Dapitan City in Zamboanga del Norte is a beautiful heritage town, one of a handful around the Philippines that has preserved many of its old structures. From the massive Spanish colonial era Catholic church to several of its ancestral houses. It was where Jose Rizal, considered a National Hero, was exiled with several of his works around the city as well as at the Rizal Shrine rebuilt and existing ones preserved. In the Dapitan Heritage Zone, one interesting and imposing heritage house is worth mentioning.
Aniano Adasa Ancestral House
A beautiful turn of the century wooden structure, the Adasa Ancestral House is one of the fascinating heritage houses in Dapitan and built by Don Aniano Cadavedo Adasa in 1900. An influential and prominent politician, he once served as the cabeza de barangay before the Philippine revolution against Spain. The ground floor is now the local tourism office.
The Aniano Adasa Ancestral House is a fine example of early American colonial period architecture. Like many Philippine heritage houses of the era, it still has elements of the traditional bahay-na-bato but without the stone walling of the first floor. The ground floor was originally used as a storage area. The family living spaces were at the second floor and reached through a staircase along Josephing Bracken Street. Tree trunks as main posts support the entire structure. A volada, an extended balcony, runs the length of the southwest and southeastern sides of the house. Curiously there’s a walkway above the second floor ceiling that gives access to the roof.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Photographs and article originally published in D+C magazine in 2017.
The long running question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, has long been settled by locals in the municipality of San Jose in Batangas. Depending on where one is said to come from, the chicken came first when entering the town from Batangas City. Or it’s the egg, when entering the town from Lipa. Beyond the running joke, these two monuments at both boundaries have heralded the importance of San Jose as the egg basket of the Philippines, highlighting the poultry industry in Batangas.
In 2011, statistics from the Department of Agriculture indicate that the municipality has an estimated five million layers producing an egg daily. When the Visayas’s own egg basket in Bantayan Island suffered a hit from Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, San Jose’s eggs found their way down south. This averted a crisis that was hovering over much of many Bisaya’s plates.
Leading the poultry industry in Batangas
Much of the municipality’s poultry industry is geared for egg production. For entrepreneurs like the husband and wife team of Raul and Lulu Lacorte, proprietors of Lulu Lacorte’s Poultry which started in 2007, prefers taking the shorter route of buying 16 week old layers than rearing them from chicks. Although one of several small scale players amongst bigger ones with over a hundred thousand heads or more, it helps fill a demand locally. Their eggs reach as far as Cavite City and Metro Manila.
Raul says that his poultry is capital intensive at first. But an efficient system, perfected from years of experience as well as improvements from the availability of stable electricity from the local electric cooperative has benefited his business in the long term. This has ensured that capital expenditures are paid off in two years and owners start earning in the succeeding years. It also helps that layers in their 17th or 18th weeks start to lay eggs. In Raul’s words, “the chicken will start working for you every day and in the next two and a half years.”
A typical day at the poultry
The day starts at 4 AM when the lights of Raul’s two elevated poultry buildings are switched. The flood of lights mimics daylight and goad the avian denizens to work. Within these two structures, a total of 8,000 hens lay an average of 7,200 eggs daily.
The structures are built with good ventilation ensuring that the chickens have good living conditions and efficiently produce eggs. The chicken cages are built higher, at the second level. Between the cages and the ground are driers which capture organic waste and aerates these materials. At the edges of these structures are nets which are pulled down when it rains.
Each cage has a partition that houses four chickens of different ages. This ensures that when cull time comes, production still continues. A feeds trough runs the span of the cages. While a tap and drink water system with an electric pump ensures water is not wasted due to evaporation or spillage. Eggs are collected manually by assigned staff who also spreads the feeds at periodic times of the day. Lights are then turned off at 9 PM.
The provinces of Pampanga, Bulacan and Tarlac have upped their egg production thus becoming strong competitors. But the municipality of San Jose continues to lead the poultry industry in Batangas. It has never wavered in her big role of meeting the province’s and country’s daily need for eggs.
This article originally photographed and written for a book project in 2017.