DURING one of my recent speaking engagements, I was asked if I have any plans to go into politics. Friends, and even readers of my column who leave comments online, have also made the same inquiry. To that, I always answer that there are more things one can do outside of politics to help in nation-building like philanthropic architecture and architectural activism.
Through my professional practice, I am able to plan a sustainable future for all and create value in every place, building, and community we design. Aside from architecture, design and planning for large-scale urban development of various land uses and building types, we also plan and design for the poor, the Church and the environment. We have five bottom-line approaches: People, Planet, Profit, Heritage and Culture, and Spirituality. We would like to live in a community that is mixed income, cross-generational, multi-cultural, interfaith, and interdisciplinary.
We must first realize and appreciate that the Philippines is a country with unfulfilled high development potentials. We are the first in the world in terms of marine biodiversity, call centers, and we are also considered first in having the best sailors and musicians. We are the second in BPOs, seafarers; third in having the longest coastline, some countries go to war to claim longer waterfronts like Iraq invading Kuwait, and Dubai making the Palm Islands to immerse other waterfronts. We are fourth in gold and ship building; fifth in all other mineral resources and number-twelve in human resources. The Filipino expatriates are the popular choices of kings, queens, sheiks, presidents, prime-ministers, developers, hospitals, schools, cruise ships among many other international employers.
The Philippines is more than 400 times the size of Singapore in terms of total land area. It is almost 350 times the size of Hong Kong, about eight times the size of Taiwan and three times bigger than South Korea. This should encourage us to make the most of our strengths on the land, natural resources and our people which the Philippines has been gifted by God.
In order to maximize the potential of our country and put the Philippines in the top 20 economies of the world by 2021, we must effectively address corruption, criminality and climate change.
Corruption, as I learned from the seminary, comes from two Latin words “cor” or the heart and “rupture” or to break, or breaking down together. With the prevalence of corruption, we seem to live in a country or society with a broken heart. The worst sufferers of corruption are the poorest of the poor.
Bringing professional design services to communities in need Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group have had opportunities to work with different organizations that help improve the quality of life for all. We have worked with the Tzu Chi Foundation in rebuilding homes of typhoon-stricken areas in Infanta, Quezon, Sri Lanka, and Aceh, Indonesia. We also helped them rebuild schools in Bam, Iran after a destructive earthquake.
Our firms also had the chance to collaborate with Gawad Kalinga to design housing for indigenous people. Similarly, we worked with the Urban Poor Associates to design better and more resilient housing for the informal settlers living along the esteros in Manila.
We call this architecture for humanity and democratic architecture. It means seeking architectural solutions to humanitarian crises. This includes ensuring that developments are inclusionary. It is my belief that development is not worthy of the name unless it is spread evenly like butter on a piece of bread.
Aside from helping our less fortunate countrymen, we also make it a point to reach out to local government and put forward our recommendations on architecture, planning, and design towards building better, safer, smarter, and more sustainable communities and cities. We architects, planners, designers and engineers at Palafox Associates would take pictures of areas in the Philippines that badly need improvement, and then reimagine them into places that bring value to the community. We send our proposed designs to mayors and other public officials, calling our urban design and architectural perspectives as “Postcards from the Future,” in hope that these images will inspire those in power to take action.
On the national level, we also submitted more than a hundred recommendations to the past and current administrations on addressing hazards before they become disasters. By identifying the areas that are liable to disasters, auditing the codes, and controlling development in these areas by imposing restrictions and regulations will help save hundreds of lives every year. Addressing hazards through planning, architecture, engineering and other sciences is 90% cheaper than post disaster rehabilitation.
In the end, our response to the built environment will reflect how we perceive our immediate surroundings as well as our roles as its caretakers and stewards for future generations.
“As an architect, if you’re not an optimist, you’re not going to survive professionally,” Sir Norman Foster, world-renowned architect once said. “You have (to have) a belief in the future.” In the same manner, all of us, whether you are an architect, planner, government official, local expert, or simply a citizen, need to work together to help create a brighter future for our country. We also need visionary leaders with strong political will, good design, good planning, and good governance to address development challenges and bring progress to our country well into the 21st century.