Love Is in the Details: Cathy Saldaña and Alex Siegel of PDP Architects
People say it's not wise to mix personal life with professional life, but PDP Architects managing director and chief operating officer made it work
February 14, 2020
Interview by Denny Mata and Gabrielle de la Cruz
Introduction by Denny Mata
Photographed by Rochelle Padilla
Oftentimes, I’ve wondered how the homes of Philippines’ top-notch architects’ look. I would imagine flashy homes one can notice three blocks away, or one that is emblematic of their design approach. PDP Architects managing director Cathy Saldaña’s home says otherwise. Its a sedate two-story structure sitting quietly on a corner lot. The low-slung, approachable form of the structure belie the gentle and warm nature of the couple living within.
The homeowners, Saldaña and her other half Alex Siegel, admits that they do love having people over. “I think, when we were starting together, we also started entertaining together,” Siegel said. Saldaña added, “When we entertain our friends, he would buy wine and put things together. We started hanging out and it became really nice. So, slowly from a circle of six, it became just our circle of two.”
While the business and real-life partners do a lot of things together, there is a clear delineation when it comes to matters of work. People say it’s not wise to mix personal life with professional concerns, but the partners made it work. We wondered how this was possible, especially when one is highly creative and the other analytical and numerical, a potential clashing between the left and right brained.
So, we got to the botton of it.
BluPrint: How do you separate your personal and professional lives?
Saldaña: I think the delineation is evident because I’m really the architect, and it’s really our business here in the Philippines. But Alex being my spouse supports us a lot. However, he is deeply involved when there are trying victories, joys, and trials and problems. So he’s there for both the good and the bad, and that’s when a spouse really counts.
Siegel: Sometimes, it’s hard to separate personal and business because so much of Cathy’s passion is about the work she does. And so, when you marry Cathy, you marry an architect, you marry the passion, you marry the triumphs, and you marry the challenges. That was all part and parcel of the package that you put together.
Do you agree when people say that it’s difficult for real-life partners to be business partners? Why or why not?
Siegel: We work together in a different way that some partners might. It’s really Cathy’s business. I just support her if she’s got questions she wants to ask, things about HR or legal, something that my background might show support to. When it comes to design, it’s all Cathy.
Saldaña: Alex is currently the director of a company out of New York, and he heads international sales as the director of global sales. At the same time, he has the operations background here being the GM. He handles matters on HR, legal, and finance. He’s our go-to person in that line being a director of sales because he’s placed all over the world, and whenever he is in Manila, he’s based in the office of PDP Architects.
Siegel: It’s a pretty clear delineation that Cathy is really running the design company. I’m supporting her, and it’s nice too because, in my work, Cathy’s team will help me sometimes. They helped design an office in Shanghai. They’re currently helping us design a factory in Clark, so it’s a nice give and take.
Saldaña: Yes, plus Alex has great synergy with all our people. Whenever we have parties for our employees and their staff and associates, he even helps in team building and bonding strategies.
What traits about your partner makes him or her both an ideal partner for business and in life?
Siegel: Her intelligence, her creativity. If you look around the house, you’ll see evidence of her touch everywhere. I think that’s one of the things that clients love, too, that she’s bringing intelligence to them, bringing creativity and context. So when clients come to her, they’re getting her experience or exposure, sophistication, and drive towards sustainability and clean design. It’s fun to see that.
Saldaña: I love his passion, his sense of focus, plus of course, his intelligence and contributions in every single aspect of our business.
Would you say your relationship as business partners is somewhat similar to your relationship as real-life partners?
Saldaña: I would say yes, in a way, because there is that clear separation when it comes to his expertise and my expertise. Even here in the house, it’s apparent what he is master of and what I am the head of. He oversees a lot of our finances for one and takes care of the big things. I take care of the little things at the same time. Everything cultural and language-specific, like Tagalog, becomes mine. The dogs are his responsibility; it’s more his than mine. The cars are his responsibility, and he doesn’t mind it because I have this habit of moving furniture around. Tell them, honey, about my constant renovation.
Siegel: Yeah. I was going to say that when you marry an architect, don’t plan on having the house at a steady state. People always ask me: When will your house be done? I say never. Once, we had a discussion with my mother about the room that we were building for her. She has to do a reading room, and I laughed and said no. I left for a three-week business trip, came back, and then there was a reading room extension in the house. When you marry an architect, it’s all part of the package.
While PDP Architects is really Cathy’s business, she still consults with you. The question is: Who gets to call the shots?
Siegel: When it’s architectural and related businesses, it’s absolutely C’s call. I’m there to support, offer my expertise, outside input, and objective as much as I can be.
Saldaña: And I listen to his insights because he always looks at everything with an objective point of view, with a fresh pair of eyes looking at the picture, with a sense of business and what’s best for us.
Was there anything notable, maybe a shocking, enlightening, or a funny thing that you discovered about your partner after being business partners?
Saldaña: I learned that he’s way smarter than I thought he was because his insights into the Filipino culture were deep and truly analytical. He could cover certain cultural, social, and behavioral patterns about our employees, and look at it in a very different light. Like, whenever we hire, or we let go, we consult him mainly because he knows how to organize, not just with documentation, but also understand behavioral patterns and attitudes. He’s very good at it. He’s from the US, and I’ve always known how brilliant he is, but wow, to have an insight on Filipino patterns that’s so strong is good.
Siegel: For me, one of the things that attracted me immediately about C—I don’t call her Cathy, I call her C—is her intelligence and her creativity. That wasn’t a big shock. But a very pleasant surprise is how well we traveled together and how much international disclosure and different types of international exposure we both had. Cathy had spent a lot more time in Southern Europe than I had, and obviously a lot more time in Asia than I had. The longer we’re together, there’s more overlap with the places we’ve been to. In the beginning, that was actually just sort of different sections. So it’s kind of fun filling in the map.
Is travel also your way of de-stressing or taking your mind off work for a while? What else do you do to bond on your days off?
Saldaña: Alex is a weekend diver, and I love the sea. I love water and the sense of quiet, even in a boat. So, I come along with him, whether it’s in Anilao or in Subic. Or, he goes with me to my job sites in Palawan, and while I’m working, he’s out there diving. We do that a lot.
Siegel: Or we’ll entertain here.
Saldaña: Yeah, we eat here and entertain more than we’d go out.
Siegel: Food is the language of love. And the other thing we like to do is to read together. And then, of course, you’ve seen the dogs. We take them up to UP and walk them around the oval.
Both: We try to get enough sleep together with the dogs. (Laughter)
If you are a famous architecture or design couple, who would you be?
Saldaña: I’ll answer that for the two of us. We’d be Ray and Charles Eames, furniture designers, visionaries. They also know how to be frugal and practical. At the same time, they understand style. They’re not all about getting much attention to themselves. And when recognition came, even their families were surprised. And it’s about timelessness, being classic, kind, and generous to others. We love the core values of sustainability that Ray and Charles Eames established way before sustainability was the design norm. So it would have to be Ray and Charles Eames.
Since it’s Valentine’s Day, what would be your message to your partner?
Saldaña: I love you forever. I am so grateful that I met you. Whenever I see you, I see the face of God, and I understand just how wonderful it is to be loved, to be accepted. And I know what marriage is.
Siegel: You are my everything. You already stole the line “face of God” so I can’t use that. (Laughter)
Siegel: But yeah, thank you for bringing joy and humor to my life. I love you.