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.’
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.’
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.