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Filipinos most sought-after architects in Singapore

/ 12:05 AM October 04, 2014

Singaporean Theodore Chan can’t help but comment about the “ubiquitousness” of the Filipino overseas worker. “You guys are all over,” he chuckled good-naturedly.

He meant that in a positive way. The president of the Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA), and the director of CIAP Architects Pte. Ltd., hastily added that he had nothing but admiration for the skills and knowhow of Filipinos, especially in the architectural field.

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“Singaporean architects have taken interest in the Philippines because a lot of your architects work in our offices. I would say that 90 percent of our workforce in Singapore are dependent on foreign technical expertise, and of which maybe 70 percent are of Filipino origins,” Chan told Inquirer Property during a panel discussion on Sept. 9 at the Master’s Hall of Yuchengco Museum in Makati. The panel also consisted of other leading Singaporean and Filipino architects.

Under the theme “Forefront of Asia’s Architecture: From Local to Global,” the Filipino and Singaporean groups have been planning a platform to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and insights. Topics of the day included key challenges brought about by globalization, international trends, best practices vis-à-vis the broader topic of the 2015 Asean integration, and what it means for Filipino architects. It also highlighted the breadth and range of upcoming design-centric events happening throughout the year in Singapore.

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The Singaporean group was led by Tai Lee Siang, president of Design Business Chamber Singapore and group managing director of Ong&Ong Pte. Ltd., and Andrew Phua, director for exhibitions and conferences of the Singapore Tourism Board. Organized by the Singapore Exhibition and Convention Bureau (SECB) and BluPrint, Chan and the two other experts shared their insights on the region’s biggest trends and most pressing challenges faced in architecture and design today.

With literally hundreds of projects—local and international—shared between the two countries, the Philippines’ own Carmelo Casas, principal architect of the Casas+Architects, and Abelardo Tolentino Jr., principal architect of Aidea Philippines, rounded up the panel of Filipino experts in an open industry forum which was facilitated by Toni Vasquez, chief operations officer of TI Vasquez Architects & Planners Inc.

“In the field of architecture, globalization and the inevitable sharing of expertise across borders have long been happening. In fact, what is being discussed lately is how to improve the sharing of expertise,” Chan revealed.

He added that Filipinos working in architects’ offices in Singapore are licensed and trained architects. “They work in Singapore to do support work to help us document, elaborate and develop our designs.” Because of licensing issues, however, they cannot call themselves architects in Singapore, Chan disclosed. “Regardless, they are experts in their design and computer fields, which are very much in demand in Singapore.”

Not enough local chances

“There’s so much talent in your country. What is sad is that the infrastructure, the institution and the government do not create enough opportunity for you to showcase your talent. So this is where the profession has to make concerted efforts to showcase the talent of Filipino architects,” Chan stressed.

One way to develop local talent, he noted, would be to hold a design competition, with extensive media coverage.

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“It’s a familiar story, because when the 53-year-old SIA was in its infancy during our time, the institute profiled our designers to the extent that some architects have become renowned internationally,” he said.

He added: “Thirty years ago, the Singaporean economy was not good. There were housing problems. We learned (from it). We held competitions and invited foreign architects to join in. Surprisingly, our local architects won the competition, even if the entries were submitted anonymously. Visit the Tanjong Pagar, where the first 50-story public housing building was located. The design for that was won by one of our local architects and went on to win an international award in Chicago.”

In a separate interview, architect and urban planner Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr. told the Inquirer: “Filipinos are creative, trainable artists”. He added that 56 of the 800 Filipino architects in Singapore were trained with Palafox Associates. He added that the same number of Filipino architects in Dubai also trained under his wing. “Even students from Ivy League schools in America trained with us.”

Chan, for his part, remarked that the Philippines’ location in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and in the path of over 20 typhoons every year make the country a virtual geographical “proving ground” for creative architects. “Filipino architects are definitely more expert in dealing with natural weather phenomenon. We are blessed that Singapore doesn’t have to experience these kinds of natural calamities, but I think there’s a lot of need for this specialization in architecture, which I call disaster recovery and socially responsible architecture.”

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TAGS: Architecture, property, Singapore, Singapore Institute of Architects, Theodore Chan
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