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Vibrant Filipino Design Revitalizes The OB Montessori Greenhills Campus

Rita Nazareno and Gabby Lichauco use zesty colors, inspiration from nature and Filipino iconography to help nurture students as they get back to face-to-face classes


“When the government directed us to get ready for face to face classes, I couldn’t accept the fact that students will just come here and we will just prepare a COVID protocol. Remember COVID did so much to the children already - they missed 3 years. What we needed was to touch the spirit of the children. Because of that I thought we needed to have a change of vibe. We needed to have a change of environment to address the needs of the children,” says OB Montessori Center President and COO Sara Soliven-de Guzman.


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OB Montessori's Sara Soliven-De Guzman in her office at the OB Montessori Greenhills Campus, renovated by Rita Nazareno and Gabriel Lichauco. | Jar Concengco


When Soliven-de Guzman assumed her mother, Preciosa Soliven’s office, she engaged designers Rita Nazareno and Gabby Lichauco to do an overhaul. “I told Rita that the office wasn’t my vibe. At that time, they had a post on IG about what they did with CITEM and I loved the colors. I thought it was such a perfect fit for our school environment.”


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OB Montessori Greenhills before renovations by Rita Nazareno and Gabriel Lichauco. | Courtesy of Rita Nazareno


The executive office now bursts with bright colors - a lime green is juxtaposed with a vibrant orange. Soliven-de Guzman’s desk is from the Nazareno Lichauco Desert Collection with flowers carved on one side. There are a pair of E. Murio chairs painted in white with a streak of orange down the middle of the seat. In the corner are colorful hand woven Candy Lamps. This playfulness wasn’t contained in the office for long. The duo were then commissioned to design the classrooms and more.


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A corner within the OB Montessori Executive Office. | Jar Concengco


“Sara was very open. And that’s the best client. The fact is, it’s been fantastic to work with the OB Montessori team,” Nazareno shares. “First it started out as designing the executive offices and the classrooms and it sprouted into the outdoor areas and the courtyard. Then the graphics also. We did a style guide for the logo and the branding. And then we’re going to do the other 4 campuses also.”


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Design duo Gabriel Lichauco and Rita Nazareno. | Jar Concengco
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The casa rooms which teach the youngest students of OB Montessori take cues from nature and utilize basic forms and colors. “Nature can help you focus and it relaxes your brain. So we researched colors and patterns that would work well in this space but we didn’t want anything very literal. We wanted to be more abstract so that the kids can use their imagination,” Lichauco explains.



As students advance in school, so does the design of their classroom. The primary classroom incorporates more complex forms with a conceptual biosphere of land, water and air. Cityscapes in yellows and oranges line the wall while a deep blue covers the lower half representing the ocean. The intermediate classroom introduces silhouettes of iconic images such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Canon of Proportions or the syringe that nurse and inventor Letitia Mumford Greer invented. 


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“We wanted to be very inclusive so we have women, people of color and obviously Pinoy influences in the classrooms,” Nazareno points out. 


The junior high school classroom furthers this use of iconic silhouettes from all types of fields to inspire the students. A yellow Darth Vader helmet carries with it the deep and imaginative world that filmmaker George Lucas created in the Star Wars saga. The architectural form of the Cultural Center of the Philippines by National Artist Leandro V. Locsin and the easily recognizable Peacock Chair can also be found on the walls. One student feels that these individual chairs symbolize independence - a graduation from their casa and primary days where they shared tables with others. Another student said that the artwork on the walls have made coming to school something to look forward to. The pattern of dots that reference Dieter Rams’ T41 Speaker also inspired some of the students to randomly come up with mathematical equations. 



The senior high school classrooms celebrate three important figures in Philippine Contemporary Art: Roberto Chabet (founding figure of Philippine conceptual art), Nena Saguil (pioneer of Filipino abstract art using circles and dots), and Leo Valledor (Filipino-American artist who used a reductive palette and simple geometric shapes). Each room dedicates itself to the artist using a reference to their style on the walls.


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Nazareno and Lichauco didn’t limit themselves to the walls for their design. The ceilings also carried colors, patterns and sometimes images as well. The Bistro took to British architect Richard Rogers for inspiration when they designed its ceiling. “The philosophy of British architect Richard Rogers was to expose and show the details of industrial parts of the structure. So we wanted to add that playfulness here,” Lichauco points at the ceiling of the Bistro. Fluorescent tube lighting were set diagonally creating an interesting “x” pattern. Exposed pipes were painted red to contrast the deep blue. More pops of color are found all around with the Pamela Wire chairs by A. Garcia Crafts and the Candy Lamps by Zacarias 1925.



“Montessori and especially OB is really known for their creativity and this kind of openness and exploration. They’re also known for being compassionate humans. I think that’s one of the tenets of the OB Montessori. They’ve been known to have alumni as diverse as Lea Salonga, Armi Millare, and JJ Acuña. We wanted to build on that and show this playful, creative spirit,” Nazareno says.


Take a tour of the Greenhills campus through this gallery: