“We shape our buildings; therefore they shape us.” – Winston Churchill.
IN the past few months many friends and colleagues have been asking me if I plan to go into politics, or accept any position in government. Even a handful of readers of this column have suggested that I consider taking up an official post. I want to thank everyone who thinks that I have a lot to contribute to government, but to that, I always answer: there are many things that can be done outside politics that are equally effective in inspiring positive change.
As an architect and urban planner, I am always faced with the challenge by clients to maximize market growth and economic potential. In a business, capital costs and revenues are what keep companies afloat and able to sustain their many workers and their families. This concern is valid and responsible, as growth is also a duty of the company to the people working for it. But I always remind our clients that the greatest economic gain and operational savings can only be reaped if there is balance among social equity, the natural environment, economic development, culture and identity, and spirituality.
In a macro perspective, going with the mindset of “the market dictates” in an absolute fashion will only lead to unsustainable growth and degradation of the quality of life in the cities. Case in point: Metro Manila is facing the consequences of a car-centric development, side by side with super-regional malls and low density housing that cause transportation and housing crises.
There are moments as an architect and urban planner that one needs to be steadfast in one’s values, and in the best of one’s capability to do what is right. It is also a duty to convince investors of the greater reward of adapting principles that are good and sustainable.
One of my Harvard professors shared during our class: “You may be the best architect in the world… But if you work in a society that doesn’t address corruption, criminality, the environment, poverty and pollution, [you have the duty]to be an architectural activist.” Through my professional practice, I am constantly given an opportunity to guide business leaders in learning from the mistakes of Metro Manila. I am constantly given an opportunity to convince them to adopt principles that champion humanity, a higher quality of life, and ecological balance.
Architects, planners, engineers, and other professionals in the built environment who design and approve floor plans and building designs know that they always have the opportunity to prove that better designs, more humanistic and sustainable designs are more beneficial in the long run.
Architectural activism, simply put, involves being a professional who is steadfast in his values in designing works that are in harmony with the natural environment, making sure that social equity and livability are emphasized, and optimal economic gain is acquired. Architects, engineers, and planners are artists, scientists, humanists, and entrepreneurs all at the same time.
Architecture for humanity
In our country, the liability of the architect is only 25 years. Meaning, many of our houses and buildings are only good for 25 years, before structural audit and repairs are necessary.
This year the founder and Dharma Master Cheng Yen of Taiwan’s Tzu Chi Foundation as well as donors and volunteers from 90 countries appointed Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group to be the architects, planners, engineers, designers for a hospital, a university, and three schools in Kathmandu, Nepal, after the earthquake that devastated that nation. We were instructed to design the buildings and structures to last a thousand years to benefit 40 generations in a city vulnerable to catastrophic earthquakes.
Through Tzu Chi, Filipino Catholics are helping build schools and hospitals for Muslims, Buddhists and seculars in the Middle East, Nepal and Malaysia as a gift from the Buddhist organization in Asia. Interfaith architecture brought me to Taiwan, Malaysia, Nepal, Iran, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the US, and also to Aurora, Quezon, Samar, Leyte, Tarlac, Tondo, Smokey Mountain, and San Juan, among others.
Architecture, planning and engineering have the capacity to bring people together. After the devastating earthquakes in Iran, Nepal, and the devastating typhoon in Samar and Leyte, I am thankful that the Buddhist organization Tzu Chi has invited me, Palafox Associates, and Palafox Architecture.
“Be a gift to the world”. This Rotary theme inspires me to become a better person every single day and in consequence becoming a servant to God and society. Today, we live in a fast-paced world which is often opportunistic and ruthless in many ways. But I believe that in the end, the real mission and meaning of humanity is to be able to uplift others in becoming better people who care, respect, give, and love. As an architect and urban planner, my way of affecting change is through planning and designing buildings and cities that will shape the people who will use it. For God, country and planet Earth!