Build a Better Normal: Excellence in Times of Crises
Human health and wellbeing, and design excellence and manifestos in a peri-pandemic built environment headline the third LIXIL live session
August 14, 2020
Written by Denny Mata and Gabrielle de la Cruz
“The better normal is not a Manila clone of Singapore or Amsterdam. It is a Philippine city with citizens who know what is good for them and demand it,” envisions Joseph Javier, Managing Principal of JDSM – Manila.
Javier, who co-founded the architecture program of the School of Design and Arts, De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, continues, “The better normal will never arrive if we continue to accept the hell that we call our cities in the Philippines. The public must clamor for efficient public transportation, sidewalks, pedestrian crossings, regular waste disposal, superior connectivity, free open spaces—just to identify a few—denied to us in all our cities. We need to reach a state of public consciousness with zero-tolerance towards bad design.”
Is there room for excellence in a crisis?
Will Filipinos ever reach such a level of consciousness and appreciation for good design? The better normal Javier describes sounds like a pipe dream, given the severity of our vulnerabilities that COVID-19 has exposed: deep social inequities and economic disparities, underfunded public health, no food security, and a litany of inadequacies in housing, sanitation, mobility, connectivity, information transparency, and more.
“Concerning ourselves with the ability to discriminate between good and bad design may seem out of touch at a time when hospitals are overflowing, people are out of work, and our GDP is in freefall,” says Judith Torres, BluPrint’s former editor-in-chief.
“But it’s not out of touch or out of place. Design excellence—excellence in every endeavor—is the appropriate response in a crisis. In fact, excellence is the best defense against the next crisis,” argues Torres, who is one of the organizers of the LIXIL Design DeepDive™ Live Sessions – Philippines, set to hold its third webinar, ‘Excellence in Times of Crises,’ on August 19th.
Speaking for Excellence
“I’m very excited we have four speakers who have stood—and sometimes fought—for excellence throughout their careers,” says Torres, who conceptualized the themes for the LIXIL webinars and assembled industry experts from the Philippines, Singapore, New York, and Las Vegas to serve as panelists in the first and second webinars.
For the third webinar, the four speakers are Jack Noonan, VP – APAC, International WELL Building Institute (IWBI); Carmen Jimenez-Ong, Founder and CEO of Menarco Development Corporation; Tina Periquet, principal designer of Periquet Galicia; and Antoine Besseyre Des Horts, VP LIXIL Global Design and Consumer Experience – APAC.
WELL, WELL, WELL
Jack Noonan’s presentation is ‘Healthy Buildings and Healthy People: How a global pandemic can start a revolution of better health, equity, and performance.’
“In the wake of rising energy costs and the need to act on climate change, energy efficiency has become paramount,” says Noonan. “But in the process of this happening, have we forgotten that buildings are actually meant for the people who work in them?”
The COVID-19 pandemic, WELL Building advocates say, is forcing developers to see that the most important consideration in designing, building, and operating buildings should be people first, before the planet.
“The WELL Building Standard focuses exclusively on the ways that buildings and everything in them can improve our comfort, drive better choices, and generally enhance, not compromise, our health and wellness,” explains Noonan. “Beyond the numbers, we’ve built a community around WELL that is passionate about progressing health and well-being across our buildings. This community is diverse, innovative, and they are committed to ensuring that WELL is relevant and accessible for all.”
The community Melbourne-based Noonan speaks of is expanding to the Philippines, with IWBI assisting Menarco Development Corporation to build their second WELL building in Bonifacio Global City.
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic happened and the general public became aware that there were such things as “healthy buildings,” Carmen Jimenez-Ong’s first project, the Menarco Tower, earned the distinction of being the “Healthiest Building in Southeast Asia,” the first and only to be certified Gold in both LEED and WELL. In her presentation, ‘More than a Building: Unlocking the Keys to Creating the Healthiest Spaces in Southeast Asia,’ Jimenez-Ong testifies to the benefits of integrating human health and wellbeing in building design, construction, and operations.
“Can the poor afford healthy buildings?” Torres says she asked the two WELL advocates, Noonan and Jimenez-Ong, to answer the question on Wednesday’s webinar. “We received questions from the first and second live sessions asking how we can build a better normal for the poorest of the Filipino poor. I think it’s only fair that the speakers address this.”
Noonan and Jimenez-Ong immediately responded in the affirmative, with Noonan saying, “I’m very happy to focus on equity. I often reference the need to avoid ‘healthy for the wealthy’ interventions.”
Excellence as a Core Value
According to Torres, the idea of focusing on excellence in the third webinar was inspired by a story Tina Periquet told about her father. She had just come back from finishing her Master of Science in Interior Design at Pratt Institute in New York. Her father had taken her out for coffee and after telling her dad about the design practice she envisioned for herself, his response was, “Is that all?”
Periquet will share the rest of the story at the webinar, in her talk, entitled, ‘Reaching Beyond Our Grasp: The Virtue of Ambition.’
“I was struck by Tina’s story,” Torres recounts, “because I had asked what she was committed to doing for her practice to succeed, and her answer was she was never motivated by success. That led to a conversation on excellence as a core value. It was a truly inspiring moment and I can’t wait for the audience to hear Tina share her convictions.”
The interior architect, lighting designer, and principal designer of Periquet Galicia was named Most Outstanding Professional of the Year in the field of Interior Design by the Professional Regulation Commission in 2016. Her portfolio includes residential interiors in New York, London, Hong Kong, Vancouver, and Manila, as well as hospitality, development, and institutional projects that include the new National Museum of Natural History and the multi-awarded Arya Residences, One McKinley Place, and The Fairways Tower.
“I plan to speak about the importance of ambition—aiming, not to be great, but to do great things—and how greatness is achievable if we stop being so modest and self-deprecating, as we have been conditioned by our culture to be. We tend to set our sights low, settling for compromise and easy success, while bolder aims would have resulted in outcomes of meaningful impact,” shares Periquet.
In her presentation, Periquet outlines an approach her firm uses in every project that allows them to set high targets with confidence and a strategy to confront the possibility of failure without fear.
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Fighting for excellence
For Antoine Besseyre Des Horts, Vice President LIXIL Global Design and Consumer Experience – Asia Pacific, “Design is a mindset. It is about truly understanding people and crafting culturally relevant solutions that address real-life issues and enhance their daily lives both emotionally and practically.”
The title of Des Horts’ presentation is, ‘Creating a better and healthier living for everyone, everywhere.’
Des Horts has experience in varied industries. Prior to leading the APAC team, he worked at GROHE in Dusseldorf, Germany, where he successfully led design projects of fittings, showers, accessories, ceramics, furniture, and electronic devices, for the European, American, and Asian markets. Before that, he designed trains and tramways at Alstom Design & Styling in Paris; products, interiors, and experiences at London-based branding agency Landor; and home appliances for the Electrolux Group in Italy.
“There is a popular quote by renowned designer and illustrator, Frank Chimero, which says people ignore design that ignores people. And my beliefs truly resonate with this philosophy,” says Des Horts.
His team’s designs have certainly not been ignored. Since 2016, he has led the LIXIL – Asia Pacific design team to win numerous Red Dot Design Awards, IF Design awards, Good Design awards, Design for Asia awards, A&D Trophy awards, Asia Design Prize, K-Design awards, and Golden Pin awards.
BERDE and WELL
Most developers don’t think of promoting health and well-being when they have buildings designed. Those with a higher level of awareness think health, well-being, and other benefits, such as positive social impact, as “nice to have,” not a necessity—an attitude most Filipino developers had towards sustainability only a decade ago.
Raymond Rufino is one exception. Well before WELL was established in 2014, Rufino promoted a safe and healthy lifestyle in his buildings. The CEO of NEO, a green office developer and operator of seven NEO (formerly NET) buildings in Bonifacio Global City, has spent his entire career in real estate asking how he might help save the world from the destructive effects of climate change and man’s environmentally hostile activities.
Rufino is Global Governing Trustee of Urban Land Institute and chairs the World Wildlife Fund – Philippines. He chaired the Philippine Green Building Council from 2013 to 2018 and spearheaded the formulation of its sustainability rating system, BERDE.
Rufino heads the webinar’s panel of reactors who will respond to the four speakers’ presentations and pose questions to kickstart the Q&A with the audience.
Crises and values
Rufino’s joining the panel comes at an opportune time. Part of the webinar’s agenda is to spur members of the audience to reflect on their core values and to begin crafting or reviewing their life or design manifestos. A manifesto is a public declaration of one’s intentions and motives.
Rufino and his team have been holding workshops re-crafting NEO’s Mission and Vision to reflect the new company’s aims and aspirations, and to respond to the changing times. The core values have not changed, although they are expressed differently. Although Rufino is a reactor and not a speaker, he can tie in the concept of building a better normal with values, and the importance of people first knowing the values they stand for.
Says Torres: “Our values are our best guide in crises. But you can’t be guided if you haven’t had an honest conversation with yourself about who you want to be and don’t want to be. I like how Tina (Periquet) asks her employees to identify their core values. She asks them to name three core values they would fight for.”
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How do we want to live?
People who thought our pandemic worries were over when our cities reopened in June and July after three months of lockdown were in for a rude awakening. Metro Manila’s two-week “timeout” in August, a result of the clamor by Filipino healthcare workers overwhelmed by rising cases of COVID-19 hospitalizations, has only underscored the country’s vulnerabilities and the reality that our health, economic, and social crises will stay with us for many more months to come.
Stephanie Tan-Branquinho, Principal Architect of SpaceFabrik, and the second reactor-panelist for ‘Excellence in Times of Crises,’ says she spent the first lockdown reevaluating what she wanted out of life.
“It was a time of introspection, of reviewing my values and dreams, and re-focusing on the aspects of my life that I had set aside for years. The way we view our lives has changed because of this pandemic. The realities that previously held true are challenged. The question, ‘How do we want to live?’ comes front and center. COVID-19 forced us to abandon the unimportant, to reuse, adapt, and perhaps not be obsessed with the notion of growth that bigger is better. It has made me question the world that I would like my children to grow up in and what my role would be in this brave new world,” recounts Tan-Branquinho.
Never let a crisis go to waste
“The pandemic has rendered all of us vulnerable, without exception. In this vulnerable state, our minds and eyes are forced to see, among all other things glaring, the inadequacies and deficiencies of our urban design and systems,” says Joseph Javier, who will serve as the webinar’s third reactor-panelist.
Javier, a long-time contributor to BluPrint, and Torres hope that the multiple crises the Philippines is in could fast track a better normal, which otherwise would take a much longer time to evolve if society were abandoned to capitalist market forces. Says he: “While the public is lucid and angry, designers must advance the agenda of excellence in design. It is in this heightened state of awareness that the public will be receptive to solutions and give their support. If we let this wave go, we may not catch another one—until the next pandemic strikes.”
Torres adds: “Times of crises are also times of great opportunity because they require people to see the world in a different light and step up in ways they would not have had to in times of normal.”
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“Buildings that protect and promote the physical and emotional wellbeing of people embody the better normal we should strive for,” says Torres, who has been moderating the LIXIL Design DeepDive™ Live Sessions. “This terrible time we are in, therefore, is the opportune time to lean on governments, investors, and business owners to build healthy. As Winston Churchill said, ‘Never let a crisis go to waste.’”
“I would like the better normal to have more human-centeredness and connectivity,” says Tan-Branquinho. “I hope that people will understand that how we design our lives and how we make our decisions affect others immensely. We will have more power over our future when we think of what is best for others and not only ourselves.”
This is why, Torres says, a crisis is also a good time for designers to craft their manifestos. “A good manifesto expresses your conviction and commitment. You declare your beliefs, how you intend to live your life, and why you are all in to fight for your cause. A crisis tests your resolve. Designers design our world and, right now, people are fighting for their lives. Designers—all of us—need to take a stand to build a better world.”
Design DeepDive™ Live Sessions is a LIXIL Asia Pacific regional activity, with the first webinar series hosted by India and ‘Build a Better Normal’ hosted by the Philippines.