Succeeding Success: Bobby and Gelo Mañosa
Bobby Mañosa is a tough act to follow for any Filipino architect, but that doesn’t seem to daunt his son.
July 6, 2017
Interview and introduction by Miguel R. Llona
Photographed by Ed Simon
When asked for materials on Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa for this feature, among the things his secretary sent were a thick pile of articles photocopied from magazines and newspapers over the decades. In all of these articles, Bobby’s interviews always contain the same words and concepts: Filipino architecture, the bahay kubo, green architecture, Filipinism. It’s clear that he has been steadfast in his advocacy of promoting and upholding the Filipino throughout his 40 years of practice. It’s a tough act to follow for any Filipino architect, more so if such a man is your father. That is the challenge that Angelo “Gelo” Mañosa faces as the CEO of his father’s firm, a challenge that doesn’t seem to daunt the younger Mañosa one bit.
Who were your mentors?
Bobby: I had no architect mentor. You could say my father was my mentor, he was a sanitary engineer, head of MWSS, as he would have me design things, structures and small things for the parks he would set up for MWSS, like the swimming pool and pavilion in Balara. He also made me design some things in La Mesa Dam park. The iron gate in the San Juan reservoir too. This was all while I was still a student of Architecture. Of course, all for free.
Gelo: Dad did not mentor me. His office did. [Laughs] In fairness, he mentored me in the sense that…it wasn’t the Tuesdays with Morrie type of mentoring, the one-on-one things. He would let me do whatever I wanted to do. If I needed help and asked, he would give it. He wasn’t one who was imposing. His mentoring was really more on allowing you to define who you are and then once you know who you are, he’d start telling you how to sharpen up.
Bobby: I don’t think I’ve ever been tough on him. It’s not my style. I have never been tough with any employee, for that matter.
Gelo: Oh, and the irritating thing is, Dad would answer your question with a question, you wouldn’t get a distinct answer. To make you think more. In that sense, I never got spoiled trying to develop my own style of architecture.
Building on that, would you say you improved on his style?
Gelo: I wouldn’t say I improved on it, I would say it’s a change. Difficult to improve because you cannot compare his 40 years of practice with my, what, less than 20 years of practice. I’d just say it’s different. A lot of it has to do with the manner of how we think, we rationalize a design. The philosophy is still the same, we still practice Philippine architecture, but the materials available today are very different from the ones available back then, so the manner of how we put these materials together to come up with a design is also very different.
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How about you sir, who inspired you the most?
Bobby: Frank Lloyd Wright. He was my hero. His organic architecture really inspired me.
How did the two of you move up the corporate ladder?
Gelo: After I graduated from UST, I had one week…no, not even one week, I had four days of enjoyment. I finished UST on a Wednesday, and I started work on a Monday.
What do you admire most about each other?
Bobby: What I admire in my son is his tenacity. As a child, he had a physical handicap due to his eyesight that created problems with his ability to read. But he overcame it then, and works with the same tenacity through problems now. His creativity too, and his ability to think out of the box. He showed this ability even when he was a child. I remember when he was five years old, he could draw elevations of how he wanted to decorate a wall for Christmas. He had this talent of building structures with building blocks. You could see, even then, that he would be a natural as an architect.
Gelo: One thing I admire about dad is the integrity of his philosophy. He has always been focused on the love for Filipino architecture. There were even times when, back in 1986, things were really bad after they shot Aquino. In that one year, there was only one interior design project that the firm got. Just one! And he was already an established name at the time. Anyway, there was one project that came in, it was with Cardinal Sin. This was a monster of a project, an 8-hectare development. It was supposed to be a retirement village for Japanese retirees, I think they were Japanese priests, and they were gonna come here from Tokyo and live in Tagaytay. The only condition was, it had to be Japanese architecture, with tatami flooring and shoji rice partitions. And my dad was asking Cardinal Sin, “But your Eminence, Japanese architecture, here in the Philippines?” And Cardinal Sin was telling him to just put a blind eye to that, but Dad didn’t take it. He said he has some friends who might be able to do that.
Bobby: I would only accept projects that would further my philosophy of promoting Philippine architecture. If someone wanted a colonial house, I would refer him to some other architect.
Gelo: That kind of integrity, that’s hard to match, because you’re talking about feeding your family, feeding your office. And he would never follow trends, he would set the trends. When everyone was doing Mediterranean architecture, he stuck to his contemporary Filipino. When people switched to Post-Modernism, Balinese, Asia Modern, Mexican, all of those trends happened, he never followed any of those. He always stuck to designing contemporary or vernacular Filipino architecture, and it’s hard to do that, because you limit yourself to a niche market. That tenacity and that integrity is admirable, especially in a span of 40 years.
That kind of integrity, that’s hard to match, because you’re talking about feeding your family, feeding your office. And he would never follow trends, he would set the trends.
What is your father’s most important legacy to you and the firm?
Gelo: The Mañosa name. He gave us this plaque many years ago, when we were still growing up. The type on the plaque was “Mañosa,” and the rest read, “You got it from father, it was all he had to give. So it’s yours to use and cherish for as long as you live. If you lose the watch he gave you, it can always be replaced.But a black mark on your name, son, can never be replaced.” The whole point being, your name is all that you have. Keep it clean. When your name is clean, your integrity is intact, it really gives a good vibe, and the good vibe brings the good fortune. [Still,] a good name is more important than fortune.
What is your vision for the firm?
Bobby: My vision and hope for the firm is simple: that it continues promoting my philosophy of Filipinism. And I hope my son continues this philosophy for the firm, and that he makes his own mark in architecture.
Gelo: We’re diversifying the family business right now, and doing things a little differently. One is professionalizing the firm, from a family mom-and-pop organization. We have a corporate structure in place, with directors, board meetings and consultants. Because the problem here is that most of the time, architecture is linked to one man, one architect. When the architect dies, the firm dies. The reason why we are professionalizing is because we are trying to be known more as the Mañosa and Company, not as Francisco Mañosa. So by doing that, you are looking at a firm, not at an individual. We’re also preparing for ASEAN integration, because we feel that architecture is going to take a big hit.
How are you preparing for ASEAN integration?
Gelo: We have to look pogi. (laughs) That’s why as I said, we’re professionalizing the firm, because once our set-up is good, we’ll be able to find our partners, and find the right guys. In the same way that foreign firms are going to look for local firms to partner up with here in the Philippines, there’s no stopping us from doing that in other ASEAN countries. So when we do the same thing, we’ll look for a local there, they’ll ask who we are and we’ll say that we’re the Mañosa Group of Companies. That’s why we’re diversifying into property management, engineering, and even furniture.
Why don’t many children follow in their architect father’s footsteps? Whereas in politics, entire clans make dynasties!
Bobby: Because architecture is still very personal—you either have the knack and creativity for it or not. There is still taste and proportion involved. In addition, you need the breaks in getting clients that believe in you. Not everyone can be a great architect.
Gelo: I think it’s because we tend to be rebels (laughs). Maybe they never picked up the knack for it, maybe the parents never showed them how fun their jobs could be, I don’t know. Maybe some kids see their parents working super hard and they say “S***, I don’t want to end up being like that.”
Bobby: I’m very blessed to have all three of my children now involved in the firm [Dino Mañosa runs Mañosa Properties, while Bambi Mañosa runs their interior design department]. They all apprenticed in the firm, left at one time or another to put up their own businesses, but they have now all come back and have reinvigorated the firm to bring it to the next level. I’m very grateful.
This story first appeared as “Bobby and Gelo Mañosa: Integrity and Tenacity” in BluPrint Special Issue 3, 2014. Minor edits have been made for Bluprint.ph.