VBo Architects+Engineers, a rising firm in Metro Manila

VBo Architects + Engineers
Mary Neil and Junim Velasco, founders

VBo Architects + Engineers is a group of professionals led by young couple Junim and Mary Neil Velasco Bocalid, ASEP and UAP respectively. It is based in Muntinlupa City and started in 2013. The company is a complete Architecture and Engineering firm that has already tackled some big ticket projects from well-established developers like Ayala Land in its LiO Tourism Estate, a fully integrated resort community in El Nido, among other notable projects.  The company name is derived from the partner’s family names and have designed for different clients ranging from restaurants, business establishments, residential as well as hospitality related projects. 

Beginnings

The partners started out as highschool sweethearts. Mary Neil took up Architecture in UP Diliman and worked for a while in Leandro V. Locsin and Partners while Junim studied Civil Engineering in UPLB and worked first at SYSQUARED + Associates then later with TCGI Engineers. 

“It was really our dream to have our own firm in the long run. After five years at Leandro V. Locsin and Partners, I can no longer balance my personal projects with that of the firm that I took a risk and established the company,” Mary Neil, who 26 years old at that time, shared. Right from the start, they were already in collaboration with each other while Junim was still employed. When the demands of the office became greater, that was the time that he resigned as well. Mary Neil admit that it was a big risk but something that they have to do. 

“If you just do your work properly, if you do your full effort, people will definitely recommend you. The best thing that happened to us is we got projects via word of mouth. Our colleagues, even our co-architects, especially those who are working abroad, they recommend us,” she added. From small projects leading to big ones.

The Coast project and other works

Coast is a new 71 room boutique hotel in Boracay’s Station 2’s beachfront and it was Mary Neil, who was 25 years old at that time, took charge of the architectural works. The project came as a recommendation and she was an outsider as most of the project people were family members. “It’s so rare that you get to get a big project like Coast at 25, so we gave it our best. It’s also great that I was able to work with the Raintree Hospitality Group which now runs the hotel.”

From here, other projects followed like Casa Kalaw and the proposed Artists’s Village in the LiO Tourism Estate, some conceptual projects for a development in Sicogon Island, a dormitory inhttp://stancabigas.com/architecture Espana Boulevard as well as interior fit outs for condominiums and restaurants.

Design aesthetic

VBo Architects+Engineers’s design aesthetic is more on clean lines, more on modern style, a mantra and design direction that Mary Neil has cultivated under Leandro V Locsin and Partners with the Architect Ed Ledesma as his mentor. “When designing, we focus on the experience of people. If your design is good and pleasing to the eye but people can’t relate to it, you failed in the design. Spaces and architecture should make an impression on people’s memory, on their experiences.” 

It is this kind of experience that one can get in the Coast resort hotel. The structure is simple but done in such a way that it becomes interesting with the added texture. The perforated wall enables a play of light, shades and shadows that balances the regularity of the form. 

Working with clients and working together

The firm is proud to say that it is service oriented. Being professionals, it’s about following through with commitments even if it’s difficult, collaboration with client is key. “We had difficult clients before. For me, it’s more about educating them. We don’t totally shut down the ideas of the client. We listen. What does this client like about the design, the aesthetics? We collaborate, we try to improve together. We refine what the client wants to bring out the best solution for the project. In this way, we also learn from them. Design is a continuous learning process and it’s a matter of how you approach it. We’ll give options, we give the advantages. Hopefully, they understand it and our proposal gets approved.” 

Mary Neil advises that it’s better to know from the start if the client is workable, based on interviews. They don’t really say no to a project, per se, but the rare times that they have to say no is when they have a full work load and can’t deliver a full service to the client. 

Projects can be either or both architectural and structural, but either way, the two collaborate. The advantage of offering both services is that either of them can consult with each other based on their experiences and training. “Even outside or even at home, we can’t help but discuss about work but there is always equal respect for each other,” says Junim.

One thing that the duo has noticed and experienced is that there is a big difference working with corporate and private clients. For companies, deadlines are strict, demanding, structured but fast paced and on schedule. They get to work with experienced contractors too. On the other hand, private clients can be very personal and intimate. They get to cultivate relationships. Although it can be challenging at times when work is paused because of funding issues.

Running VBo Architects + Engineers

Junim and Mary Neil strives to have a not too strictly corporate type of office environment. They prefer a casual, more personal approach with their staff. It’s more an informal setup. This explains why, upon entry to the office, you will see several character figures, from Junim’s collection, and board games occupying the higher shelves. They sometimes play, sometimes they eat out, especially when work gets tough. The staff is mostly from the south of Metro Manila as they are from Muntinlupa City, while the bulk of their projects are here too. They also have people working on a project bases and are work from home, especially those residing in other parts of the metro. Technology thus play a big role by utilizing email and Skype for meetings. 

Although as a startup firm there were also growing up problems. “We started out as just the two of us, now we are 18. As a firm, the challenge now is on the business side. It’s not something you learn in architecture school. Compared before working as an employee where it was easy and you just focus on your work, now, how do you manage staff in a way that still has that personal touch? So it’s also important that we train and mentor them. It’s also good that, as founding partners, we have mentors too who guide us like how to go about business processes and handling staff,” Mary Neil shares. 

One thing that Mary Neil and Junim provide their staff are travel incentives. Milestones and achieved targets are celebrated with travel. “We treat them abroad like Thailand, Malaysia. Last summer, since we hit our goals, we went to a designer hotel in Sorsogon. I think one way to keep them inspired is to let them experience good design. I want them to feel ownership of their design so that they will be proud of their work. Our approach is holistic. And they are happy and loyal. You should always take care of your people. 

Future plans

As the firm celebrates five years April next year, the two still have a lot of things that they want to achieve for VBo Architects+Engineers. “Individually we’ve been able to work with different kinds of projects when we were still employed but as a firm, we want to get new, bigger and challenging projects, like a high rise. But every year, we are able to achieve our milestones, we get to level up. It’s like more quality projects than volume. You might have many similar projects but stagnant in the process. Having different kinds of projects is something that will always excites you.”

VBo Architects + Engineers
The company founders maintain a casual vibe at their office
VBo Architects + Engineers
VBo Architects + Engineers team

Photographs and article originally published in D+C magazine in 2017.