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Searching for Siama


Aboard the latest Lexus UX, Team GRID takes a trip down to the southernmost tip of Luzon and finds comfort and luxury in designs made one with nature.

Photography by
Story by
Miguel Nacianceno
Photography by
Videography by
JC Valencia
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Architecture has always been inspired by nature. It starts with a twig, a branch, a pinch of soil, a thin thread of silk. The world’s most beautiful structures come from nature—bird’s nests, a spider’s web, the complex tunnels of an ant farm.

For architect/interior and furniture designer and owner of Siama in Sorsogon, Milo Naval, it all started with scraps. As a child, he used to gather stray pieces of wood, chips broken off from cement blocks, and other leftovers he found at the sites of his father’s construction projects. He would play at being an architect/designer, using those scraps to build tiny houses and even tinier furniture. This is one childhood memory he remembers fondly, and which he identifies as the starting point of his love for design. Up till now, Milo says that inspiration for most of his ideas and concepts come from what he sees around him, and the environment or objects he interacts with.

The facade of Milo Naval's newest resort in Sorsogon, Siama Surf.

“For me, there are several ways or design processes that you can go to,” he says. “In furniture, I would sometimes start with what is available. Or I would think of a concept first and find the material that I would use for that particular concept. In most cases, I would study the environment first and after that, start to design what I feel is necessary and needed.”

In nature, nothing is wasted. Each twig, each branch, each stone, each pinch of soil is used purposefully. A structure’s orientation, where it is built, the materials used—all these have a reason. Birds use materials to camouflage nests from predators, termites bore holes in the outer wall of their majestic mounds and build chimneys to regulate temperature and improve ventilation for their queen.

“In most cases, I would study the environment first and after that, start to design what I feel is necessary and needed.”<callout-alt-author>Milo Naval<callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author>
Milo Naval and his original furniture designs inside Siama Surf.
Cabanas in Siama Surf with the Lexus UX.
The interior of the cabanas in Siama Surf.
The lobby of Siama Surf is filled by the original furniture designs of Milo Naval.

In the same vein, Milo believes in design with purpose and intent. Siama was built inconspicuously in the middle of a forest and coconut plantation, with wooden slatted partitions instead of walls to let more natural light and breeze in.

Unlike its forest sister, the recently opened Siama Surf is hard to miss, with walls painted as white as the crests of the breaking waves of the Pacific Ocean. It’s nestled some meters back from the beige shores of Gubat, a small, laidback town that is quickly becoming known as the next big surfing destination. What was once a pavilion for surfers to relax and take a break is now a well-designed structure that houses four suites, an eight-bed dorm, and a cozy dining area that faces the shore and the ocean.

The same slatted partitions in Siama are used in Siama Surf—both to let the light and breeze in, and to hide the kitchen area and staff rooms. On the beach, cabanas are carefully positioned diagonally facing the east, where the sun rises. From the second-floor balcony, one is given a beautiful, uninterrupted view of the pool, the shore, the sea, and the sky.

Siama Surf's luxury suites face the Sorsogon sunset.

“Good design should start with functionality,” Milo explains. “We have to be adaptive with what is around. The buildings in Siama Surf were designed for different weather conditions. We put wind breakers in areas where we experienced a lot of wind, and thin, slit windows in areas where rain could get in. There are also huge windows for spots we feel we’d like the air to come in. I just don’t put a window just because you want a window there. You vary the size of the window so you can control the wind, sun or rain.”

Born and raised in Malabon at a time when the city had more fishponds than paved roads, Milo has always enjoyed nature and the rural setting. He fell in love with Sorsogon 30 years ago, when he and his wife would make the long, 12-hour drive from Metro Manila. He finally ditched city life and settled here a few years ago.

“I love the landscape, the vegetation, the sea,” Milo says, before jokingly adding: “I can even say I love the province first, and then my wife.”

“Good design should start with functionality. The buildings in Siama Surf were designed for different weather conditions.” <callout-alt-author>Milo Naval<callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author></callout-alt-author>
Writer Clarissa Concio-Tiglao talks with Milo Naval in the indoor dining area by nightfall.

It’s not hard to imagine why Milo kept making the long trek through the years to Sorsogon. Driving to the southernmost tip of Luzon may seem like a torturous ordeal, but during our way down from Manila, the wide roads, the green, green scenery, and Lexus’ latest subcompact crossover made us half-wish we could drive a couple of hours more. The Lexus UX (Urban + X Over) is touted as the gateway into the luxury brand. It is, after all, Lexus’ most affordable vehicle to date. The UX, though, is anything but cheap (and we’re not just talking about the price tag here.)

The UX is actually tagged as a “modern urban explorer,” “expressively crafted for the city.” Its 2-liter, four-cylinder engine doles out 168 horsepower—which doesn’t seem like a lot, since most of its competitors transmit power in the 200s. But, surprise, surprise!  This beautiful beast can easily overtake other vehicles, when pushed, and it can also hold its own on steep, winding mountain roads, through gravel, and even through a long stretch of very unpaved road on our way from Bulusan Volcano Natural Park to the port of Matnog—the southernmost tip of Sorsogon.

Lexus’ trademark spindle grille features a new mesh pattern unique to the UX. That, plus aggressively sharp LED headlamps, running lights above the light cluster and well-designed body sculpting at its sides give this beauty a much bolder, more stylish edge than some of its competitors (looking at you X1.) A full-width LED strip at its rear also make for a rather striking posture when the sun goes down.

The Lexus UX photographed in front of Siama Surf at sunset.

All that beauty is translated indoors. By mixing traditional Japanese craftsmanship with innovative techniques, Lexus succeeds in making this subcompact crossover feel less compact on the inside. Much as Milo blurs the lines between the external and internal environments through his design philosophy of “bringing the outside in,” Lexus translates the traditional Japanese architectural concept of engawa into the UX’s design through a wide windshield, a low, unobtrusive instrument panel, and slim A-pillars. The result? Unmatched field of vision and excellent spatial awareness while driving.

Built on the new TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture) platform, the compact UX benefits from excellent chassis tuning and a low center of gravity. This, plus a sporty steering wheel with just the right amount of heft also makes rounding corners, weaving through traffic and parking in tight spaces easy-peasy.

The engawa design concept isn’t the only thing shared by both Milo and the Lexus UX. The brand’s “L-Finesse” philosophy for aesthetics includes the principle “incisive simplicity,” buzz words that generally mean cutting through complexities to reveal the true purpose/beauty of an object.

In nature, nothing is wasted. Each twig, each branch, each stone, each pinch of soil is used purposefully.
Headlight details of the Lexus UX
Tall coconut trees give ample shade to the entrance of Siama Surf.
Get into a relaxed mood as you hang by the pool at Siama Surf.
A closeup of the Lexus UX's steering wheel.

“Casualness is the new luxury,” Milo states. “I’m a very practical guy. I like simple things. I may do something that is elegant or luxurious but still, you have that casual feel. I like what is natural, but I also like to give my designs a global appeal by doing something that is very now and marrying that with what is here already—the rawness of the province, the lush vegetation.”

Milo may like the simple life (he is most comfortable in a shirt, a pair of shorts and sandals), but he also appreciates the beauty and thoughtfulness of great design. His own version of engawa and “incisive simplicity” is seen in the paintings of oceans on the walls of the suites, in the river stones and coconut leaves used as décor in the dining area, and in the rain lamps hung throughout Siama Surf, whose long, rattan tendrils emulate falling rain. Wide armrests on sofas and chairs aren’t just for resting your arm—they’re also wide enough to hold a bottle of beer or a cup of coffee, and then some.

The calm beachfront in Gubat, Sorsogon.

Siama Surf is just the start, Milo divulges. He plans to build more places across the province where guests can experience Sorsogon in a unique way.

“(Siama Surf) is the initial move of Siama to expand in different sites of the province,” he explains. “In the future, we want to have Siama Springs and Siama Mountain. These are different locations where we want guests to experience the province. We try to level up a little bit to a certain type of market. We want to show different sites of the province in that way, because it will definitely show a different perspective of what is around. And that is the Siama Way.”