VBo Architects+Engineers, a rising firm in Metro Manila

VBo Architects + Engineers
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.

San Jose, leading the poultry industry in Batangas

poultry industry in batangas

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.

Raul Lacorte of Lulu Lacorte’s Poultry
poultry industry in batangas
Two buildings housing chickens
poultry industry in batangas
Inside one of the poultry buildings
Poultry at one of the cages
poultry industry in batangas
Eggs are manually harvested by a local hand
Freshly laid eggs
Eggs neatly placed on trays
poultry industry in batangas
Piles of eggs ready for pickup by buyers

This article originally photographed and written for a book project in 2017.

Intermat ASEAN 2017 in Bangkok

Intermat Bangkok

This article originally written and published in the Q4 2017 issue of D+C magazine.

Looming cranes and towering structures dotting the Bangkok skyline was a fitting backdrop as INTERMAT ASEAN opens in Thailand’s capital. The inaugural edition featured more than 300 exhibitors from 18 countries featuring the latest machinery and equipment. A total of 20,000 square meters of indoor, outdoor exhibition and demonstration areas was available.

Intermat is a major construction and infrastructure show since 1988 happening every three years in Paris, France. It is the third largest in the world. For the first time, INTERMAT ASEAN opened its doors for three days from 8-10 June 2017 at the Impact Exhibition and Convention Center in Muang Thong Thani, Bangkok.

Setting sights on ASEAN

INTERMAT ASEAN hopes to play a role offering unlimited trade and investment opportunities in the building and construction sectors. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) formed the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015. This is a regional economic integration agenda. ASEAN has ten member countries: Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. The region has a combined population of 623 million and a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion.

With the exhibition in Bangkok, Intermat ASEAN recognizes Thailand’s fast growth and with its strong construction challenges and opportunities. As a strategic location, it will enable it to spread around the ASEAN countries.  

Intermat ASEAN, more than just an exhibit

Intermat ASEAN is not just an exhibit. It is also a platform for companies to access the trade, networking, and knowledge opportunities. The outdoor demonstration area allowed brands to showcase their latest equipment and machinery. This enabled attendees to test drive these in real life settings. The INTERMAT ASEAN Conference 2017 program was a venue for local and international speakers to talk about upcoming building and construction trends. At the Exhibitor Presentation Theater, demonstrations and workshops of products were held.  

The event was organized by S.E. INTERMAT. This is a joint subsidiary of COMEXPOSIUM and French trade organisations from the construction industry. The COMEXPOSIUM Group is one of the world’s leading event organizers. IMPACT Exhibition Management Co., Ltd., is the leading exhibition organizer in Thailand.

Intermat Bangkok
Intermat Bangkok
Intermat Bangkok
Intermat Bangkok