EUDO's design principal, Edwin Uy, shares his passion for continuing education, tips on networking and socializing in the age of Zoom, and the flow of the firm's future

Interviewer Judith Arellano Torres
Images EUDO

October 2018, Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Uy earns his Master in Design – Design Strategies with Distinction, the school’s highest honor. Header: 2019, Uy at a studio shoot for the firm’s website, sitting on a Vitra Wiggle Chair by Frank Gehry, and backed by a B&B Italia Soft Wall brought in from EUDO’s Makati office. Uy says he surrounds his people with high-design pieces to inspire creativity.

Playing with crafts, material experimentation, deciphering client’s personal stories, and translating small details into a bigger picture—these are part of the creative approach EUDO fosters to provide each of their projects with a fresh perspective. The happy result is an emotional response between the inhabitants and users of EUDO’s designs.

The firm’s services include architecture, interiors, and design strategies for branding and marketing. EUDO founder and principal, 43-year-old Edwin Dychauco Uy, says he lives and breathes design, surrounding himself and his team with well-designed objects, and pushing his team to follow his example of life-long learning and discovery.

Edwin, are EUDO’s pre-COVID plans shot? Do you have post-COVID plans?

From the very start of my practice, I always went with the flow of my decisions. When my gut tells me it is time, it is time, regardless. I solve problems along the way. This is how I reached where I am today. It may not be the perfect path to success, but what life ever proceeds smoothly as planned? My point is, life’s decisions are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. You don’t start one edge and build neatly, row by row to completion. We pick a piece, find a match, and work from there. And if you can’t find more pieces to fit that portion of the puzzle, you find another piece and work from there. 

You went back to school in your 15th year of practice. That must have disrupted things.

I have always put great importance on continuing education. Early in my practice, I said no to a couple of projects as I was in Europe taking short courses. That’s how important it is for me. Education can instill so much more than you expect, far beyond what you expect from the curriculum. At Domus Academy in Milan, where I studied Industrial Design, I never expected the owners of Thonet themselves would be the jury of our final project presentation. The projects you work on in continuing education are far above those you take at university level, opening up whole new perspectives. I love encountering challenges and, of course, the people you meet along the way broaden your horizons too.

I am a passionate designer, not only of architecture but all the different fields of design. I’ll never stop learning and studying.

ZHA’s Jockey Club Innovation Tower, the crown jewel of Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s campus, houses the Poly U School of Design.

Tell us the backstory.

Exactly four years ago, I decided to take up my master’s degree after bumping into two significant people. First was Choie Funk (at the time, an acquaintance), who shared that she was off to Barcelona for post-graduate studies. It sparked my dream of taking my master’s. Two days later, I was with my former thesis advisor from the University of Santo Tomas, Willa Solomon. She urged me to consider it as well.

Just like that, I started scouting for the best school and course. I trimmed my options down based on proximity. It had to be an Asian city not far from Manila because I didn’t want to stop my practice. Why a foreign school? Because the courses available in the Philippines are limited.

I decided on Hong Kong, a two-hour flight from Manila. Master of Design – Design Strategies at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which Bloomberg cited as one of the world’s best Master of Design courses. The course is for practicing professionals, and classes were held on weekends. It molds both design and business development at the onset of a project—very relevant for my practice and the local design industry. As an added bonus, Zaha Hadid designed the university’s Department of Design and Architecture building.

The Hong Kong protests started toward the end of my studies, and soon after my graduation, one of the worst conflicts happened right on our campus. Talk about sheer luck! If I had taken my sweet time applying, my studies would have been interrupted by the violent protests and all the travel restrictions caused by the pandemic.

The Hong Kong protests, photo from Unsplash
Uy presents a group project prototype for JBL, an American brand of speaker systems. The task was to redefine and investigate design innovations on sound, specifically for children in Hong Kong.

How did you manage school in Hong Kong and practice in the Philippines?

I took up my master’s degree from 2016 to 2018, shuttling weekly to Hong Kong. I didn’t think it would be a problem as I had been shuttling for 14 years between my two offices in Makati City (in Metro Manila) and Cagayan de Oro City (southern Philippines). The Manila-Hong Kong flight was just 30 minutes longer than my flights within the Philippines.

I anticipated sacrifices would be made, and that’s what happened. It hurt my Cagayan de Oro office. Imagine a Friday to Monday trip to Hong Kong for weekend classes. Tuesday in Manila. Mid-week, I’d be on a site visit in one of the islands, which left little time to visit Cagayan de Oro. The routine was most difficult during my first school year.

At the time, Zoom meetings were unheard of, so monitoring was difficult. I had senior officers at the Makati office, so things were under control except when new hires came in. I could not train the new assistants properly, so the connection between us wasn’t as strong as I wanted. Had online communications been as efficient then as it is now, it would have been much less of a problem. So the pandemic has had some positive impact in the world of business.

You loved school, I bet.

Despite the challenges of shuttling between work and school projects, with seven-hour lectures in every class, I survived and graduated with Distinction, the highest achievement one can get!

My capstone project was to write a book. I took advantage of the opportunity and designed the book to the core by reflecting the subject matter, specifically, authenticity. I wanted the book’s physicality and materiality to reflect the subject, so I used three types of paper textures of the same shade, so you would only notice the difference when you flip the pages. I apply experiential design in my projects–why not use the same for book design? The book, entitled “Design Authenticity Matters in Philippine Architecture,” won a Silver Award at the Adobo Design Awards Asia 2019.

2018. Book launch of Design Authenticity Matters in Philippine Architecture held at Kuysen Karousel, one of Uy’s projects in Metro Manila. Attended by designers, clients, friends, and media, the event coincided with EUDO’s 15th anniversary.
Uy’s book, which he published, was one of two capstone projects chosen by the faculty to represent the Master of Design – Design Strategies prospectus for Hong Kong Polytechnic University 2019/2020.

Were you prepared for the pandemic?

At the start of the Philippines’ lockdown, I was stuck in Switzerland for almost six months due to flight cancellations and could not come back. The Swiss government educated everyone about the virus based on scientific research. They tried to balance safety measures while maintaining the movement of the economy. In contrast, the Philippine government scared everyone, rounding up violators of the lockdown. This drastic difference made me feel that the situation was not as bad as I first thought.

I didn’t think the pandemic would last very long. Many of us didn’t. We were all wrong, and 2020 has been one of the toughest challenges for our office. I heard some practices became even more productive but, unfortunately, not in our case. Our productivity was at its lowest, and, I have to admit, the strain on people’s mental health led to this. It was the worst during the first six months of the lockdown. I felt everyone was slacking off, and I was in a different time zone as this happened.

The absence of face-to-face contact took a toll on some of my team at the Makati office. I did my best to re-establish a better working environment online for everyone towards the end of the year and provide a more positive outlook to counter harsh reality.

The Cagayan de Oro office experienced only a short, partial lockdown, which did not affect operations. So, ironically, things have gone smoothly there despite my absence since early March of 2020. Via online communication tools, I built a strong relationship with them that I could not do while studying in Hong Kong.

I now require work at the office once a week because I refuse to accept that work from home will be the norm. Some may disagree, but I think creatives work better together as a team in a physical set-up rather than online.

2019 Makati office Christmas party, the last face-to-face party the office threw
The EUDO Makati team working on a presentation of mood boards. A scale model made entirely of wood blocks for Boysen Color Play, an exhibit booth project in 2017

You chose sole proprietorship from the get-go. No mergers or partners in the offing?

Still solo, though I may reconsider this depending on opportunities within my team. I have always encouraged growth and would be happy to provide a longer tenure and, eventually, a higher position partnered with excellent performance and a good relationship with the office. I am really hoping my office is a place for my team to explore their full potential rather than them going off on their own. But this takes patience and perseverance, which, unfortunately, I do not see much in the younger generation these days.

However, I have some employees who have shown promise. Without hesitation, I open my arms and offer them a future with me at EUDO. Our office name change from Edwin D. Uy Architecture, Interiors, and Design Office to EUDO (which stands for Edwin Uy Design Office) reflects our more diversified practice. Most importantly, it is meant to foster a more universal belonging among the team with the company.

How different is it finding work nowadays from pre-COVID?

Referrals still play a significant role in reeling projects, coupled with coverage on our website and social media platforms. I have been investing in professional architectural photography ever since I started my practice. These photos surface in media publications, which helps spread the word on our work offline and online.

From 2013, I also invested in videography as I feel this is the next best thing to visiting and experiencing the projects. I enjoy collaborating with my trusted videographer with whom I have worked since my first project. Recently, I have gotten more active in conceptualizing the videos, art direction, and scoring.

Top left: The firm’s original logo, designed by Uy. The top right logo represents the firm’s 17th year. The new logo is a long, horizontal graphic.
Video of EUDO’s House 19

An architect told me the pandemic has caused them to look for traits and skills in potential employees they otherwise had not considered necessary before. How about you?

Recently, I would go more for personality than academic prowess—someone open to different possibilities—open-mindedness, basically. Skills-wise, aside from basic knowledge in computer programs, I need someone who understands instructions quickly. I hate repeating myself.

Good mental health, a positive state of mind, and the ability to handle adversity are qualities I would consider now.

You had an exchange program for Cagayan de Oro and Manila employees—what happened to that?

I travel a lot, and I want my team to experience other cultures. The rewards and exchange program started in 2014 when I attended the World Architecture Festival for the first time in Singapore with two of my best-performing employees. I did that too at the Business of Design Week in Hong Kong.

Early last year (2020), I rewarded three of my studio leads with a trip to Macau to see Zaha Hadid’s Morpheus Hotel. I had already purchased the tickets and made hotel reservations, but everything was canceled because of the pandemic. For now, the rewards and exchange program between my two offices are on hold. Once operations normalize, I want to bring back the exchange program, which I time with a team-building activity and overnight stay. The feedback on these activities has been pretty good.

2016 and 2017, EUDO’s top performers go on reward trips to Hong Kong.
2019 studio shoot with the Makati operations team

Barring COVID-19 considerations, how is employee retention?

It’s been good! I had and have employees hitting the five-year mark; one came back after taking further studies in Hong Kong. However, a small office’s challenges remain—some employees want to experience working in a big firm, which I can’t do anything about. We continue doing what we do, but this time, I have done as much as I can to establish a closer relationship with each and every employee.

To architects who just opened shop or are about to in 2021, what advice do you have?

For those who have just started, stay positive. I have seen some of my employees getting depressed by the scare and threats issued by our government. It’s easy to think that now is the wrong time to start a business. But if you find ways to work around the pandemic, you may come to a newfound exploration in your practice. Residential architecture and interiors continue to thrive. Everyone is staying home, and they see the value of investing in professional designers for their homes.

Online meetings have become prevalent, so your physical location is no longer crucial to securing projects as before. In fact, online communication could help you tap a larger market and increase the probability of winning a project. I currently have a house renovation project in Nova Scotia, Canada, not directly due to the pandemic but entirely made possible by online communication.

Given our country’s social media addiction, this is one good way to promote your practice. Do not be discouraged when the projects that come in are small. Treat them as you would a vital project—you never know what the small jobs will lead to.

If you haven’t started your practice yet, I recommend gaining more experience in an office that shares the same values as you. That way, when you do start on your own, you have a template of sorts, to begin with.

The Annual Halloween Party went online in 2020. Game winners and the best in costume won cash prizes.
EUDO celebrated 2020’s Christmas party for both Makati and Cagayan de Oro offices via Zoom. The dress code was meant to honor the frontliners battling the pandemic.

How do you network without socializing?

Networking is one tricky thing to do today without face-to-face social events. But social events are not the only place one may network. Your best sources of leads for future work are:

Current and recent clients. Try to know them on a more personal level while still maintaining professionalism. As they converse, listen carefully. They might be renovating or downsizing a space—maybe even expanding. Inquire politely and discretely, rather than outright asking for work.

Consultants and contractors. They work in our industry and have clients of their own. Clearly, it works both ways—the logic of reciprocity, if you have shown good conduct of practice and quality, the consultant may want to work with you again. During these challenging times, we should really be helping each other out!

Organizations. Rekindle friendships at alumni associations and online school reunions. Join church and community organizations to introduce your practice to a network of people from different backgrounds. These sources still apply despite the pandemic. Don’t forget suppliers, including those you have worked with while apprenticing or working at another office.

How do you socialize in a teleconference call?

With social media or online events, you can send private and public messages. When I hosted an online design lecture event via Zoom, many more questions were posted compared to the same event done face-to-face the year before. So use this new platform of socializing to your advantage.

The Philippines is a social media-heavy country, from Facebook to Instagram and even Tik-Tok. Build and curate your posts to reflect your values as a designer. Hashtag all you want, to get your posts seen. A lot of my clients now find design inspiration by searching hashtags on Instagram and Facebook.

How does Uy WFH? He does sketches and drawings manually and digitally. These are then sent as photos for implementation.
2019, SPAM Design Talks at Malayan College Mindanao in Davao City (Southern Philippines). Uy discusses Design Authenticity.

How do you stand out in Zoom?

Personally, I can’t wait for the old ways of social interaction requiring physical presence. But the principles remain the same. You are your own advertisement. Whether you’re face-to-face or in a Zoom call, wear clothes that speak of your character as a person and designer. People won’t see your pants and shoes in Zoom, but they’ll remember a funky haircut or bowtie.

You have only a thumbnail to show yourself, so make sure what people see clearly represents you as a designer. How? First, do not use those hideous backdrops. Second, curate your space. You cannot do this at a physical event, so this is one advantage of teleconferencing. Arrange your background in a way that catches the attention of other people attending the call. Attendees will notice; we are a curious bunch of people; we try to figure out where you are.

One time, I attended a social Zoom event, and the first thing the host noticed was the B&B Italia Soft Wall partition behind me. I positioned it that way because the host distributes the brand in the Philippines. So the rest of the participants now took notice of me. As you know, in Zoom, we usually only allow one person to talk at a time. So focus goes to you and only you.

Last words, Edwin?

For some of us, this time is an opportunity to slow down our busy lives, especially from our hectic industry. Stay positive. Focus on improving yourself. Study. Take an online course. Physical separation makes people think the world revolves around them. It doesn’t. Reach out to others, help each other out. Explore and be open to change.

I have continued to travel, came from Turkey, and, in fact, I am writing from Switzerland as I have traveled back once again. Not that I do not care about my health, but I wish to live as much as I can. We just have to live with the virus for now. There are ways to stay protected outside the safety of our home. Though I respect people who refuse to leave their homes, it is one thing to choose this for yourself and another to be forced.

June 2020 at the Röthlisberger headquarters and factory in Gümligen, Berne, Switzerland. Jan Röthlisberger, General Manager of Röthlisberger Kollektion eyeing wood veneer selections. A worker assisting the wood veneer application.
EUDO corporate giveaways crafted at the EUDO Workshop in Cagayan de Oro in 2017.

Let me go back to the jigsaw puzzle. While I was in Switzerland summer of 2020, I stumbled on a Swiss furniture brand called Röthlisberger. It is a fourth-generation family business that specializes in wood craft. Craftsmanship is one of the things I value to achieve authenticity in design. It was a good match. It rekindled my interest in opening a design store, which I have always wanted but did not have the time to do.

I felt the moment was right. The store is named DUOE & OBJECTS, which we will formally launch middle of 2021. DUOE is an anagram of EUDO, and signifies a “duo,” like the partnership between EUDO and Röthlisberger. Also in the works is another collaboration with Ino Caluza of Viktor Denim, which will be included in the roster of products sold in store. Hopefully, there will be more collaborations to come. Talk about optimism despite the pandemic! I still think the future is bright and will allow us to prosper once more. •

Judith Arellano Torres is the former editor-in-chief of BluPrint magazine, which she led for ten years. She edited four books, Blueprints for 2050Design BetterTropical Architecture for the 21st Century Books 1 & 3, and co-wrote the latter two. Before BluPrint, Judith worked for 17 years in television in a variety of roles, including COO of the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC); COO, executive producer, and editor at Probe Productions, Inc.; and producer for CNN International, covering the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.

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