Love Is in the Details: 8×8 Design Studio Co’s Pearl Robles and Adrian Alfonso

Being business and real-life partners may be difficult, but the 8x8 Design Studio Co principals think it’s possible when you're on the same page in design
  • February 14, 2020

  • Interview by Denny Mata and Gabrielle de la Cruz

  • Introduction by Denny Mata

  • Photographed by Rochelle Padilla

Neri and Hu,” answered 8×8 Design Studio Co’s Pearl Robles—it was the quickest reply we got among the four architect couples we interviewed when asked: If you were a famous design couple, who would you be? Her partner, Adrian Alfonso, immediately seconded, “We like their balance. Both of them are very active, and you see it in their designs. And they seem to be happy together.” Robles added, “That’s what we aspire to be as partners and designers.”

The young architects have been together since 2009, a year after Alfonso transferred to Joey Yupangco’s office. “Me, I resigned in 2010,” said Robles. “And that’s when we started our small company as a freelancer first. We had small projects then. I think that’s when we started 8×8.” The architect couple formally founded 8×8 in 2012. Since then, the studio found themselves designing largely residential and commercial projects, a few of which had been featured in BluPrint. 8×8 also participated in the Arch+ Publication of Planetary Urbanism in Germany and finished third for the ‘Ground Constellations’ competition in 2015. A year later, their design winning design became part of the German Pavilion of the UN-Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador. In the same year, this little studio that could joined eight local design luminaries in mounting ‘Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City,’ the Philippine National Pavilion for Venice Architecture Biennale

Robles and Alfonso are quite the busy bees, but the young architects received us into their studio with a warm welcome and soon found ourselves drawn in into a light and fun conversation:

BluPrint 8x8 Design Studio Co Pearl Robles Adrian Alfonso
8×8 Design Studio Co’s MV House became an exercise in exploring vertical configurations, and how to take advantage of its dream setting, with its views of majestic Mt. Makiling, a city skyline and a lake from afar.

BluPrint: What was your first project together? 

Robles: The very first project we did was a house in Las Pinas: The Chromium House. At that time, it went very smoothly. We did the concept together, and I think we finished the very first massing or initial concept of the program in about two hours.

Alfonso: At that time, it was the beginning of 8×8 Design Studio Co. But, if you remember the first time we actually worked together was in Joey Yupangco’s office. We would argue about the small things on a professional level, which is good. I believe we wanted to design the project better, which I appreciate. But it doesn’t mean that if I like it in a certain way, she’ll just accept and just let go.

Robles: We do check and balance.

Alfonso: The questioning helps in pruning out the bad ideas.

Robles: We sort of try to challenge each other in some areas.

Alfonso: It doesn’t go well all the time.

Robles: Actually, I wasn’t aware that he was already frustrated at times. I was just chill. Pero badtrip na pala siya. (Laughter)

Do you agree with this statement: It’s difficult for real-life partners to be business partners and vice versa?

Alfonso: I would agree that it is difficult, but I wouldn’t say it’s impossible. I believe that if you have a certain equilibrium of harmony or compatibility, it can work. But it’s something you work on.

Robles: I agree. It can be difficult at times, but I think what’s good about it is that we know each other more. I know his strengths and weaknesses, and vice versa. And we use that as a strategy on how we work together as business partners.

How do you separate personal and business issues, then? 

Robles: To be honest, sometimes we can’t.

Alfonso: Work is very personal for us.

Robles: Sometimes we try our best to separate it, but most of the time we can’t help but be personal. We’re both passionate about what we do, and I guess that’s when our frustrations come out.

Alfonso: One thing though, we work on separating work stress from our personal life.

Robles: We try not to bring home the work stress.

READ MORE: Magnificent views of Mt. Makiling in 8×8 Design Studio Co’s MV House

Speaking of stress, how do you de-stress? What do you do on your days off work?

P: We’re very basic, we just go to the mall. We try, every day after work, to go to the mall and have dinner so that we can de-stress before going home. Because we have a baby, we don’t want to bring the stress at home. 

A: On the weekends, we spend it with our daughter as much as possible. We go on trips. And for us, spending time with her is de-stressing. Sometimes we cut off work, like when we’re really stressed, we’ll just tell everyone that we have a meeting and we’ll watch a movie.

When you’re working, who calls the shots when it comes to design?

Robles laughs.

Alfonso: I’d say… Most of the time it would be Pearl.

Robles: What? No, that’s not true.

Alfonso: 80%, so most of the time…

Robles: No, I would say it’s 50-50. Maybe more him. He doesn’t know, but it’s actually him.

Alfonso: I think we know each other enough that I know that she would insist on certain things, and I try to accept that. And she knows that I would also insist on certain things.

Robles: It’s more of we know when to insist. I try to pick my battles in terms of design. So, I know when I think I can insist and I know when I should not. I guess it’s a give-and-take.

Alfonso: Yeah, but on the occasion that we come to a stalemate, I just follow her.

Robles: Huh? That’s not true. (Laughter)

BluPrint 8x8 Design Studio Co Pearl Robles Adrian Alfonso
The most visible part of the MV House at street level is a volume encasing another volume, the main living areas. Different materials were used to code areas like the outer shell and inner shell, or specific parts like the garage and main door. Gestures like a slanting wall and vertical louvers were used to conceal private areas without deviating from the dominant language of the design.

What insights and observations did you discover about architecture and busines after working together as business partners?

Alfonso: We see design as finding balance, finding simple harmonies. I believe we personify it also in our relationship that we more or less lead.

Robles: And we make it work. In terms of our design practice, I feel like I’m still lucky to have a partner with me for business. Because at the end of the day, when I get tired or he gets tired, somebody can support me or each other. In terms of client presentation also, we tend to give and take. I think that’s our strength in terms of design because most of our design is more often than not, a combination of both his strengths and my strengths and it comes out very interesting. So it’s a merge of design ideas.

Alfonso: Sometimes when we get a new project, we present two schemes. We present my scheme and her scheme without telling the client which is whose.

Robles: Sometimes I present his scheme.

Alfonso: Yes, we try to play around with our presentations.

What makes your partner an ideal business and life partner?

Robles: You go first. (Laughter) What traits?

Alfonso: Pearl has a very kind and trustworthy personality. I like that in a business partner. Actually, that’s why I courted her. With business, you have to trust your partner 100%. If you do, you don’t need to check or backtrack their work. For me, it’s a crucial aspect that I can fully trust her.

Robles: Same. Also, he’s very hardworking and passionate about his work. Actually, when Adrian starts something, he would make sure to finish it with integrity and with quality.

Alfonso: She designs well, so that counts as well in choosing my partner. And, more or less, we’re on the same page on the things we like and don’t like in terms of design. Not all the time, but there’s a large overlap.

Robles: I think that’s generally the key: We have to be on the same page in terms of what we believe in and in terms of design. Because, if not, this won’t work.

BluPrint 8x8 Design Studio Co Pearl Robles Adrian Alfonso
The heart of the active space looks out to a view. An incised roof is revealed throughout the ceiling, adding natural light to the living room.

What do you want to say to each other this February 14?

Robles: I’ll go first. Thank you for being a good design partner, business partner, and my life partner. 

Alfonso: Pearl, thank you for being my partner in life. Thank you for being a great mother to our daughter. Our daughter is three years old, and she’s growing up to become more and more like her mom: she’s kind and she’s a small version of her.

CONTINUE READING: Love Is in the Details: Cathy Saldaña and Alex Siegel of PDP Architects

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