24 years of redefining architecture

Courtesy of The Philippine Star, 08 July 2013

By: Jeremy Tintiangko


Traditionally, architecture is defined as the art and science of designing edifices that are habitable. But being the revolutionary that he is, Felino "Jun" Palafox Jr., founder and managing partner of Palafox Associates, broke out of the mold and proceeded to plan structures and communities that would transcend design and encompass societal and environmental issues.

Things began to take off for Palafox's career when he was granted a Masters Degree scholarship by the United Nations Development Program. The condition, however, was to work for the government for two years -- leading him to work under the tutelage of David Consunji, who was then the Secretary of the Department of Public Works, Transportation, and Communication.

While handling World Bank-funded projects such as MMETROPLAN, someone from Dubai contacted him for a major project.

Palafox believes that structures and built environments must co-exist harmoniously by considering the urban context of a location. And this principle of his has shown through even in his earliest projects.

"The ruler of Dubai wanted us to design the city as if there's no longer oi because they predicted early on that it would soon run out. What we did was to turn Dubai into a tourism center. Today, it houses the largest man-made harbor, the tallest buildings, and so on. We also created a garden city out of the desert. All these, Dubai achieved in 10 years," he enthuses.

While working overseas, Palafox met his future employers and clients in Dubai, who eventually invited him back home to the Philippines. Among these clients were Henry Sy of SM and the Ayalas.

After a slew of projects here and abroad, Palafox decided to live out the advice of one of his design idols, Daniel Burnham, who said, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die."

Acting with courage and faith, he boldly put up Palafox Associates on July 1, 1989.

Today, Palafox Associates have worked in 37 countries with over 900 architectural projects. Moreover, Palafox Associates prides in its myriad of industry recognitions -- amounting to over 200 awards from local and international insitutions.

In 1999, Palafox Associates became the first Filipino architectural firm to be cited in the World's Top 500 Architectural Firms of the World Architecture magazine. The firm ranked 94th and holds the distinction of being the only Southeast Asian firm in the list. Just recently, the firm placed 89th in the world-ranking. Also, the firm is hailedas the Top 8 in the Leisure Market sector, and has been included in BCI Asia's Top 10 architecture firms for nine consecutive years.

Palafox Associates is also the first Filipino architecture firm to be certified with an ISO 9001 in Quality Management and ISO 14001 in Environmental Management by the TUV of Germany in Architecture, Urban Planning, Master Planning, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture, and Engineering.

Palafox attributes his group's success in his headstrong commitment to his personal principles, which he has effectively cascaded down to his firm. Palafox adhere to the Triple E or Triple P bottom line approach which equates to People/Social Equity, Planet Earth/Environment, and Profit/Economy. With this, the firm's projects must embody concern and care for the environment, nurture social growth, and encourage development.

"Profit is the least priority of the firm although it is essential to keep it operational. However, if a project violates the Triple E/P model, we don't take the job," he says.

Among Palafox's most notable architectural projects include the Rockwell Center, SM Malls, Robinsons Malls, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid, the Philippine Chancery in Brunei Darussalam, Puerto Princesa, the First Philippine Industrial Park, Camp John Hay in Baguio, and more.

Palafox Associates also focuses on urban planning, with acclaimed works such as the Metro Iloilo-Gimaras Tourism Strategy and Action Plan, Metro Ilocos Tourism Master Plan, Phu Quoc Island Master Plan in Vietnam, and the Urban Planning Study for the City of Makati, among others.

With over 24 years of experience and service, Palafox Associates has proven that greatness can be achieved without having to compromise honor and integrity.

"I have been very vocal about corruption, protection of the environment, and addressing climate change," affirms Palafox. For this, he has received countless of recognitions not only in architecture but for his charitable and philanthropic work as well.

Last year, BBC paid Palafox a visit to talk to him about out-of-the-box architecture or what he calls democratic architecture, and what his Harvard professors dub as architectural activism. This year, Palafox was also cited as one of the 48 Heroes of Philanthropy in Asia.

Palafox Associates' success is only a reverberation of Palafox's character, vision, and principles.

"This is going beyond the conventional and traditional architecural box," states Palafox. Furthermore, he pledges that by 2030, all the buildings that Palafox Associates designs will have zero carbon footprints.

Palafox also cites the importance of continuing education in nurturing his practice. In fact, he is going back to Harvard by July to further study master planning and sustainability -- on top of a diploma in the same university and six special certificate courses.

Palafox has also conducted countless of lectures, seminars, and conferences in prestigious universities in 16 countries. Locally, he teaches Hotel Design at the Enderun Colleges.

After having achieved so much, one may wonder if Palafox is ever considering slowing down.

A question to which he quips, "I'd like to live until a hundred years old and retire 20 years after I die. There's still so much to do. My goal in life is to learn, earn, and serve all at the same time."

Palafox Associates also has its succession planning underway with the aim of strengthening the company from within and preparing for diversifying. All of which are being done in preparation for the ASEAN 2015, as it is their goal to be the employer of choice and a catalyst for lessening brain drain in the industry. As Palafox says, "Success is the intersection of preparation and opportunity."

Palafox Associates remains to be an unparalleled and leading architecture group that vows to make the world a better place.