Arkhi Builders: A startup making its way to success

Arkhi Builders

The Design and Construction industry is quite competitive especially if you’re in the nation’s capital region. This didn’t stop three friends, all in their late 20s and coming from different firms. In 2013, they started a company that offers to build every Juan his dream house. Arkhi Builders is a one stop shop that “offers a worry free experience in planning, designing and building.”

“We were part of different companies with different expertise. Robie has a background in Finance, Justinn has experience in Construction. Each of us have our own set of clients and we collaborated to come up with Arkhi Builders,” says Paul Benedict Alba, now Finance. Robie Reyes is the current CEO and Justinn Aldwin Baloran is now VP for Operations. The company is now based in their new home in Taguig City.

Arkhi Builders

During the boom in condominiums, they were doing Architecture design and interior renovations for several clients’s units. It was through this that they got to work with big developers the likes of SMDC, Ayala Land and DMCI. “We were doing this for a year when a residential project was offered to us. Considering that we have a good network of suppliers, we grabbed the opportunity. Today, we are now doing both residential and commercial projects. Arkhi Builders now takes care of the whole process so that clients don’t have to worry about different aspects of planning, design and construction,” Paul adds. 

Savvy Digital Marketing

When Arkhi Builders started, it relied more on their existing set of clients, word-of-mouth and referrals. But aspiring to grow and beat other competitors, they considered doing Internet marketing to get more clients and projects. “We are a small company and don’t have the budget for billboards and print ads but considering today’s technology and how people search for information, we invested online,” Paul says. Thus they have a website, a blog and social media presence in Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But in terms of online marketing strategy, it’s more of Google and Facebook. It is mostly through this that they get inquiries and eventually clients besides the traditional referral network.

How Arkhi Builders handles clients

New clients don’t actually know what to do, said Paul. Arkhi Builders first come in as consultants. Taking a personalized approach on the needs of the clients and knowing the budget and timeframe. Then they slowly introduce their services and costs. Perhaps one of the reasons that the company is successful right now is how it handles its clients. “There are no bad clients. It’s actually managing their expectations and being realistic with the projects. We patiently explain to them the project considering the design, budget and time.” Although the company is not known for a particular design aesthetic, it follows the desires of its clients, their work are generally modern in design. 

Arkhi Builders has already a long list of clients and projects: it has built a resort/museum for a client in Bataan, there is an ongoing project north and south of Manila, a construction being done in Cebu, a Palawan property coming and many more. But despite these successes, Arkhi Builders still remains humble. Paul says, “we’re still a small company and the greatest challenge is managing it to what we want to become. There are still lots of challenges coming our way but we are always learning.” Not bad for a company that will turn four years old this February 2017.  

Originally published in D+C Magazine, 2016

Robert John Sac: A son carving out his own destiny

Robert John Sac
Robert John Sac

For many, working under the shadow of a popular father can both be a boon and a bane. Boon as doors seem to open easily and there are better opportunities available, without much effort. Bane, as there’s always the tendency of being dissected and compared to the father. But for Architect Robert John Sac, it’s sheer hard work and carving his own path that has brought him to what he is now at a young age.

“So far, our clients came in without knowing my father. I’m very thankful that I have my set of clients and he has his”, Robert John attests. “I’m doing my part also to separate myself from my father. Fortunately, I don’t get compared to him probably because I might be doing something right. But I do aspire to achieve what my father has done in terms of success like getting consistent, bigger projects.”

The father is no other than Architect Robert Sac, of Robert S. Sac Architectural Design, recipient of the Excellence Award in 2009 by the Philippine Federation of Professional Associations. He was also National President of the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP), 2002-2004. And was instrumental in leading for the passage of Republic Act 9266, the Architecture Law. 

Dreaming to be an Architect

For Robert John, he has always wanted to be an architect. Although his father discouraged him from taking up Architecture and wanted that he take up Medicine, he says he dislikes Biology and English,. Another option would have been to become a lawyer but he confesses that he doesn’t have the courage to speak infront of people. He always loved Math and drawing and taking up Engineering and Architecture was more possible. It was during their house construction, when he was still in high school and went there everyday to observe solidified his resolve to take up his current profession.

Robert John Sac
Architect Robert John and Pauline Sac are founding partners of their architecture and construction firm, 50/53A

Fresh from graduating, he intentionally steered clear of working for his father. He got employed with Rockwell Land Corporation as a Design Associate for a few months. There, he experienced how it is to work in a corporate environment. But wanting to gain more experience he got worked at his father’s firm. He passed the licensure exams in 2010.

Coming into the fold

“Compared to working in a big company where you are only given tasks to do just a part of the project, working for my father was a good training ground. I was given full hands-on in the design and construction process. I got to know how it really is in handling projects. Being the son wasn’t even an excuse to slack. I really had to work hard as my father. If he stayed up late at night working, there’s no reason for me to sleep early or wake up late. I am very much thankful for how my father put in the discipline and inculcated me the value of hard work.” Robert John admits that compared to most architects his age, this experience was a big advantage.

Even if he was employed, he also got projects of his own. First with his friends. As referrals and recommendations grew, has to take some days off per week to work on his own. He always felt secured as even without a project, he was still receiving his paycheck while working for his father. But with more projects and the desire to carve his own future grew louder, he decided to form his own company.

Founding their own company

Architect Robert John, together with his wife, Pauline, are founding partners of their architecture and construction firm, 50/53A*. Their work has ranged from a slew of houses, commercial buildings and hotels, restaurants and interiors work doing mostly modern/contemporary style but have also done mediterranean or Filipino design.

Being designers and at the same time contractors they focus more on longevity in their projects. With their experience, they have come to know what materials work better especially in a tropical environment and advise clients on better design solutions. Both husband and wife make sure that they have their own projects, each have their own clients. This to avoid conflict and to maximize projects done. In running the company, Pauline overlooks the Finance and Administration side. Staff are also assigned specific projects, not just parts and accountability and ownership is highly encouraged. But one thing that Robert John keeps sacred, and one that he has seen in his dad is that the architect should not dictate what he wants. It’s always about the needs of the client. 

Design process

The design process is methodical and always in consultation with the client to come up with a consistent design in and out. The client’s needs are paramount, incorporating their habits and character. One thing that they also consider is feng shui when doing the design. Not all clients ask for it but the architects value it more for its practicality which provides good design sense. Asked if he still consults his father from time to time: “When we first started with the new firm, yes. But now, as much as possible, we don’t. First, my dad’s so busy with his architecture firm and stainless steel business. He’s also a consultant with various groups. And second, before it comes to a point that I have to reach out to my father, we resolve problems on our own.”

Busy as they are with projects, both travel abroad from time to time. Not just to unwind but also to inspire and learn. Getting to know current design trends with keen interest in beautiful interiors. 

Being the son of a highly successful father can be daunting. But Architect Robert John Sac, instead of capitalizing on his father’s success turned it as an opportunity to carve a destiny of his own. Taking it one step at a time. 

*Based from the last two digits of Robert John and wife Pauline’s license numbers.

Article and photos originally published in the Q1 issue of D+C Magazine, 2016.

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.