be their forever home, we have to consider how the kids will use the space, if they will have parties, and if they will need a makeup area in the bathroom [for example]. With sustainability, these are the things we consider as these plans are our clients dreams and aspirations for the future,” Liza says.
Seeing the home as a manifestation of a client’s dreams makes it difficult for Liza to choose which among her projects is the most memorable. For her, working on a project is like going on an emotional journey with the owners and building a testament to their hard work. “I actually limit the [number of] projects we take on. I have a team but I am very much involved with every project, especially residential because it’s very emotional for the homeowners… It’s just right for us to take on a few residential works every year and we get attached to them,” she muses.
Liza finds it heartwarming when clients reach out to her to thank her for helping them build their dream. It’s even more touching when they send pictures of people enjoying the space they’ve built.
Five years from now, you can count on Liza to still be doing what she does best – pushing for sustainability by helping people achieve sustainable and healthier spaces. “Lines between healthy buildings and green buildings are more blurred. When you talk about sustainability, it’s not just limited to energy-saving features and reducing carbon footprint. It goes hand-in-hand. You can be creating something that’s sustainable as far as energy-efficiency [is concerned], but if people are getting sick all the time, then it becomes useless,” shares the architect.
With more people becoming more aware of the benefits of sustainability and the importance of having a healthy space, Liza’s vision of a future with healthy and green buildings may just become a reality.
* * *
PHOTOS of Liza Morales by Beige Valencia
PHOTOS of projects courtesy of Liza Morales