Business World (The blueprint of Filipino architecture)

October 23, 2015


THE LATTER STAGES of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos’s Mar-tial Law buried the Philippines in deep political and economic turmoil that sparked a mass revolution and ended the dictator’s 21-year rule. As the coun-try was recovering from the crisis, the local architecture industry was roused after a long hiatus.

“We were just waking up,” said CA-SAS + Architects President and Chief Executive Oficer Carmelo T. Casas in a recent interview with BusinessWorld. “More than 20 years ago, the scene in the Philippines was a little bit back-ward. At that time, we were still trying to catch up after the EDSA Revolution. The developers were trying to resume their operations. That ignited the con-struction activities here.”

The Philippines used to be at the forefront of its regional neighbors from the 1900s to the 1970s in terms of urban planning, architecture, infrastructure, and the built environment, stated Palafox Associates Founder Felino A. Palafox, Jr.

However, the construction sector encountered tough times during the mid-1980s when Filipino architects, planners, and engineers became less appreciated in the country even though they were highly-respected abroad. Mr. Palafox added that this occurrence is happening until today.



Mr. Casas noted that “brain drain” or the emigration of skilled people in the country poses some serious concern in the industry yet it could also bring out positive results.

“Young architects and soon-to-be-architects move abroad when they see the reward of money. That is very short-sighted,” said Mr. Casas. He then added, “[But] it is important that the architects are exposed to what is hap-pening [globally] in order to improve their skills as an architect. I think it is important to see the world.” Mr. Casas and Mr. Palafox both practiced abroad before settling in the Philippines.

On the other hand, one of the challenges Mr. Palafox pointed out was the outdated legislation covering the country’s built environment. “We have been importing the wrong design models and the wrong city planning models in our country, which have made our cities unattractive, dysfunctional and fragmented,” Mr. Palafox stated in an e-mail. “Politicians, lawyers and contractors decide, rather than the inputs guided by architects, planners, engineers and designers on our built environment. Those have ‘uglified’ our cities.”

The two architects believe that ma-jor improvements should be made in the present local architecture industry. “What we want to have is strong gov-ernment intervention and support in the regulations of laws,” Mr. Casas said. Meanwhile, Mr. Palafox suggested that the industry must revise and up-date its “obsolete” laws in planning, building, zoning, and architectural design standards and practices that make the Philippines and its cities “less globally competitive, unsafe, ineficient and vulnerable to disasters.” He added that unjust taxation is also another obstacle that architecture and construction firms are currently dealing with. “The Bureau of Internal Revenue is running after some of us -[architects] here. But they don’t run after the foreigners because they get paid in their own country by the developers So the Filipino is a second-class citizen in his own country,” said Mr. Palafox.


Notwithstanding the challenges, Mr.Casas thinks that Filipino architects stand out against their international counterparts due to their natural artistry, loyalty,tiveness. He also highlighted that 

Filipino architects working abroad are the country’s best ambassadors because they can relay and express themselves well.

“Once Filipinos get into something, it becomes their passion. It's the pas-sion and love for architecture that makes a Filipino architect unique,” he added.

In spite of that, Mr. Casas advised Filipino architects to strive for origi-nality and not compare themselves with other nationalities. “Be the best you can be as Filipinos. It’s more of quality, not quantity,” he said.

For Mr. Palafox, he described Fili-pinos as creative and trainable artists who are likewise flexible, resilient, and multi-tasking. “We’re also on the right side of the English divide,” he said.

Mr. Palafox urged everyone to look at the positive aspects of the Philippines. “We’re supposed to be number one in marine biodiversity, music, and the maritime industry worldwide. More-over, this country has the third longest shoreline in the world. The biggest development asset along the shoreline is the waterfront. We are number five in the world in mineral resources. We could improve our infrastructure and the status of the Philippines. We are number 12 in the world in terms of hu-man resources. In terms of global com-petitiveness, we could be from number one to 12 in the world.”

However, he said that the country needs to develop a culture of integrity to address corruption, criminality, and climate change more effectively.

Asked about his expectations regarding the future of the local ar-chitecture industry, Mr. Palafox said he wanted to see more professional development and technology trans-fers from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP,) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). An improvement in the quality of educa-tion in the Philippines is also needed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Casas stated that the best is yet to come for Philippine architecture. “If Paris has the Eiffel Tower and Malaysia has the Petronas, what does the Philippines have?”


"Notwithstanding the challenges, Mr. Casas thinks that Filipino architects stand out against their international counterparts due to their natural artistry, loyalty, diligence, and inquisitiveness. He also highlighted that Filipino architects working abroad are the country’s best ambassadors because they can relay and express themselves well."