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Monday, July 23, 2012

Filipino firm wins international design title for UK museum

Architect Abelardo Tolentino Jr. once drew up designs for clients in Moscow who had never seen a Filipino.
“When we presented there six years ago, they were surprised. Of all nationalities, Filipinos are the ones designing their projects. Aside from the fact that it’s fun, it also gives us a sense of pride that somehow, we have given them an image of the Filipino talent,” Tolentino said.
Today, his all-Filipino firm Aidea is fast gaining international renown, winning this year’s Build London Live (BLL), a competition involving 10 teams from around the world to design a detailed virtual perspective of a museum celebrating 2012 as a landmark year for London.
Within the grueling 48-hour deadline, Aidea’s design went from idea to form, earning the judges’ nod.
There’s neither a cash prize nor immediate plans to build, but the award is far greater, Tolentino said, citing “bragging rights” and international recognition.
“We’re very happy, we did not expect that we’ll win,” he told the Inquirer. “One very important reason why we joined this kind of competition is to show to the world that the Philippines can do something good or comparable to what others can do outside the country,” said the Aidea founder, president and CEO with a 25-year experience behind him.
“Many people do not know what capability we have here. I’m sure there are a lot of people who were surprised that we won first place because people know that Europe is more advanced than us. But that’s not the case. We can compete with them,” he said.
“We want to stop this trend of people leaving to work abroad. We’d like to think that people leave not just because of money, it’s also because of exposure. And if we can provide that exposure—they travel, work on projects overseas—then there’s a bigger chance that they’ll develop their careers with the company,” said Tolentino, 46, who worked in a Hong Kong firm for nine years.
Toughest contest yet
Aidea’s BLL outing this year was its first, the firm’s toughest virtual build yet in which 16 architects and graphic artists squeezed some two months’ worth of work into two sleepless days.
From noon of May 21 to noon of May 23, the 10 participating teams, including those from the United Arab Emirates, India, Ireland and Chile, worked on the design challenge live.
Teams used a software called Building Information Modeling (BIM), a sophisticated design technology that architects use to create 3D models of their designs, even show how the building will be constructed from ground up.
The cloud-based technology, which Aidea has been using for seven years, could also automatically generate construction schedules, logistics requirements and possible technical glitches.
“It’s designing and it’s also applying the technology. The task is to apply as much BIM to the design as possible. So in 48 hours, we’re uploading information to a site in London, they’re monitoring our submissions,” Tolentino said.
Teams learned about the design problem on the day the competition started: Build a museum that would immortalize events in London this year, notably the 2012 Olympics and Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee.
The proposed site is on a rotunda near O2 Dome and London Park, a space split by a road requiring architects to design two interconnected buildings.
Inspirations for building
Aidea responded with a three-story building that drew inspiration from three key words: identity, inspiration, innovation. The design aimed to capture London’s place in history and the future.
The result was a design that translated openness, strength and connectivity into sloping glass panels that offered open views of its surroundings and maximized sunlight, and a bridge and basement that gave people an unbroken route through the building.
“It has to talk about the events in London in 2012, not just the Olympics. And they had very specific requirements when it comes to planning, the flow of people, what the museum should have, the areas, they had requirements on how to connect two sites,” Tolentino said.
The Aidea team also had to do research about British design and construction standards. Participants were required to file progressive submissions online for everyone to see. Thus, everybody knew which team was ahead and lagging in the design process.
Judges from around Europe announced their choice on May 23 at the closing event at the Royal Institute of British Architects streamed live online. Congratulations and inquiries about Aidea’s design process poured in.
All-Filipino agency
It’s an accolade Tolentino could not have imagined back in 2003, when he decided to go on his own and turn the firm from a branch of the British firm RMJM into an all-Filipino agency.
“When we were starting out, it was really hard. We were a new player and I saw that Filipinos, we tend to be shy. But we need to believe in ourselves,” Tolentino said in an interview in his office overlooking Aidea’s recent designs: the Convergys and People Support offices, and the plush The Columns condominium.
Aidea’s other designs include developments of Ayala Land, among them the University of the Philippines Technohub in Quezon City. The firm has also been the architectural partner of multinational manufacturing firm Procter and Gamble, designing its headquarters in Geneva and offices in more than 40 countries.
This year, Aidea was ranked No. 86 among the world’s Top 100 architectural firms by Building Design, a London architectural communications company. Last year, it won second place in a similar 48-hour live design competition in Singapore.
Aidea has received delegations of architects from China, Singapore, Korea and Japan in its Makati City office, all curious to know how his firm does design.
“We had Japanese people asking us to teach them. And for a Japanese, that’s a very big thing,” he said.
“In other countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, China, if you look at their design companies, you will see a lot of Filipinos. These companies are powered by Filipino talent,” Tolentino added.
“If we can just get our act together in the industry, we can provide services outside of the country. Many architects choose to go abroad and stay there longer, but that’s not always positive. But with this new technology and a new mind-set, I think if we want to compete on a global scale, we can stay here and do our designs here.”
(Story courtesy of Tarra Quismundo Philippine Daily Inquirer)

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