The houses of the former poor but not yet middle class in Metro Manila are principally do-it-yourself, makeshift structures made of recycled and second-hand materials. They are often a patchwork of unplastered concrete hollow blocks, wood or other organic materials such as bamboo, plastic such as tarpaulin, and covered, possibly securely or only provisionally, with corrugated iron sheets. These houses are often modified by extensions which can appear either at the front, the back, or the sides of a house or any combination thereof, although, as there is no space left and right, they could only go up or vertically.

The extensions can be supported with columns made of reinforced concrete, for additional strength and stability, but when building funds are scarce, they often go up to a certain height which can be done safely without iron bars.

The expansion is being done in many cases to meet the requirement of space for a growing family, or conversion into a commercial space as well as for aesthetics since concrete is perceived as more modern, fashionable, and convenient. The last criterion comes about because concrete will not require replacement every now and then, unlike a wooden or plastic structure.

Purely pragmatic with no engineering or architectural design efforts, these houses are often likened to the bahay kubo, the traditional Filipino house with thatched roof on a square footprint supported by wooden posts with the wooden floor lifted about 1.5 meters from the ground as the symbol of the Filipino talent for improvisation.

The culture of improvisation implies spontaneous and unplanned creativity using available local building resources, including low-skilled labour.

Applied to the analysis of informal settlements and urban slum upgrading (see Antolihao 2014), the culture of improvisation helps explain why houses of the former urban poor but not yet middle class  are structures that could be built and rebuilt in a short period of time, not only in response to the natural environment but also as contingencies for non-secure land tenure. The comparison of the houses of the former poor but not yet middle class with the bahay kubo along the culture of improvisation can comfortably be made: using locally available and recycled resources, both are deemed creative and resourceful, sustainable and environmentally friendly. Nonetheless, unlike the bahay kubo, the improvised houses of the former poor are not necessarily well ventilated and the dominance of plastic materials may not necessarily be sustainable.

Visual essay by Aaron R. Vicencio and Czarina A. Saloma-Akpedonu.