Palafox envisions PH renaissance
“While practicing our professions of architecture and urban planning, we want to bring our country to a first-world position by year 2021,” says Palafox, who has visited and observed the architecture, urban development, culture and history of key cities in 57 countries.
“It’s about time that the Philippines’ image be metamorphosed from dusky squatters, archaic natives and rice terraces to an actively growing nation characterized by vertical and horizontal developments,” he says.
Palafox, who has 40 years of experience in architecture and 38 years in planning, is the founder and managing partner of Palafox Associates, the world-renowned architectural design and planning firm.
His company has designed memorable buildings and beautiful landmarks across the country such as Rockwell Center, Camp John Hay, Summit Ridge Tagaytay, the 180-hectare First Philippine Industrial Park in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, SM, Robinsons and Waltermart shopping malls. It was also behind the redevelopment of Ayala Alabang, Panglao Beach in Bohol, La Mesa Ecopark and Quezon Memorial Circle, among others.
Globally, Palafox Associates has been involved in the planning of over 14 billion square meters of land and the design and architecture of more than 8 million square meters of building floor area in 37 countries.
The company is the first Filipino architectural firm included in the top 500 architectural firms in the world of the London-based World Architecture Magazine in 1999. In 2012, Palafox Associates ranked 89th in the list of the world’s largest practices and 8th in leisure projects.
Palafox is vocal about his vision for the Philippines and is most excited about 2021, when the Philippines is set to celebrate its 500-year anniversary since the arrival of Magellan on March 16, 1521.
He says 2021 will also mark the onset of the Philippine Renaissance, brought by the growing young population, good governance, environmental sustainability and economic stability that the country last enjoyed after World War II.
“We can bring the Philippines from the 20th century well into the 21st century,” he says. “Now is the time to revitalize if the country is to undergo a reinvigoration and redevelop our country. The world is rapidly changing, and for the Philippines, things are looking up.”
Palafox believes in the capacity of the Philippines and the Filipino people to become a great nation again.
“We can do it. We can make our Philippines a great nation. The Philippines is number one in marine biodiversity, in seafarers and sailors, call centers, and maybe musicians. We are number two in business processing outsourcing. We have the third largest coastline,” he says.
“We are fourth in the world in gold and shipbuilding, and fifth in all other mineral resources. We are number 12 in human resources, and the Filipino expatriates are the preferred employees elsewhere in the world,” he says.
Palafox recalls that the Philippines was among the most progressive countries in Asia and Manila was viewed as a major financial hub.
“We were number one in Asia, second to Japan, from the 1930s to the 1970s. Asian countries voted Manila as having the highest development potential as a financial center for the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank,” he says.
He says for 300 years, the Philippines has been the Asia-Pacific hub of Spanish Europe, 100 years of the Americans, four years of the Japanese, and two years of the British.
Palafox says the Philippines is 400 times the size of Singapore, 350 times the size of Hong Kong, eight times the size of Taiwan, and three times larger than South Korea—all very successful and globally competitive countries.
Palafox has the ability to transform big words from concept to real projects. He is a former president of the Management Association of the Philippines and now the president-elect of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners for 2013 and 2014. He has been a recipient of local and international awards such as Gusi Peace Prize 2011 Laureate for Architecture Excellence and International Urban Planning.
He is an international associate/member of international organizations like the American Institute of Architects, US Green Building Council, Urban Land Institute, Congress for the New Urbanism, American Planning Association. He is country representative for the Council for Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.
He obtained his degree in Architecture from the University of Santo Tomas in 1972, a Masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of the Philippines in 1974 and a diploma in Advanced Management Development Program in real estate from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2003.
Palafox started his career as an apprentice draftsman in 1970, before becoming a private architect in 1972. He worked for various government agencies such as the University of the Philippines, Export Processing Zone Authority and the Department of Public Works, Transportation and Communication until 1975.
Palafox worked in Dubai, United Arab Emirates as a senior planner from 1977 to 1981. Upon returning to the Philippines, he became a consultant for urban renewal projects of the Ministry of Human Settlements.
In 1982, he joined the Shoemart Group of Companies, then known as Inter-Continental Development Corp., as planning consultant and construction coordinator.
He established his own architectural firm, Palafox Associates in 1989. The company now has more than 100 full-time staff and professional consultants.
21st largest economy
Palafox has an optimistic outlook for the Philippines, which he says, has the chance to reestablish its once historic Asian seaport.
He says the Philippines is predicted to become the 21st largest economy in the world, this must be supported by development visions, in terms of sustainable projects with positive effects on the environment.
He says each project should enhance the quality of life in terms of comfort and neighborliness, income generation and socio-economic and cultural activities in the local, regional, national, and international scenarios.
“Every project must elevate the international stature of Filipino professionals, be economically and financially viable, and enhance the environment for future generations,” he says.
Palafox says to achieve such renaissance, “we should step up and speed up from vision to concept, commitment, completion and implementation.
He cites the crucial role of cities in national development. “The recipe of most successful cities, I have learned, is not just establishing good leadership, but must also have a long-term economic strategy, an immense institutional capacity, well-financed infrastructure, high-quality education and a constant pursuit towards design excellence,” he says.
He says American architect and planner Daniel Burnham, who planned Manila in 1905, Baguio and Chicago in 1909, once commented that Manila had “the opportunity to create a unified city equal to the greatest of the Western world, with unparalleled and priceless addition of a tropical setting.”
“It is unfortunate, however, that the Philippines copied cities like Hollywood and Los Angeles that are car-oriented cities. Had the Philippines developed the best practices in the world such as the cities of London, Paris, Venice, New York, Boston, and San Francisco, Manila would fit the title ‘City Beautiful of the Orient’, or as Burnham put it, ‘the Pearl of the Orient’,” he says.
Palafox says as the Philippines became an independent republic, it disregarded the ‘City Beautiful’ urban planning principle of Daniel Burnham, and the leaders of the government and industry copied erroneously the car-oriented Los Angeles of the 1950s and 1960s.
“Thus, places to live, work, shop, and dine and resulted to the long commutes of people or employees from their place of residence to their workplaces. Along with historic developments in Manila comes the rapid population growth significantly so because of the continuing influx of migrants from other provinces,” he says.
Palafox says Manila, once the throbbing hub of commerce, tourism, and finance, was bedecked with contemporary and architectural landmarks from the Spanish and American era. However, the empty lots and spaces in Manila have been filled out by informal settlers, who moved from the provinces in the hopes of finding a better living and future for their families.
Manila then faced major problems such as flood and informal settlements, which turned worse at the turn of the century, posing great challenge to city officials and residents.
Palafox says to address the problem, the vision 2021 puts forward a strategy which takes advantage of the locational advantage that includes the development of urban corridors and clustering of major cities to urban growth centers as counter magnets to Metro Manila.
He says this will spur new investments nationwide in the regions and redevelopment opportunities in the other cities, creating jobs and economic opportunities especially for the urban poor in the provinces.
Palafox says his Manila Megalopolis 2020 vision, contained in his Harvard term paper in 2003, showed how the Philippines can create ‘pockets of efficiencies’ and strong regional economic activity by connecting major transportation nodes so that the Metro Manila congestion can decrease rural immigration to the already congested Metro Manila.
“Hopefully, the country, before its 500th anniversary, will achieve its aims to enhance the economic opportunity and provide a strong social support structure for people throughout the country. Opportunity means not only good jobs at every skill level, but also a good place to raise a family, participate in community affairs, and enjoy recreational and educational opportunities,” he says.
“We can all help together in bringing the Philippines from the 20th century into the 21st century to be number 21 in the world’s top economies by 2021, when our country celebrates its 500 years. For a renaissance to happen, all of us, Filipinos and residents of the Philippines should be open to new ideas that are creative, innovative and artistic, progressive and effective, short-term and opportunistic as well as long-term and visionary that must follow this new age of constant change,” he says. RTD