Drop Egos, Raise the Bar

Royal Pineda on the Kanto-GROHE practice crits that helped BUDJI+ROYAL get a Highly Commended nod from the World Architecture Festival in the Built Sport category

Interview Judith A. Torres
Photography BCDA and BUDJI+ROYAL

Kanto.com.ph is an official media partner of the World Architecture Festival 2021

BUDJI+ROYAL’s Athletics Stadium in New Clark City won the World Architecture Festival (WAF) jury’s nod as Highly Commended in the Completed Buildings – Sports category, edged out in a close fight with winner Cox Architecture’s Ken Rosewall Arena Redevelopment.

The WAF Highly Commended Philippine National Stadium, designed and constructed in 18 months for the 2019 SEA Games, has a second shot of winning in the Engineering category, which Budji Layug and Royal Pineda are presenting online this November 24.

Out of 550 WAF finalists competing in 18 categories, nine are Filipino shortlisted projects competing in 11 categories. Until the last days of September, about two dozen of us were excitedly planning our trips to Lisbon, which was scheduled to host the Festival and annual competition for World Building of the Year. Some were preparing to leave Manila early to drive from Madrid to Lisbon and enjoy the sights along the way.

We were naturally all disappointed to find out the Festival would be held entirely online. And we were dismayed to learn as late as September 30 that WAF’s online crits would be held as early as October 18. The short notice gave Kanto and GROHE Philippines (GROHE is the founder sponsor of WAF) exactly two weeks to organize private practice crit sessions for our Filipino finalists on October 15 and 16.

Setting the bar for the SEA Games at New Clark City’s Athletic Stadium in Capas, Tarlac.

For the practice crits, we asked each finalist who they wanted on their jury. Almost everyone asked for previous WAF winners Benjee Mendoza of BAAD Studio (2018 Future Religion category winner), and Andy Locsin and Sudar Khadka of Locsin Partners (2017 Completed Building, Civic category winner and Small Building of the Year winner), who all quickly agreed to our call for help.

Other practice crit jurors were previous WAF finalists and WAF attendees, like Manny Miñana (2014 Completed Building Residential category), Buck Sia (2019 Completed Building Religious category), Jorge Yulo (shortlisted in 2015, 2017, and 2021), Bong Recio, Dom Galicia, Ed Calma, Edwin Uy, interior designers Ivy Almario, Tina Periquet, and engineer Nikko David.

BUDJI+ROYAL’s Royal Pineda shares how the Kanto-GROHE practice crits were helpful to improving their presentation, and he mulls over the power of constructive criticism to move modern Filipino architecture forward.

Congratulations to everyone in BUDJI+ROYAL!

Royal Pineda: Thank you! We are happy and in celebration mode. It was an excellent experience. We joined WAF not to compete but to present the modern Filipino sensibility. So I already felt like a winner when WAF told us we were shortlisted. Sobrang happy na kami dun. And then, during the actual WAF crit, what made us so happy was the positive reaction of the WAF judges.

I love how Chris Bosse said the Philippines has “a beautiful, powerful, and optimistic population with lots of joy and creativity.”

Right! And to also be shortlisted in the engineering category is fantastic! Because this is something I advocate—getting our engineers and architects working together and, if possible, constantly parallel. If we do that, we can achieve great things together. So WAF is an opportunity to send a message to the world that, “Hey, Filipinos are here! We’re here!” and at the same time, send a powerful message to local professionals and creatives to collaborate closer than ever before and know that there is a bigger picture.

And the big picture is… ASEAN? The world?

The whole wide world out there in which Filipinos can excel. Let’s better ourselves as Filipino architects, civil engineers, MEPF engineers, interior designers. Let’s be our best together, and as a people and as a country, we shall become stronger, healthier, and happier.

September 1, 2019, PATAFA practice games were held weeks before to test the stadium ahead of the December 2019 SEA Games.

Read: BUDJI+ROYAL goes for gold at the WAF

This is your first time to join and be shortlisted; how do you find the WAF experience so far?

I really admire how Kanto and GROHE brought everybody together to help all the Filipino WAF finalists. This was an entirely different experience from anything I’ve seen locally—asking all the finalists to do a mock presentation and open ourselves to critique by our colleagues. It was a very good exercise. Because as I often tell our guys in the office, we will never get anywhere if our ego is too big to listen. The best idea wins, right?

We need more of this bayanihan to bring the country forward through architecture and design. We need more of this spirit of oneness. And for that, I’m very proud of my colleagues, not just for being shortlisted at the WAF, but for opening themselves to this kind of exercise.

Wow, thank you, I wasn’t expecting that answer! But yes, that’s always been the agenda. To call help each other win. We crit to win!

I think it’s already a win for the country to have some of our country’s most outstanding architects come together for such a purpose. I believe that is a critical binding element. I think the best part was seeing us architects, my colleagues, submitting themselves to scrutiny, and while we were pretty serious in our intent, there was camaraderie and unity of purpose. And it’s already happening. How many Filipinos were shortlisted this year, right?

2019 SEA Games, November 30 opening ceremony

Actually, Paul Finch, the WAF festival director, asked William Ti just before William did his presentation, “What’s happening in the Philippines?” Because three of the twelve WAFX 2021 winners are projects here—Horizon Manila in Manila, Cagbalete Sand Clusters in Quezon Province, and the Museum of Architecture + Residences in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Not to mention the nine Pinoy projects shortlisted in eleven categories. And now, you guys just got Highly Commended for the stadium.

As I said, it is a beautiful exercise. The first challenge for anyone is to present before everyone, ready to be critiqued and analyzed by your colleagues. That’s the significant first step for anybody who wants to join WAF. Because you will also be criticized by others out there. So, I would prefer to be critiqued by my colleagues here and learn.

2019 SEA Games

Oh, I was under the impression that most Filipinos would rather be critiqued by foreigners than their compatriots.

I think the other way around. Of course, I will always welcome foreign constructive criticism. But at the very start, to establish your foundation, first do the crits internally. My fellow Filipino architects are familiar with Philippine architecture; they live here and understand the context and the challenges. They have things to say that I should know. I don’t think I will hear that from the foreign architects.

So I need to reinforce my sensibility by talking to my fellow Filipino architects. And I think it was a very good exercise to hear their comments. Especially when the WAF veterans speak about the crits from the judges’ perspective, what judges are looking for, what they might ask. So for me, it was all good.

What Kanto and GROHE have done is no small matter. It is an excellent way to push modern Filipino architecture forward, really.

Oh, but it comes down to people like you and Budji, Jorge, William, and Jason agreeing to do this. And, of course, you wouldn’t do this if it weren’t for the top-notch jurors who agreed to do the practice crits. Your participation is a big deal because you have many followers who will take cues from your example. And I hope they will see from the quality of questions and comments by the jurors what constitutes good criticism.

The absence of ego, really, can bring us all to the next level. Imagine all the creatives and architects of the Philippines collaborating without ego. If Kanto and GROHE were to keep this up every year, the optics alone would help change the next generation’s mindset. As you said, the young ones take their cue from the people like Jorge, William, and Jason. And if that inspires them in their practice, what a positive influence this could be. It would help give rise to an attitude towards work that is real bayanihan.

2019 SEA Games

Constructive critiques will push all of us to do better. We are overly sensitive, overly protective of our feelings. But the walls that we put up are actually a manifestation of inferiority, a problem one can address by believing you are uniquely you, that there is nobody like you, just as there is nobody like the people you work with. The belief that each one of us brings something to the table is critical to collaborative work. I’m all for sharing these experiences with everyone. This is part of what they need to learn, and this is not something that we learn from school.

But it could be. Because the best schools abroad develop a healthy skepticism in their students. The objective just always must be positive and uplifting. I really hope you guys felt the love.

Well, I felt it. And as you said, this can happen in schools. This is something we’ve been telling schools—that if there could be initial discussions on architecture thesis work with engineers, and with architects for engineering students, and so on. We need less compartmentalization, less walls, and more experimental collaborations.

I was very happy you invited Nikko David to participate in the practice crit to share his perspective as an engineer. (David is president of MTD Philippines, the developer and contractor of New Clark City, whose sports complex and key buildings BUDJI+ROYAL designed.) It’s good for young engineers and architects to see the value of tight collaboration between the two professions.

You know, when we were doing this stadium, it wasn’t fun all the time. It was like being one of the gladiators in an arena battling against other gladiators, each one overly protective of their idea, of their way of doing things. Thankfully, it got more comfortable later on when everyone became more open to sharing ideas and listening to other people’s suggestions.  

I think the jurors set the right tone at the practice crits, which I found really helpful in preparing us to present at WAF.

2019 SEA Games

I’m actually not a believer in competitions; I believe in refinement. I believe that I must refine myself; I have to better myself. But to improve architecture in the Philippines? To have a voice on the world stage of architecture? We need debate, we need feedback, we need critique. Hey, guys, there’s a whole world waiting for Filipino creativity.

So let’s help each other. And share our ideas internationally. Again, not for us to compete, but to share the Filipino’s gift to the world, that perspective uniquely ours, and how we celebrate life. And let us learn and understand others too. I think that is the purpose of these international and global events. And the lesson for our local colleagues—just drop the ego, learn from others, and be excited to collaborate with other professionals and creatives.

Thank you, Royal. It sounds like a scary prospect for some, but let me just reiterate what Sudar said when he toasted you—”great things lie on the other side of our fear.”

Kanto thanks GROHE Philippines for sponsoring the practice crits that Kanto organized for Filipino WAF finalists. Your support is building a community of architects and designers who believe in life-long learning and critical thinking. Excerpts of the practice crits will soon be available for viewing on GROHE Philippines’ Facebook page.

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