The windshield panoramic views of the future and the rear view mirror of the past

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How do you envision yourself 5, 10, 25, and 50 years from now? For people who live for the present, this question jolts them into looking ahead. But for people who live in the past, this question scares them. We must always remember that our lives are too short to think small. This is what I learned from renowned Architect and Urban Planner Daniel Burnham, my continuing education, 42 years as an Architect, 40 years as an Urban Planner, and lessons learned from more than 1000 projects of Palafox Associates in 38 countries. Thus, at an early age, I made it a habit to write down daily, monthly, and yearly goals on index cards to keep me on track. The challenge, then, is to try and beat the goals before their deadlines. About 90% of the things in our lives are right and about 10% are wrong. If we want to be happy, all we have to do is to concentrate.

This persistence and penchant towards goal-setting has helped me achieve many milestones for myself and for my firm many years ahead. I also kept a small notebook with me where I jotted down random thoughts, measurements, sketches, and things I learned from picking the brains of people wiser, older, and more experienced than me.

Big plans, bigger risks
A year before I founded Palafox Associates 25 years ago, I jotted down in one of the index cards dating back to 1988: “I must do the most productive thing possible at every given moment.” At the back of it, I made five-year goals. “1993: start my own private practice. 1998: become a successful architect/urban planner. 2010: write a book, go back to farming or teaching.” These goals, thankfully, were met ahead of their deadlines. I established my firm, Palafox Associates in 1989. In 1996, I delivered my first major lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University Graduate School of Design. In 1999, the firm published its first coffee table book entitled “The Planning and Architecture of Palafox Associates.” 1999 was also the year the firm was included in the world’s top 500 architecture firms by World Architecture Magazine of London, the first and only Filipino Architectural Firm to be so included. Palafox Associates made it to the top 100 in 2006. In 2012, we were ranked 89th in the top 100 architecture firms and No. 8 in terms of leisure projects.

Big plans result in big wins, but big wins require big risks as well. There is a time when we must firmly choose the course we will follow, or the relentless drift of events will make the decision for us. When I founded my company Palafox Associates in 1989, it was the year when coup d’états were imminent in our country, and the world witnessed the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the big bang of the Internet. But we still persisted on.


The word “work” is not an obscure Biblical concept. It appears in the Bible over 500 times. Often, the simple answer to your prayer is “Go to Work.” A belief, idea, inspiration is worthless unless converted into action. At 64, I still work very hard. Fifteen hours a day, seven days a week. I’m still very hands-on with the firm’s many projects. This is not because I am a perfectionist, but because at 64, I’m still trying to improve myself, striving to elevate my expertise, for in order to do better at your work, you have to completely immerse yourself in it. You have to fall in love with your work, and give a part of your life into it. Outstrip our yesterdays by today, and work with more force than ever before. We must strive to reach the global benchmarks to be worthy of respect.

The silver lining
When I was a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where most of the lectures were best practices in architecture, planning and real estate; one of our professors asked us to write down our eulogy and what legacy we would like to leave behind if we were to die that night. My classmates and I from four continents, I being the only Asian, were stumped. Even with my penchant for goal-setting I kept thinking what legacy I would like to leave behind for future generations.

Our firm, Palafox Associates,will celebrate its silver anniversary this July, bringing to the surface this multitude of emotions: optimism in the next coming years as our firm continues its journey and goal towards architecture, planning, and design excellence, and nostalgia as I look back at what our firm has accomplished in the past 25 years of its existence. As a team, we have been involved in the master plan of over 16 billion square meters of land area and the architecture design of more than 12 million square meters of building floor area.

As we drive on the highway called the Future, let us not limit our view by frequently checking the rearview and side mirrors to look back at the challenges and wonderful experiences we have been through, for it will always look distorted and seemingly nearer. The windshield offers a wider panorama, clearer window towards new opportunities and experiences and future trends, learning from the best and worst practices from the past, planning and designing for the future.

“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 watch word be order and beacon of beauty.”

–Daniel Burnham, Architect-Urban Planner
(Planner of Manila in 1905, and Baguio and Chicago 1909)

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1 Comment

  1. Daniel B. Laurente on

    Nice title of your professional achievements True enough that one’s future vision always has to do with glimpses of the past. A superlative vision of the future is always obtained if one has a panoramic view of its advanced surroundings. More power Architect June Palafox.