Heritage shot by Arts Serrano

Architect Arts Serrano: “Architecture Should Adapt to The World as it Changes”

One Zero Design Co. principal Arts Serrano challenges architects to rethink: Is this the world that we would want the next generation to inherit?

Introduction Patrick Kasingsing and Gabrielle de la Cruz
Interview Gabrielle de la Cruz
Images Arts Serrano and One Zero Design Co.

The year that was
Merriam-Webster’s “gaslighting,” Messi’s ‘crowning’ at the FIFA World Cup, the rise (and imminent fall?) of Musk-era Twitter, the monumental departures of Queen E and Pélé, and the continuing turbulence in Ukraine and Iran… 2022 sure was a memorable ride, for better or worse. 

On local shores, 2022 hosted a significant election, one whose outcome is still the subject of myriad Facebook groups, heated debates, and countless memes. It also broke records for dollar-to-peso exchange rates and the price of the humble onion, and paved the way for the return of concerts, exhibits, and other public gatherings (along with the pre-pandemic traffic situation, unfortunately). 

YES 2023
It is in the spirit of tenacious optimism that we at Kanto look back at 2022, parsing through the past year’s opportunities and challenges to find lessons and insights that can help arm us for the year ahead. 

Welcome to Kanto’s first Year End Special or YES 2023—a collection of conversations with creative professionals who help us unpack a year’s worth of lessons and insights, along with their forecasts and wishlists for the year ahead.

A conversation with architect Arts Serrano
Picking up from our previous conversations on the urban fabric, we look back at the developments of the past year and our hopes for the next in the realm of architecture via One Zero Design Co. principal Arts Serrano. One Zero Design Co. is an Escolta-based design sudio specializing in residential and commercial spaces since its establishment in 2014. The studio found renown for being one of the pioneering creative practices to set up shop in Escolta Street, once Manila’s Wall Street. One Zero, along with fellow creative partners Jeremy Laureano, Chris Trajano, Kent Guevarra, Migi Remolador, Allison Denise Te, and Majerle Morales have continued to contribute to Escolta Street’s ongoing reinvention as a creative hub.

Architect Arts Serrano
Principal of One Zero Design Co. Arts Serrano

Hello, Arts! How have you been? What personal changes did 2022 bring? 

Hi Gabrielle, and hello to your teammates at Kanto. I personally got back to kettlebell training and had the chance to compete with local players. Having this gives me the opportunity to completely shut down my design mind and focus on something from the other side of the spectrum. It helps with my overall productivity and well-being!

Good to know that you were able to pursue personal projects! I recently saw your Instagram post on Saan Saan’s new store. Was this your last project for 2022? 

The past year has been more hopeful. As our cities slowly start to open up, we feel a renewed enthusiasm from everyone to start making new places again. We are extremely lucky to have survived what we think is the worst of the pandemic.

Closing off Saan Saan by Mark Zavalla is an apt end to an incredible year—truly inspiring to see more small businesses thrive against the odds!

With the gradual opening up of cities and resumption of activities in the past year, how was the architecture industry affected? How about your team in particular? 

The architecture industry in the country was thrust into adapting to this new world. For us at One Zero Design Co., the shift was quite easy because we have been very flexible with our work environment even before the pandemic hit. Some might say this shift to hybrid work is long overdue. 

It is great to see more offices embracing this. What with traffic and commuting situations also returning to pre-pandemic levels. While there are things we can still improve on, most of us have found more efficient ways of doing work with all these changes.

Can you share with us what “efficient ways of doing work” your firm has picked up thus far? What was something you learned as a team this 2022? 

During the height of the lockdowns, we have closed design contracts without physically meeting our clients. In a few of them, we only really met face-to-face during the pre-construction briefing! This is definitely something that wouldn’t have been possible before the pandemic.

As a studio, we do not see ourselves growing beyond 8-10 people. In 2022, the fourth quarter came and we saw ourselves fully booked with work, which is a great problem to have! 

Growth for us comes from how meaningful each work that we do is. Embracing this model in scalability frees us from the pressures of a design studio’s typical “expansion”. We would want each project to have the same care and attention that we gave when we were just starting out. 

Looks like your firm had an interesting 2022! Was there a specific project that you particularly enjoyed working on or learned from? 

We designed a cafe space in Pasay. We found an opportunity to use retaso wood blocks as our main design feature. Six hundred pieces of off-cut scrap wood were suspended in key areas to highlight where the coffee is made and where the space opens up to the outside. Retaso wood blocks were also cut in arbitrary geometric forms to act as retail display shelves, access doors, and platforms for certain coffee equipment. 

The location of the cafe also made us realize the importance of having a conversation on material, as it is set near a global fast furniture retailer. Breaking the linearity in a material’s lifespan is something that isn’t explored as much in the local architecture scene. When a material is sourced, procured, processed, and used in a space, does it have to be disposed of as we exhaust its intended use? 

Speaking of conversations, what discussions, trends, or adjustments in the realm of architecture within the past year did you like/dislike? 

We worked on a project with a creative agency that completely embraced the hybrid work environment. From over a thousand square meters of office space, they transitioned to a quarter of this footprint in the second quarter of 2022. This premise excited us, as we were working on a design that is largely removed from office culture as we knew it.

We hope that more people will see the value of adapting to the world as it changes, no matter how drastic that change is.

We also saw how bike lanes were given more prominence during the pandemic, and how biking communities advocated for a safer street for all. We hope that while the momentum is there, legislation could be put in place to standardize a street footprint that is more equitable. 

Escolta shot by Arts Serrano
The Escolta community

We cannot deny that adapting to changes can be difficult, especially when we talk about the built environment. What principles or values that you learned from the past year do you wish to share with people from your industry? What do you wish for the architecture industry in terms of facing challenges head-on? 

As we saw how our cities were put to a standstill by a global pandemic, we slowly understand that we cannot look at the architectural practice in a vacuum. The challenge for us architects is how we can slowly communicate the need to push back against the old way of doing things. How can we unlearn decades of city-building knowledge?

At a time when we already know how an airborne virus can affect the spaces we inhabit, why are we not enforcing stricter measures to improve indoor air quality? This is clearly not the first or last pandemic that will hit us.

At a time when we see the effects of climate change around the world, why are we still building corporate enclaves off our shores? 

The pandemic highlighted the gross inequality in how our cities function—from housing to transportation, where work can be accessed, and how work is actually done—how can we make our cities more accessible to everyone?

Architecture can play a role in answering these questions—but to create lasting change, architecture must understand its role in how our cities are built. Who are we building our cities for? Is this the world that we would want the next generation to inherit?

Taking all the questions you posed into consideration, what are your plans for the coming year? Is there anything in particular that you want to do?

We hope to slowly get back to more community work. The past three years were more about survival and now that things are slowly getting back to normal, there is still so much work that needs to be done in championing our built heritage. •

Gabrielle de la Cruz started writing about architecture and design in 2019. She previously wrote for BluPrint magazine and was trained under the leadership of then Editor-in-Chief Judith Torres and then Creative Director Patrick Kasingsing. Read more of her work here and follow her on Instagram @gabbie.delacruz.

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