Landscape Architect Efren Aurelio

Efren Aurelio, Landscape Architect

Efren Aurelio, Landscape Architect is one of the known Filipino architects in his field and has worked on many major real estate projects nationwide.

‘It used to be an afterthought, cosmetic. When developers do a project, they consult engineers, architects, planners, and before opening day, say, ‘hey, we don’t have any landscaping. Let’s call a landscape architect. ‘

Ar. Efren Aurelio of EA Aurelio Landscape Architects reminisced with a smile, when more than a decade ago, such a situation existed. Heading the country’s leading landscape architecture firm, Ar. Efren knows fully well how it is in the Philippines.

‘But now,’ he continued, ‘developers here now know the value of good landscaping and get us involved at the start of the project. Actually, a beautiful landscape raises the value of the property. It’s good that the clients and the developers are realizing that.’

Efren Aurelio, Landscape Architect
Efren Aurelio, Landscape Architect

Ar. Efren Aurelio, a tall and imposing but soft spoken man can immediately make you feel at ease. He grew up in the once scenic coastal community of Parañaque’s sea side of Manila Bay, which he credits for his aesthetic sensibilities. In 1979,  he graduated with a Landscape Architecture degree, the fourth batch at the University of the Philippines which pioneered this Architecture specialization. After working for two years in the country, he worked with leading firms in Singapore for four years and in Hong Kong for the next 11, honing his skill and expertise on region wide projects.

Landscape Architecture in the Philippines

‘Business was actually good at the start here in the Philippines, with just two or three practicing landscape architects with the bulk of projects going to them. Till now, while there are thousands of building architects, registered landscape architects in the country may just be around 200-300. Thus the bulk of projects are landing with us, for the few firms that are here in the country.’

To many who think of landscape architecture as just simplistic, it does go beyond aesthetics. As Ar. Efren, who has done several major projects for residential, commercial, institutional and industrial, this is what he has to say:

‘In some of the projects that I’ve worked on, the developers were quite happy with the ideas that I have shared at the start as it saved them from lots of unnecessary costs. Ideas like better layout of the land, better grouping of buildings, better road layout, better circulation of pedestrians. We are trained to see many opportunities with the terrain and we can manipulate the landscape, if needed, and specific elements in order to maximize a property for the benefit of the people who will eventually use it.’

Memorable projects

As Ar. Efren Aurelio mentioned Greenbelt Park redevelopment, his eyes brightened. A flagship project of Ayala Land which redeveloped and oriented the mall’s architecture to the redesigned garden, it was one of his successes, being the Filipino counterpart in the landscape design of the high profile property. This eventually won in the prestigious International Design and Development Award, 2004 in New York.

The Zuellig Buildling in Makati City is another high profile project with specific and stringent standards and requirements and is his first work on a LEED certified structure.  The project, designed for Silver Certification, reached the Platinum level, one of the highest.

‘Another memorable project for me is a subdivision development in Davao City called Villa de Mercedes,’ as Ar. Efren recounts with fondness. ‘Here in the Philippines, most developers have templates and you just have to work with it. I was given a freehand on what I want to do by this new developer in Davao.

I made a grand entrance. Their sales increased when it was finished. The same thing happened when I made the clubhouse and the swimming pool. They need to develop more land as there were no more lots to sell. Here, I was able to see the importance of landscape architecture in reality. Good landscaping really sells the property.’

Using local species of flora

‘Before, we usually used introduced ornamentals. They have to be functional, they have to provide shade, provide flowers for beauty… but it’s also important to use local species rather than relying on mostly introduced ones. Newly introduced species can affect the environment negatively. It’s not only the flora that you consider but the overall environment. These local species are already established and we use these as much as we can.’

Challenges in the practice of Landscape Architecture in the Philippines

While landscape architecture is just around 50 years in the country, compared to about a century like in the US, there is still the problem of numbers both locally and globally, as Ar. Efren averred. But he also attested: in his view, the biggest challenge is the global recognition of the expertise of the Filipino landscape architect.

‘The US has been in the profession for the longest time. Same with the Europeans. But we Filipinos are innately good, artistic wise. Many of the Filipino landscape architects who went abroad excel, holding high level positions. We are fast learners, we easily understand. We are very much respected in Hong Kong and Singapore while the other foreigners are not considered much. Why is it here that developers don’t give much importance to local talent.

But after many years, I see that slowly changing now with many developers realizing our expertise.’

On ASEAN integration

‘There are lots of apprehensions. Yes, the ASEAN integration can pose as a challenge. We need to improve our technology, improve our education… But, as I said, we’ve been abroad. The things that we do are the same things that these guys do, except perhaps they just live in richer countries. I do believe that the Filipino landscape architect can compete with them. Or we can  work with them.’

EA Aurelio Landscape Architects is an award winning, experienced and innovative landscape architecture firm in the Philippines providing independent consultancy, providing international services in master planning, environmental graphics and landscape architecture with offices at Unit 1610 Future Point Plaza I Condominium, Panay Avenue, Barangay South Triangle, Quezon City. 

Originally published in D+C magazine, Q1 2015.

Architect Mark Madrid finds joy in building houses

Architect Mark Madrid

“I get satisfaction in building houses for other people, designing it as if I will be the one to live in it.” Thus spoke the mild mannered and articulate Mark Madrid, Architect and BERDE Professional at his office loft in Makati City. Be it a newly constructed house or a renovated one from a few decades ago, there’s that element of being satisfyingly livable: bright with large windows, airy with good ventilation, and surprisingly cozy.

Architect Mark Madrid
Architect Mark Madrid

There are no architects in the family. His mother was a housewife and his father an accountant. He resolved to become an architect someday when he was in high school. “My mom has a knack for designing and renovating. Sh had a background in Fine Arts and wanted to take Interior Design but didn’t push through when she got married. She started fixing up our house and when my grandmother renovated her house my mom took charge of that as well. She always brought me to these activities that’s why I tended to have a liking for building and designing and I already sort of knew the direction I want to take.”

Starting as an Architect

After graduating from the University of Santo Tomas in 1994, and passing the board exams the following year, he worked in the family business until 1997. After that, he continued his practice on his own, doing both design and construction. Projects were hard to come by when the Asian financial crisis hit. He realized his knowledge was mostly houses and low rise commercial structures. He wanted to learn how to do bigger projects.

In 2000, instead of getting a Master’s degree, Mark decided on getting practical training, something that will enable him to learn more than just building houses. He applied and got accepted with the firm of Architect Pablo Antonio Jr., getting assigned at the Asian Hospital & Medical Center which was being built that time. It was here where he learned first-hand the formal processes and systems in a corporate setting.

After Asian hospital, Mark Madrid wanted to go back and restart his own practice but when new interesting projects were given to him, it was hard to pass off: the FEU renovation and new buildings within the Manila campus, semiconductor projects, BPO buildings and hospitals that were in the proposal stage then and also the Makati Medical Center. Starting as an assistant to the senior architect, he gained the confidence of Architect Antonio that he rose from Junior to Senior Architect, eventually shadowing the architect himself and sometimes, representing him in meetings. In 2008, Mark left the firm and focused on his own practice.

BERDE Professional

Architect Mark took the Philippine Green Building Council BERDE professional course in 2012 and the assessor’s course in 2013. But as far as his projects wanting certification, he laments that there’s none. But he adds that the certification courses greatly enhanced what he already knew on “building green,” like proper orientation, natural ventilation, natural light and selection of materials, and energy-saving equipment. There are other aspects of building green, like materials reuse, rain-water collection, and solar power generation, among others. He says, “You consciously try to apply it wherever practical, because if it’s not, then it just becomes an added expense.”

Design philosophy

“Function first. I have to make sure that the plan works, the littlest of wasted space.  Of course, at the back of my head, I already know what the preferred theme or design the client wants: modern, contemporary, or traditional. So once I’m happy with the plan, it’s easier to dress it up.”

The architect’s process usually involves coming up first with a rough sketch, massing, the basic plan, and then 3D. He tries to come up with 2 or 3 versions of the basic design. Even with one plan, it already works for the client, and the final design just needs to be tweaked for the interior, detailing, orientation, etc.

Designing and renovating houses

Although Mark Madrid can do a variety of structures, it’s in designing and renovating houses where he finds more satisfaction. He is open to ideas or styles, depending on the client. It’s more of the personalization, the greater level of attention, personalizing everything for them. He admits that there are easy clients and those that aren’t sure of what they want. But he says it’s more of being attentive to their needs, showing that you are there to guide them.

On the other hand, “renovations are hard, you have to deal with what’s there, what’s inside. Every time you take out a wall, you see a problem. That’s why the cost of renovation per square meter is generally more than if you were to build from scratch. If you build from scratch, you have total control. If you try to retrofit, it’s difficult sometimes.”

Talking about one of his projects: “When I first saw it, it had good enough balance and right there I already sort of knew what the approach should be. I already had a theme in mind. It was a typical 80s looking house, so I wanted to have something with a modern look. The house reminded me more of Japanese contemporary houses. The basic form remained but it was more a matter of tweaking the roof fascia and making it thinner. The windows were enlarged and changed from arched to rectangular. A sandstone wall was added for accent and texture.”

There are also renovations where the architect admits is really difficult. “If there’s no balance, or if the form is not really nice, it’s limiting, only minimal improvements can be done. The form of the house dictates what is possible or what can be done to make it proportionate. There’s a certain balance that you want to achieve, a curb appeal.”

Baguio old house

Architect Mark Madrid restored an old Baguio house located at a quiet neighborhood near Wright in 1994. The structure is probably from the 1930s or 40s. The 2000 square meter lot has a 650 square meter, three story structure built on a slope. The building was in a sad state when acquired. The portion starting from the kitchen down tilted precariously because of the earthquake that hit the city in 1990. A gaping hole filled with stagnant water was below the building with its wooden posts decayed. It was easier to demolish than to renovate but Mark Madrid decided otherwise, “let’s save it.”

The ground was filled and stabilized, the tilted portion raised and cement posts were added. Seeping water and age has discolored and moistened the original parquet flooring of the ground floor, which, upon sanding, they discovered to have a light and dark pattern. But because of the condition, they decided to remove the wood, treat it and put it back again randomly.

The underground is now a spacious driver’s quarters while adjacent to it, a smaller lounge area with a view. It also doubles as a guest room. Only the kitchen has a subtle slope that is noticeable. As the original three story fireplace, one for each level is useless due to clogged vents, a smaller living room with a fireplace was added. A small divider connects a bigger living room at one side, a smaller closed kitchen beside it and a spacious dining hall. Beveled glass windows open to a nice veranda with a great view of pine trees and beyond. The staircase was expanded a little while most of the master’s bedroom has been retained. A spiral staircase leads to a three room attic with its original wallpaper still intact.

It’s a lovely restored house that benefited well from a good renovation plan and execution. These are hallmarks of what Architect Mark Madrid can provide whether it’s designing or renovating for a client.

Originally published April-June issue of D+C magazine. Check out my Architecture Photography portfolio.

I’m folding in to


After much thought, I have decided that my Architecture and Interiors blog, TenZeroFour will be folded in to Since 2013, I have made TenZeroFour as an exclusive blog for all my Architecture and Design related photography and posts. As I focus more on this site, the need to consolidate my blogs is now needed.

I’ve featured hotels, houses, and architects locally and international. As I transfer posts, selected posts from TenZeroFour will be incorporated slowly before the domain name expires later next year. Some of the posts will be reworked while some multiple features will be consolidated as one, like those of hotels. As what will happen, and my travel blog, will be my main websites while @TenZeroFourPH in Instagram will also remain.

My Architecture and interiors blog,

The first TenZeroFour post

Le’ts look back at my first post and why I made that site:

It was on the tenth hour on the fourth minute of the 10th day of the second month in the year 1974 that I was born into this world. And, it is in this auspicious moment that on the same time, 39 years later with the confluence of the start of the year of the water snake, that I am launching

Welcome! is a blog on Architecture and design.
All photography by Estan Cabigas.

Like the TenZeroFour FB page

I have always loved architecture. From shooting old churches as a hobbyist photographer to working on two coffeetable books on Spanish colonial era religious architecture, to being a contributing writer and photographer for Bluprint and Space magazines, both on architecture and design, working on architectural photography is a dream come true.

I’ve always loved the lines and shapes. The contrasts and the similarities. The usage and apportioning of space in the context of man’s desire to build structures both for practical and aesthetic use. These have always intrigued me and it is this reason that I am, finally, launching this site.

It has been more than a year that the domain has been purchased. I’ve searched for architecture and design related names but to no avail. Then I decided, why not my own birth time? It may not sound like design related but it is something very important to me. The next difficult part was finding a suitable WordPress theme that will be simple and elegant at the same time with a minimalist feel to it. I was adamant to start designing a theme from scratch but my desire to have a responsive theme, fit for viewing in smartphones and tablets compelled me to search for existing ones. And I found it.

This blog will feature my architecture photography, from those published in magazines, given as assignments, to ones that I have taken because I like the structures. I do hope that, this will also set a milestone in the practice of architecture photography in the country and one that will showcase what is found in the Philippines and beyond.

Lean Reboja: The monsters in his head

Lean Reboja

Ever since I got interested and started documenting street art in Cebu, the playful and colorful street mural works of the artist Lean Reboja has always captivated me. From seeing his Grandmama’s Fish (2017) and DreamCloud (2017) around the city, I’ve been keeping tabs of his work, not only by hunting down his other murals around Cebu City but also bought one of his art as well as visited his shows. I got in touch with him recently and below is the Q&A with the artist.

Lean Reboja
Lean Reboja below his work at the Elicon House

Stan Cabigas (SC): Can you tell me about yourself, a short background of you.

Lean Reboja (LR): I took up Fine Arts Major in Studio Arts at the University of the Philippines (Cebu) and graduated last April 2013. Born from Davao but based in Cebu since 1999. I am a full time visual artist and I usually do paintings, drawings and digital illustrations.

SC: How did you start your art? What prompted you to pursue it?

LR: As a child, I really love to draw. I got my motivation from my older cousins who often boast that they draw very good landscapes and space shuttles. I tried imitating them because i got really envious with their skills. Coupled with the love for cartoons and pop culture characters, I tried to improve and draw a lot for fun. By high school I wanted to try medical courses (nursing then doctor) but last minute plot twist, my mother pitched me the idea if I want to try Fine Arts in UP Cebu. I did. And never looked back. No regrets.

SC: What kind of work did you do after graduation?

LR: I gravitated on dreamlike, pop surreal imagery. I usually executed my artforms through paintings, drawings and digital illustrations.

SC: How do you describe your current art? Why monsters? What is the background story?

LR: I describe it as an autobiographic, dreamlike imagery. It is mixed and intertwined with my personal experiences and emotions and also mirroring the human tendencies and the endurance of the human spirit. I use monsters or bizarre creatures to relay my messages, usually with a sense of symbolism and metaphors.

SC: Who influenced and inspired you? Local and/or international artist?

LR: I really love the works of Rodel Tapaya, Jonathan Wayshak and Hieronymus Bosch.

One of the artist’s murals inside Elicon House

SC: Can you tell me about your work at the Elicon House? When was this done, how did it came about? Were you given free reign to decide what to execute? Is there a story behind the theme?

LR: This was a fun project to begin with. I am a good friend with the owner, Edna Lee. She gave me the artistic freedom to play with the hotel’s walls. As long as the concept discusses about nature conservation and has a flora and fauna vibes to it. She also gave me the chance to include my characters as part of the storytelling. The project was done for a month in 2017. (I featured Lean’s murals at Elicon House with more photos at my travel blog,

SC: How is it to be an artist in where you’re based? And how was the reaction from the market?

LR: Its really difficult in terms of the financial aspect but the personal satisfaction of accomplishing something or finishing a piece of art is truly priceless. I am just continuing to do my art even though sales may be scarce at times. Just keep creating art. Fortunately, collectors from Luzon and Visayas are now recognizing  and started collecting my works.

Lean Reboja
Lean Reboja, left, moderating an Artists’s Talk. Fellow artist John Villoria, right.

SC: Can you talk about you and the Cebu community of artists? 

LR: The artist community here in Cebu is really intact. We are mostly acquainted with one another and meet most of the time at art events. The Cebuano art community is really friendly, supportive, very talented and quite fun to get along with.

SC: How are you in this pandemic and how are you coping?  

LR: Aside from the physical distancing, the news and the negativity of how the government handles this situation is quite distressing and taking a hard toll on my mental health. I tend to release these negativity through my artworks. I am on my social media hiatus right now but I will be releasing my works probably this month (August). All my upcoming shows have been cancelled but I still continue creating art, show or now show. For the sake of my sanity and also to serve as a documentation for this tough and trying times.

Lean Reboja
Ambitious Beasts, 2017 by Lean Reboja. Acrylic on canvas. 122×244 cm, diptych. Photo from the artist.

SC: To date, what work are you most proud of, or most important to you since you started? And why? what is its significance to you as an artist?

LR: I have many works that I like but Ambitious Beasts, 2017 (photo above) is my favorite. This is the work that led me to my artistic approach up to this day.

SC: I remember you signing your works as Leanderthal. Can you tell me about this one?

LR: I derived it from the word Neanderthal and changed the first letter to L. I used it to somehow represent myself. To impart storytelling in relation to human experiences or tendencies. I’m amused with how it sounds and its longer than my name. It’s also my moniker that I used since college, 2012.

SC: I saw your Facebook post about your annual habit, now on its 5th year. What is this and how did it come about?

LR: This is an annual habit as a way to check my sanity and energy. Keeping myself busy and do works without limiting myself on what I want to work on. The series is more on personal emotions or human behavior or tendencies, personified into bizarre creatures or characters. This year, its more on personal touch but mirroring the current status of our country and the world. It’s a bit darker in approach and somehow going back to my techniques from highschool and college.

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LEANDERTHAL, 2016 Sunset Drive

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DreamCloud (2016)
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LEANDERTHAL, 2017 MC Briones St

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Street mural in Mandaue City, 2017
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Grandmama’s Fish (2017), collab with SaltyChild

You can check out Lean Reboja’s amazing work at his Instagram profile. Message him if you you’re interested with his works.

I’ve been documenting street art in Cebu, around the Philippines and in the countries I’ve visited since January 2018 and you can check out my Instagram profile, LangyawStreet.

FL Santaromana: Passion for design

FL Santaromana

It’s bold, proudly standing at the hillside as you negotiate the steady ascent to Mines View Park. Amidst the greenery of pine trees that surround it, it is a breath of fresh cool mountain air in the Baguio skyline. But that’s just the exterior. Inside, you step into the lobby and have a feel of familiarity, the Baguio that you expect, cozy, welcoming. Step further and slowly the beauty of the building slowly unfolds. Beneath that spectacle of modernity, sleek lines and loftiness is a level of green architecture that takes into consideration the Baguio of today.

The hotel is a Santaromana design. And you have to experience one to better appreciate what they do.

FL Santaromana
Francis (left) and Gio (right), the father and son team heading FL Santaromana Designs

FL Santaromana Designs/Casa Arkitektura Design Group has come a long way since it was established in 1986 by Architect Francis Xavier Santaromana. It’s a multifaceted ‘House of Architecture’ that provides architecture and interior design, environmental planning and project management. It specializes in institutional, educational, commercial and first class residential and resort development. With Gio, Architect Francis’s son, it’s on its way of becoming a corporate entity.

Starting out

Francis comes from a family of artists with two uncles who are architects. Instead of following the wish of his father to take up law, he took up Architecture in UP. After two years, he set up his own firm and teaching at his alma mater at the same time. For Gio, after graduating from high school in La Salle, it was more of looking at something where he considers he will excel in and enrolled Architecture at UST.

“The firm started with zero connections. We’re not one of those na ‘who you now’ but ‘what you know.’ We started out with landscapes, patio, garden, then interior design, one room, one house, then the neighbor. We believe starting small, building on the foundation and we can only go up. From residential to multiple model homes, from low rise to medium rise. From residential amenities and clubhouses and now to hotels and venturing to Project Management. “One home can evolve into a commercial project and we believe that a happy client translates to seven projects,” Francis adds.

Design approach

What I find interesting about the father and son team is how they complement each other. Francis with his pragmatism and experience and Gio, with his youth, introducing dynamism and experimentation, going out of the box, so to speak, when it comes to design. “We design both the plan and form at the same time. If the form is not good, then we adjust the plan.”

Although budgets and client can be limiting, both always push the limits of the design with clients. “We meet them halfway. We persuade them to spend a little more for a better design and convince them that it will be more saleable and more marketable. In the design process, I start with the grid, then Gio breaks it. It might be more expensive but we try. When we present it to the client, they love it.”

Although the firm can do different designs based on the needs and wants of the client, the firm is proud to give you that Santaromana touch, molding its design from the structure itself. They do adhere more on tropical moderne with a minimalist touch. The interior has the spaciousness, open planning and the loftiness, a functional space relationship while the exterior has the form and proportion. A signature of a Santaromana design might be the bold roofing which can be undulating, at different levels, steep slope and long eaves that gives it a distinct flavor that you can readily notice.

Designing beach communities

The firm has designed the themed beach community in Punta Fuego in Calatagan, Nasugbu, Batangas. It’s a series of Mediterranean style homes located at a sloping land. “Designing for beaches and coastline is different. You design for view and breeze so it include lots of ventilation, verandas. If there’s a sunset, you have to capture that.” Because it’s a coastal community, Francis adds that you have to deal with salinity too. “It can be expensive as you have to use special materials that don’t corrode. You have to look for alternative products too.

Green architecture

FL Santaromana Designs is proud to implement green initiatives in its projects. In fact, it has been recognized for its work in the De La Salle-Zobel Sports Pavilion which won for Excellence in Green Design (commercial category) and Excellence in Green Building in the HunterDouglas Quest for Design Excellence 2008. The sports pavilion is recognized for its energy efficiency and sustainability.

In Baguio City, Grand Sierra Pines Hotel currently on soft opening since February. Designed by FL Santaromana Designs, it’s a unique hotel, totally different from what you usually find in the city. It’s a green hotel in so many ways but still gives you that Baguio feel.

Grand Sierra Pines Hotel

The hotel is built on a former residential lot with an old house. The structure’s footprint was designed around the pine trees so much that only one tree, a distressed one, had to be cut down for safety. The building is u-shaped, opening south-southwest to a great view of the mountains and pine trees. The lobby and dining area, or much of the ground floor is al fresco all the way to the roof. The roof itself has a tent like structure that collects rainwater, bringing it down a pair of pipes along the elevator shaft and into a reservoir at the sloping side of the property where it is filtered and recycled.

This rain water addresses the needs of the hotel especially in the toilet of the rooms from flushing to shower and down to the tap, but not potable. This, for 50% of the year during the rainy season and deep well during the dry season. This makes the hotel not dependent on the rationed water in the city. To protect the ground floor from the rain, a retractable sun shade at the central opening will be installed. It will have the same material used in the tent like roof structure. In the pipeline, solar power will soon be a reality for the hotel. On the other hand, the wood from the old house was recycled. Parts have been used as wall decors and accent while the distressed tree has been used in the front desk.

Its mid-afternoon and sunlight has filtered down the ground floor of the hotel. I can see the clear blue skies and smell the scent of pine trees. As I look up, the translucence of the roof-tent brightened the area. This will be the future, I said to myself and I think FL Santaromana Designs will be there to build more eco and environment friendly but well-designed modern structures.

Text and photo originally published in D+C magazine, April-June 2017 issue.