Sharpening the saw for boom timeBy Isabel Berenguer Asuncion
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Last week, United Architects of the Philippines, Makati Greenbelt Chapter, held the first of its series of “ArchitectTalks,” a discussion with actively practising and established architects and designers sharing their experiences to the rest of the chapter members in a “talk show” format. The thrust of the activity is to mentor the younger generation of architects through the sharing of valuable experiences and insights.
I sat as part of the first batch of architects, together with my colleagues in the industry, architects Bong Zuñiga and Conrad Onglao. Bong runs his own firm doing largely exterior and interior architectures for banks and corporate accounts. Conrad, on the other hand, does mostly high-end residential and hospitality projects. I probably sit in between the two, doing both.
Among the many discussions and occasional “aha” moments, was the subject of professionalism in the industry vis-á-vis the earning capacity of a design professional, and the credit and recognition from the clients, whether in the form of trust and confidence, or translated into the appropriate financial compensation.
You see, many international publications have noted that architects are one of the lowest paid white-collar professions, which is the reality and very much the opposite of the fantasy version often portrayed in movies of the young, dapper architect—living in a beautiful modern home, driving an expensive car and running his own design enterprise. Well, in America maybe.
Long gestation period
The painful truth about the design professions, in this case architecture, is the long gestation period for learning and maturity. Much like the other professionals, the knowledge of technical issues and the wisdom in dealing with problems come largely through experience—and age.
But unlike doctors and lawyers, architects and designers are in the lower rung of the pay spectrum, and this is common all over the world. In the United States for example, the recession that hit a few years back has caused architectural firms to rollback pay to their architects, who in either disillusion or desperation, have moved on to other professions that pay better. In a few years, a recovering America will have a shortage of architects but this situation will not guarantee that the architects will finally get a bigger piece of the pay pie.
But as Asia’s new “tiger,” how do our design professionals prepare to take a piece of our economic prosperity pie? Between 1986 and today, we’ve only had building boom which went bust very quickly due to the 1997 Asian crisis.
For the next few years, volumes of malls, office blocks and condominium buildings will be rising over Metro Manila at an unprecedented rate—not to forget all their interior spaces that will need to be designed and fitted out. Cities like Cebu, Davao and Bacolod are beginning to have their share of large-scale commercial, medical and multi-use developments, coupled with resorts, hotels and the transport hubs that will make them accessible.
Unlike the predominantly first-world western practices, our local architects and designers have had little experience with large-scale projects, especially in terms of technical innovation and expertise on new problems like waste management, traffic patterns, building envelope (or building skin) design and the seamless application of the many new products and technologies.
Yes, the local scene has been moving on to large-scale developments, but only with a handful of architects and designers who have somehow managed to fuse design flair with the technical know-how in delivering not just pretty pictures, but the painstakingly assembled drawings as well. Concepts are one thing, but technical information is another ball game all together and is possibly the true test of whether the professional is deserving of a title.
Venue for training
In the case of our dear Philippines, we need a venue to train our young architects: whether they move abroad and come back to share acquired knowledge, work locally for production BPOs or labor in our local design offices. The latter is the least rewarding in the financial sense, but offers the best opportunities for learning within the local context.
The growth and ripening into this profession, which requires an extensive understanding of human behavior, technical know-how and the ability to translate all this into tangible products, is going to be slow and painful. Factoring in that many developers hire foreign architects and designers for marketing purposes, makes it doubly hard to find the platform for a steadily growing and professionally advancing design industry.
I’ll end with an invitation to our veteran and practising design professionals to step up the ante and mentor, teach, coach and train the younger generations to be even better than they ever were, and for the young ones to seize every opportunity to polish their rough edges. And to my dear Philippines, please give the local talents a chance to shine.
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