Palafox Associates: From Green To Silver and Beyond

By EPI FABONAN III

 

The Philippine Star, 01 July 2014 

 

When asked of any project his firm has not yet done, Felino “Jun” Palafox, Jr., founder and principal partner of Palafox Associates, said, “We’ve done almost every kind of project there is.” And yet, even as his firm turns 25 today, it looks set to reach new horizons from being just a renowned architecture, planning, and design consultancy firm.

Even before he founded Palafox Associates, architect Palafox has been exploring various horizons, beginning with priesthood. At 13, he entered seminary under the Society of the Divine Word where he finished his secondary education. Palafox admits the seminary shaped his principles of integrity, honesty, and discipline, which would become later form his firm’s core values.

Realizing priesthood is not for him, he left the seminary to study architecture at the University of Santo Tomas. After graduating in 1972, he immediately pursued post-graduate studies in Environmental Planning at the University of the Philippines under a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) scholarship.

 

Seeing green

After studying at UP, Palafox found work in the government under the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) at the peak of Martial Law. The experience would expand his horizons in urban planning by taking on projects such as the Manila Transport Land Use and Development Plan (MMetroplan), and working with international consultants. His exposure led him to work in Dubai where the Emir was envisioning a modern Garden City out of the city’s waterfront. He was assigned as the project’s senior architect and planner.

“The Emir knew that the city would soon run out of oil and so he asked us to envision the city without it. The result was a forward-looking city with residential, commercial, and tourism value which we now see today,” Palafox recalls.

The Dubai waterfront project is the first application of his architectural principle of seamlessly uniting structures with its surroundings and inhabitants. Dubbed the Triple P (People, Planet, and Profit) or Triple E (Environment, Social Equity, and Economy) principle, it would guide the leading Philippine architectural firm later on.

“The first one reflects what the client wants; the other two show how the first might be improved. Therefore, the firm includes the dimensions of aesthetics and technology, and reflects on the plan’s possible contribution to humankind,” Palafox said.

 

Birth to fame

Palafox Associates was established in 1989 which was a year of volatile global events. Revolutions rocked Central and Eastern Europe leading to the fall of communism, the Tiananmen Square protests gripped China, and environmental blunders like the Exxon Valdez oil spill shocked the world. The sweeping political and social changes would provide the emerging firm an impetus to adapt to the ever evolving physical landscape and the changing needs of its multinational clientele. Yet, even with these demands, the company holds its beliefs firmly by refusing any project that does not adhere with the Triple P/E principle.

The first project to test the firm’s advocacy was Lopez Group’s Rockwell Center, developed from 1992 to 2000. Together with the US-based Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) design firm, they envisioned it as an innovative, high-rise, mixed-use community where residents can work, shop, dine, play, and worship while being surrounded by a lush, natural environment. The firm conquered the challenge of creating a masterful community that is ahead of Philippine zoning standards at that time and transforming an old MERALCO power plant located along a polluted Pasig River into a first-class, integrated community.

 

Scaling the pinnacle

The success of Rockwell Center propelled Palafox Associates to the pinnacle of architectural notoriety, getting big name clients that include Henry Sy of SM Malls, John Gokongwei of Robinsons Malls, Enrique Zobel of Ayala Land, and the Sultan of Brunei. Since Rockwell, it has designed other master-planned residential communities including The Versailles in Las Piñas, Playa Calatagan and Terrazas de Punta Fuego in Batangas, and Haciendas de Naga in Camarines Sur. Its expertise in urban planning was also relied upon in the redevelopment of various cities such as the Manila, Navotas, Taguig, Iloilo-Guimaras, Butuan, Navotas, and Alaminos in Pangasinan.

Abroad, the firm created master plans for Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam, the Malabo Government Center in Equatorial Guinea, and the Dorali Freeport Zone in Djibouti. It also designed the Philippine Embassy and Chancery in Brunei and the Tzu Chi Schools in Bam, Iran.

Going beyond residential and office buildings, the firm also diversified by designing golf courses (Manila Southwoods, Santa Elena Golf Course), business parks (First Philippine Industrial Park, Iloilo Business Park), schools (Malayan Colleges Cabuyao, Lyceum of the Philippines Calamba), healthcare institutions (Ospital ng Muntinlupa, Asian Eye Institute, and Sharjah Healthcare City), religious buildings (Shrine of Jesus, Divine Mercy Healing Shrine, and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid), even war memorials in the Philippines, Saipan, and the Solomon Islands.

 

Keeping green

            As Palafox Associates was trailblazing in urban planning and architectural design, it remained committed to its advocacy of protecting the environment, which it embodied in projects such as the La Mesa Ecopark, the Quezon Memorial Circle Redevelopment, and various streetscapes in Makati City, Ortigas Center, Pandacan, and Puerto Princesa. Even its founder continues to push for architectural activism.

In 2008, Palafox refused to implement the master plan for the construction of a $120-million hotel-casino which required the elimination of 366 trees within a park in Subic Bay Freeport. While he lost $1-million in professional fees, he earned the respect of fellow architects and the public. He also expressed interest in assisting in the development of the stretch of protected biodiversity area at the foot of Mount Kanlaon, the highest peak in the Visayas. In 2013, he is one of four Filipinos honored by Forbes magazine as Heroes of Philanthropy in Asia.

 

 

Consistently leading

In 1999, just 10 years since its inception, the company emerged as the leading architectural firm in the Philippines as recognized by the London-based World Architecture Magazine. The following year, it was awarded ISO 9001 and 14001 certifications by TUV of Germany for Quality Management System and Environmental Management System for Architecture, Urban, Regional, and Environmental Planning. The firm is the first Southeast Asian architecture, planning, and design firm to be awarded so. In 2005, it was named by BCI Asia as one of the Top 10 Architects in the Philippines and was consistently awarded for nine years . It also consistent remains as one of the first Southeast Asian firm in the list of Top 200 Practices in the world.

As it reaches its silver milestone, Palafox Associates has worked in 16 billion square meters of land area and 12 million square meters of building floor area in 38 countries.

 

New horizons

            As Palafox steered the firm to its silver milestone, he is grooming a younger generation of architects, planners, and designers for future leadership. One person seen as his heir apparent is daughter Karima Patricia Palafox, one of the firm’s senior urban planners and managing partner. Together with other senior partners and young leaders, she drafted the firm’s vision by 2020 – to be the leading architecture, urban planning, and design firm in the Asia-Pacific Region. Karima also hopes to expand the companies reach in Asia, Europe and the Americas while keeping her father’s principles and advocacy.

            “In the last ten years, our firm has been top of mind for master planning and town planning. One of our thrusts is to create an even stronger architecture team, that's why my father and I, as well as three of our architect leaders incorporated the Palafox Architecture Group,” Karima, who holds a double Master’s Degree in Industrial Economics and Urban Planning, said.

            Palafox Architecture Group, Inc. is the conglomeration of Palafox Associates’ five architectural design studios which will serve as a stronger, dedicated architectural arm of the firm.

 

[photo of Palafox Architecture Group’s directors]

            Being a second generation Palafox, the youthful Karima sees a potential in second and third generation children of different business families. Recently, the first Fisher Mall, owned by fishing magnate Bobby Del Rosario and family, opened in Quezon City. The mall is a project of his children, realized through the architectural vision of Palafox Associates. The firm is also designing the next big project of Fisher Mall.

            “We're fortunate to be working with different second and third generation families who are venturing into real estate. They share our design principles and it's exciting to be working with them and helping create value in places outside of megapolitan Manila,” Karima added.

When asked if the firm also plans to venture in real estate, she said it is the firm’s ultimate dream.

“As architects, planners, and designers, our power when it comes in implementation of projects is very limited. Economic concerns sometimes trump over design and environment. We can better ensure that our design principles – environmental architecture, generous open spaces, and pedestrian orientation – are followed if we become builders and developers ourselves. We look forward to achieving this before our thirtieth anniversary,” Karima said.

For the past 25 years, Palafox Associates has redefined the very definition of architecture through its projects and advocacies. While it seems to have done everything imaginable in its field, the firm believes a plethora of opportunities awaits them in the next 25 years or so. And it will keep on reaching and exploring new horizons as it continues to be the leading architecture, planning, and urban design firm in the Philippines.

To learn more about Palafox Associates projects and services, visit www.palafoxassociates.com