Words Judith A. Torres
Images GROHE and WAF finalists
“This could very well win a major award.” – Manny Miñana
“I’m just waiting for this project to win the Building of the Year Award” – Benjee Mendoza
“It is a near-perfect project…possible homerun here.” – Andy Locsin
Here we share with you a plethora of quotable quotes from respected names in Philippine architecture—men and women who quickly agreed to drop what they were doing to serve as mock jury for our World Architecture Festival 2021 finalists’ practice crits last October 15 and 16.
As for the three quotes above, we got it both right and wrong! Right, because the practice crit jurors and others were all telling William Ti he’d win. And win he did—big time! Not for the Emergency Quarantine Facility as WAF 2021 Building of the Year, but for Horizon Manila as WAFX Project of the year.
We had moments of levity, to be sure, but what was incredibly moving and endearing about the two-day private exercise was the care with which the jurors considered every word and image the finalists presented. Their messages of encouragement and prayers at the start of each morning and afternoon crit were stirring; the toasts they led at the end of each session, fun and inspiring.
Here are the prayers of the first and last sessions by Manny Miñana and Tina Periquet. Manny opened his invocation by expressing gratitude for bringing together “all the worthy participants of the World Architecture Festival… collegially as one family, representing our country, the Philippines.”
A video clip of Jorge Yulo’s toast, followed by Bong Recio’s and Sudar Khadka’s. Please excuse Jorge’s backdrop—we couldn’t instruct him how to use the green screen remotely!
Bong Recio: “You are in a league that is unique.”
“I’m sure you guys are going to be in for a great ride, albeit online, but I’m sure the experience and the sensation of being a finalist and interviewed by former WAF winners is something you will remember for a really long time. You are in a league that is unique. And you will bring—even now, you’re already bringing—lots of pride to the Filipino people and architectural industry here in the Philippines. So, to Rose Ong of Wilcon, our sponsors, GROHE and LIXIL who are always there for us, to Judy, who has always been organizing everybody, the logistics, amazing work. And to all the finalists, of course. I’d like to propose a cheer to everybody. For all the creative work that went into these entries. May we all win so we can start the parties! cheers! cheers!”
Sudar Khadka, who represented Leandro V. Locsin Partners and won WAF 2017’s Small Project of the Year, gave an inspiring toast, first expressing gladness that we had gathered “in the spirit of creating a mutually supportive community and upgrading a culture in pursuit of excellence.” Then he recounted what he and Locsin’s collaborator on the project, Norwegian architect Alexander Eriksson Furunes, went through after they had gone through their practice crit sessions:
Torches are being passed
In his message, Andy Locsin harkened to his father’s time, the 1970s, when there was a lively dialogue within the arts, a fraternal spirit between architects, designers, and creatives. Some years back, Locsin said he and some of his peers lamented that such dialogue seemed to have come to a standstill; “the creatives retreated to the corners of their own respective spheres.” Then, Locsin said, things started changing as young professionals started holding small post-workday and regular coffee talks.
“I’m personally delighted to see what certainly looks like a revival of that fraternal spirit, dialogues, and the beginnings of solid design collaborations between the design and artistic community. Many of us here today hope that this spirit takes hold and replicates itself throughout all corners of the industry,” Locsin said at our first practice crit session.
GROHE’s role in all this
GROHE Philippines plays a part in this revival of generosity, sharing, critiquing, and learning. GROHE is WAF’s founding partner, so its Philippine office quickly agreed to support events and practice sessions for Filipino WAF finalists, which they have been doing since 2015.
Since then, WAF finalists like Buck Sia and Jason Buensalido have scheduled their own private crits before GROHE’s crit, and small groups have started private discussions on issues besetting the local industry and have cut their teeth commenting on high-profile projects, as well as each other’s. Our hope is regular exposure to assessments by credible critics will show young designers how productive critiquing is done and how invaluable it is to personal and industry improvement and growth.
Joralyn Ong, assistant country manager of Lixil Water Technologies Philippines, recalls the very first send-off GROHE did for WAF finalists in 2015: “It was in our showroom in Libis. Jorge Yulo and William Ti were finalists, and Manny Miñana, shortlisted the year before, was emceeing with Judith. Manny was sharing his WAF experience and telling the audience (there were only about 30 to 40 people then) what the setup was like and the kind of questions the jurors asked because few Filipino architects had been to the festival and knew what it was like. I was struck by the purpose of our gathering. It wasn’t only socializing but for everyone to learn and show support for our Filipino finalists.”
Over the years, the GROHE tradition of holding send-off dinners and practice crits for WAF finalists had gotten bigger. The last couple of sessions had over a hundred guests and gotten nerve-wracking for the finalists. First-time finalist Jason Buensalido, shortlisted in three categories and a regular attendee of these GROHE practice crits, asked that this year’s sessions be private. This way, they could focus on their presentations and be candid when asking previous WAF finalists and winners for advice.
While GROHE had initially hoped to live stream the event, they understood the request and agreed. And while I wish the whole local architecture community could have watched the practice crits because they were instructive and insightful, keeping them private was the right way to go. Ong expressed the same sentiment in her remarks: “Thank you to our finalists this year for reminding us that small and intimate is what they need. This is for you, after all.”
What is critiquing?
Most Filipinos or, for that matter, most folks are averse to their work being critiqued because they equate criticism with fault-finding, the way many writers think editing is checking for mistakes in spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The rules of grammar and punctuation are clear; it is not so easy to critique architecture. And to critique architecture as if there were only one correct or ideal design from which the architect author has strayed is arrogant and folly. There are many schools of criticism—conservative, objectivist, liberal, romantic, and radical… and in each one of these schools, there always seems to be some sharp-tongued critic who delights in saying, “Think you got away with that? Gotcha!”
This is not what the GROHE practice crits are about. The shortlisted projects have already been pre-selected by WAF jurors who scour through hundreds and hundreds of entries to narrow them down to a dozen per category. Our purpose is to help our finalists’ presentations shine and help them anticipate difficult questions during the actual competition.
As Richard Coyne of the University of Edinburgh says in his essay, The Production of Architectural Criticism, “The purpose of criticism here is to conserve truth or uncover what is true, beautiful, or essential in the work.” This description resonates with Kanto’s editors, who skim and scan texts and manuscripts, searching for truth, meaning, and relevance before we read them closely for editing, fact-checking, paraphrasing, and re-organization if needed. While there are some WAF jurors who ask pointed questions, I find most of them are interested in uncovering truth, beauty, and meaning, and this is why I look forward to watching WAF crits.
Here are some of the comments our mock jurors gave William Ti, who presented twice in our first practice session.
Part of the bonding experience among WAF finalists and avid WAF observers is the trips abroad. GROHE and friends who can make it take the trip to attend every Pinoy crit. We’re there to offer moral support. Apart from the finalists, we encourage as many people as possible to witness a global event where genuine sharing and learning are indeed celebrated. WAF offers a level playing field where students and maestros, aspirants, and influential figures can present their ideas and converse, maybe even over coffee, lager, jenever, or port.
Carlo Malantic, GROHE’s head of project key accounts, who has attended almost all the festivals since 2015, shares why he’s in awe of our Pinoy finalists. They not only have “the guts to join the global conversation and propose new ways of thinking,” but willingly support one another and cheer each other on. In this practice crit session, Carlo talks about why everybody loves Jorge Yulo.
In another practice crit session, Carlo Malantic talks about Carlo Calma’s presentation in Amsterdam and the value of joining WAF:
Although we all missed seeing each other in person, one good thing about holding the private crits online is there were few distractions, and everyone’s attention was focused on the presentations. Personally, I enjoyed being able to watch people’s faces up close and listen intently to their exchanges, despite the occasional freezing of video.
The banter among the jurors before and after the crits was fun to witness. Here’s an exchange between Ed Calma and Andy Locsin about Yonni Habulan, Benjee Mendoza, and Sudar Khadka, while waiting for Jason Buensalido’s practice crit to start. (Emily is Emily Besavilla, LIXIL’s head of marketing and Hermie Limbo, its general manager. LIXIL owns GROHE.) Unfortunately, the audio’s choppy, so here’s the transcript:
Banter: University of Locsin and Calma
- Ed: Are you in the US?
- Andy: No, no, I’m home. Are you in the US?
- Ed: No.
- Andy: You’re here?
- Ed: Yeah, I’m in the office. It’s my new home because nobody’s here. I made it my home.
- Judith: Gosh, what does your wife say?
- Andy: Good riddance. (Laughter)
- Ed: Hey, Yonni’s here. Yonni, how are you?
- Yonni: Hi, I’m good, I’m good, thank you.
- Judith: Ah, he worked for you too?
- Ed: Yeah.
- Yonni: Yeah.
- Ed: Congrats, ha, you got a nomination for WAF also, right? This year?
- Yonni: For this year, yes, thank you.
- Benjee: Judith, Yonni was my batchmate. We both worked for Ed.
- Judith: The University of Calma!
- Andy: All these guys from our offices, Ed, sila na, out na tayo.
- Ed: Forgive me na lang for all the things I’ve done to you, ah.
- Benjee: That’s why we’re here, Yonni.
- Ed: It all paid off, right?
- Yonni: Yes! (Laughs).
- Benjee: And Sudar is quiet.
- Sudar: Haha! (Note: Sudar Khadka worked at Locsin)
- Judith: Ay, oo nga. Emily and Hermie, all the young architects here came from Locsin and Calma.
- Emily: The University of Locsin & Calma!
What I love most about doing the GROHE practice crits and send-offs is every year, I see a growing appreciation for the exercise and the easing of some of the country’s most established names into mentorship roles. Not for their own employees, but for former employees and competitors to help them bring honor to the country and because it is the right thing to do. It is magnanimous.
It reminds me of what Tai Lee Siang, then president of Singapore’s Design Business Chamber and former president of Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA), told a group of us back in 2014. It was about how the SIA (a private professional organization whose membership is voluntary and not mandatory, unlike the United Architects of the Philippines) built up their country’s architecture profession.
“In Singapore, we have a great government, but it took them a long time before they recognized the importance of the design industry and the architects. Right now, we have a lot of support from the government because they realized we architects export our services and protect dollars, which is good for the economy and makes Singapore a strong, creative design hub.
“But in the early days, we had to do everything ourselves—the ArchiFest, Singapore Design Week, Design Business Summit, President’s Design Awards—and promote it ourselves.
“I’ll tell you why we did it: because there are some things only you yourselves can do. Ultimately, you must be courageous enough to recognize talents among yourselves. To wait for someone outside to recognize your talent—too late!
“I am not a President’s Design Award winner. Sure, I get jealous sometimes because we organize the awards to give to others. But if we want our profession to be sustainable and grow, we’ve got to promote it ourselves. Our tendency is to want to grow individually—the individual person, the individual company—but that is not sustainable. As a body, as an institution, we do what we do for the next generation. Be gracious, be magnanimous, do it, and lead the way.”
Of course, waiting on WAF to announce Filipino shortlisted projects could be seen as waiting passively for “outside people” to recognize Filipino talent. But it isn’t so passive if we actively encourage participation and help our countrymen prepare when they are chosen.
And just look at the number of finalists, from one Manny Miñana in 2014 to seven firms in 2021—Alero Design Studio, BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture + Design, Buensalido Architects, Carlo Calma Consultancy, HANDS, Jorge Yulo Architects Associates, and WTA Architecture and Design Studio—shortlisted in 11 categories.
And look at this year’s triumphs:
- William Ti, Horizon Manila, winner, WAFX Project of the Year
- William Ti, Horizon Manila, winner, WAFX Water category
- Carlo Calma, Cagbalete Sand Clusters, winner, WAFX Food category
- Carlo Calma’s collaboration with Sou Fujimoto, Museum of Architecture + Residences, winner, WAFX Construction Technology category
- Jason Buensalido, Interweave Building, Highly Commended in the Built School and Best Use of Color categories
- Budji Layug and Royal Pineda, New Clark City Athletics Stadium, Highly Commended in the Built Sport category
- Sudar Khadka and Alex Furunes, winners, Architectural Review Emerging Architect Awards’ Peter Davey Prize
What our sponsor Rose Ong, Senior Executive VP and COO of Wilcon, said about WAF finalists having a halo effect on the entire local design industry is correct.
WAF Festival Director Paul Finch himself asked William Ti before he presented his WAFX-winning design, Horizon Manila, what was happening in the Philippines that there’s been such outstanding design activity ongoing. Finch was especially impressed that, this year, three projects in the Philippines have won three WAFX awards categories in Food, Water, and Construction!
We hope that ripples of courage and generosity will continue spreading throughout the design community. Calling on Filipino interior designers to join INSIDE and on mentors to lift their younger colleagues up—let’s show them what Pinoy interior designers can do!
Culture of creation
Was Andy right when he said torches were being passed? Sudar, who Andy describes as “a good egg… always been since Day One,” is even-tempered, thoughtful, principled, and wise for his age. He is filling a leadership role in the Philippine architectural community without his asking for one. And now, having won the Architectural Record’s Peter Davey Prize with his old-time collaborator, Alex Furunes, it appears both young men will be international leading lights in architecture in the years to come. On the last day of our practice crits, Sudar shared some of his reflections “about what it is that we are all doing together here”:
“We tend to see culture as the material artifacts of our societies. But we must also remember that culture is a verb—it is something that we do; it is a process we cultivate and care for. It is also a process rooted in participation and in recognizing the power that is within all of us, in the foundations of having an open spirit, and recognizing that we are all learners and we are all learning from each other. What we are doing today reflects the value of critique, in that we can all improve, and is rooted in the passion and drive for excellence.”
Sudar Khadka: “Knowledge grows when it is shared.”
“I’d also like to say that culture does not exist in a vacuum. In a sense, it relies on the mutual support that we have, among each other, about changing this mindset that we have about competition into something that is about cooperation because I think it’s really important to remember that knowledge grows when it is shared. So, while we all have very different narratives, and we are all exploring different threads of ideas, and we’re all trying to find our own voice, I think we are all united in the same spirit of wanting to create or make a contribution to our country and trying to expand on the broader architectural discourse.”
Architects and designers are born to create—you live to transform lives and change the world for better. But, as Tai Lee Siang told us years ago, “You can’t create unless you’re leading.”
You can’t create just by following what others do. So, to all the problems besetting the Philippine architecture industry—lack of government support, diving fees, lagging education, substandard board exams, an underperforming professional organization, archaic protectionist legislation, and on and on, we should say what Lee Siang and his cohort said about their problems in Singapore: “Enough.”
Enough is enough. We’ve got to change the status quo in our lifetime, not in our children’s lifetime.
And that is what GROHE’s support of our WAF finalists attempts to do, by enlisting the help of our brightest minds to be magnanimous and encourage and promote the next generation so we can see change begin to happen in our lifetime. What we’re seeing today are the tender shoots and slender saplings of seeds planted seven years ago. May a culture of creation rooted in the passion for excellence and a desire to serve the country take firm hold of many more architects and creatives in our lifetime and keep spreading. That’s the beautiful reality we envision in our momentary lapses of insanity. •
Thanks to 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 Pacific’s Facebook page.