Guideposts for future architects and urban planners

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ARCHITECT FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

IT’S been years since my five graduations from elementary, classical secondary education in the seminary, college at the University of Santo Tomas, master’s degree from the University of the Philippines, and continuing education at Harvard University. That is why it came as a surprise that the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) invited me to be their commencement speaker and to confer on me the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts (honoris causa). It is truly an honor to be a part of PUP, the largest state university in the Philippines.

Let me share with you excerpts of my message to the new graduates of PUP. First, we should thank above all the Chief Architect up there for we are merely instruments of His great works. We must also thank our parents—our first teachers— our benefactors who paid for our education and our teachers, professors, lecturers, instructors. Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his/her influence stops.”

We must also realize and appreciate that the Philippines is a country with high development potential. We are the first in the world in terms of marine biodiversity and also considered first in having the best sailors and seafarers. I would also like to believe that we are No. 1 in musicians. We are the first in call centers, having surpassed India, second in BPOs, and third in the longest coastline; some countries go to war to claim longer waterfronts like Iraq invading Kuwait, and Dubai, with only 70 kilometers of waterfront, created the Palm Islands. We are fourth in gold and shipbuilding; fifth in all mineral resources and No. 12 in human resources. Filipino expatriates are the popular choice of kings, queens, sheiks, presidents, prime ministers, developers, hospitals, schools, cruise ships, among many other international employers.

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, climate change, and criminality. Corruption, as I learned from the seminary, comes from two Latin words “cor” or the heart and “rupture” or breaking down together. With the prevalence of corruption, we seem to live in a country or society with a broken heart. It is up to you, the future leaders of this nation, to use your education and skills in bringing our nation towards global excellence.


We can start with ourselves by identifying and strengthening our core values. I always tell my staff that core values are like lighthouses, they cannot be moved. They will always be there to guide us. They don’t move even in stormy weather. If I may share with you, some of our core values include honesty, integrity, innovativeness, agility, and versatility. These core values help us become the proper ladies, gentlemen, and professionals who serve other ladies, gentlemen, and professionals.

They say the harshest critic you can ever have is yourself, and for someone who works in an industry responsible for the architecture, planning, and design of buildings, towns, communities, and cities for millions of people, you need to be at the top of your game. At age 67, I still continue my professional development through education. It is very important to continuously seek mentors and coaches because in life, the more you learn, the more you know that you don’t know. Remember that education does not end after graduation; rather it is only the beginning.

I have also learned through my mentors that every line I draw should improve life rather than disrupt it. If you do a good job, think of the beneficiaries. On the other hand, if you do a bad job, think of the sufferers. For instance, if you forget to put access for persons with disabilities (PWDs) in your building, one of the sufferers could be your grandmother or grandfather. Mistakes are better made on paper than in concrete.

One of my favorite quotes is that of Daniel Burnham, who planned Manila in 1905 and Baguio in 1909. He said: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans. Aim high in high hope and work. Remember that a noble diagram, once recorded will never die. But long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever growing insistence. Remember that our sons and daughters are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be Order and beacon Beauty.”

In 2006, at the 60th anniversary of the United Nations held in New York, I suggested that all the continents of the world should be connected by bridges, tunnels, roads and railways. People might have thought it a crazy idea at the time. Not long ago, scientists and experts affirmed my idea and one even said it would cost cheaper than the Gulf War. In our professional practice at Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture, we take pictures of the “uglification” of our cities and reimagine them into better places. We then turn these ideas into powerful images and send them to our politicians as Postcards from the Future. Dreaming big, I have always been inspired by a quote from Robert Francis Kennedy, “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?’ ”

Lastly, I would like to leave with you all, not just the new graduates, an assignment my professor at Harvard has given me. He told us to write our own eulogy. What legacy will you leave behind for your children and the future generations?

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