Succeeding Success: Willy, Gil and Gary Coscolluela
From their work ethic to design principles and vision for the firm, Gary and Gil are chips off the old block.
June 10, 2017
Interview and introduction by Sybil Layag
Photographed by Ron Mendoza
From their work ethic to their design principles and vision for the firm, Gary and Gil Coscolluela are, without a doubt, chips off the old block. But they are neither blind followers nor carbon copies of their father, Willy. They possess their own brand of determination and assertiveness, the foundations of which they inherited from their old man. Their work relationship is built upon trust, and so they bank on the same when it comes to their firm, W.V. Coscolluela and Associates. Little else is more important to them than their clients’ trust. Simply inheriting someone’s good name and practice may seem convenient to outsiders, but in reality, these brothers have got their work cut out for them.
When did you realize you wanted to be an architect?
Willy: Hindi ka pa napanganak nun [laughs]. When I was still in high school, my father convinced me. He was a city electrician and I would come with him when he did inspection work, so I came to appreciate the buildings we were looking at.
Gary: For me, it came later than that, although I do remember that dad would bring us to job sites from time to time. When we were young, we were very much into the arts. We liked doing things together: we did a lot of models, a lot of drawings. Since dad was in the business and the office was set up, we naturally wanted to help out, so I decided to try it.
Gil: The amount of exposure was quite significant. That influenced us. But as you move along, you realize that it’s something that you do like, and you start developing your skills in terms of design and creativity. Hence the saying, the apple does not fall far from the tree.
Did you feel pressured to take it up at all?
Gil: My father never really pressured us. I personally like the business aspect of architecture because I got into build and sell at one point. Looking at it on the business side of things, it was quite lucrative. That pushed me initially. But eventually, I realized that it’s something that I like to do.
Did your father mentor you? Did you have other mentors?
Gil: It was natural for him to mentor us. He was our guide and mentor as we finished our architecture degrees in college, and then as we started our practice in architecture as well. Just to give you an idea, when I did my thesis, there was an option to go with a group, but I opted to do it by myself because I had guidance from my father and the office was there for me to tap.
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Do you have the same design aesthetic?
Gil: I’d say we have the same design principles.
Willy: Functionality, efficiency and constructability are very important. We make sure we are always within budget. Aesthetics comes as we work as a team. It goes through a process and everybody gets involved. We always follow the code and maintain a high standard. Our seal on a project says that this is the best solution we have come up with for our client.
Gil: Functionality and efficiency, the whole concept of form follows function—maybe we’re a bit old-fashioned in that sense, but for us it works. Then we mix in creativity as we move forward.
Gary: Trust is very important. We do our best to gain the trust of the client; it’s easier for us to be more creative, in that sense. Besides trust, honesty. My father always says that just because we’re presented a project doesn’t mean we should alwaysget it. If the project doesn’t work, we’re honest with the client and tell them so. We don’t have one design style or aesthetic. Styles change. Different clients want different things, so we adjust to what each client wants.
Gil: Most of it is really teamwork. Everybody puts in their two cents’ worth, then we pick the best ideas. From there, we concentrate on what works best. We’re systematic, because there are three heads involved—sometimes four, sometimes five.
What kinds of challenges are unique to being successors?
Gil: It’s really the expectations eh. I think this holds for other father-son relationships where the father has established himself. The expectation is big not just from my father’s end, but also from the client’s and even the employees’. There’s pressure for us to step up to the plate. The biggest challenge is filling his shoes. For instance, in college, some of the teachers I had were his classmates. Those teachers expected more from me.
Gary: That’s true, coming from the same alma mater as my dad’s…
Gil: Gary and I come from two different schools.
Willy: Si Gary Mapua, si Gil UP. I put them apart so that I would know which school is the better school. [Laughs] I was a UP graduate in high school. There was no Architecture program in UP during that time so I studied it in Mapua.
Gary: Another challenge is gaining the trust of the clients, since most of the clients we have are his past clients. And we should be able to keep that relationship with the next generation. Getting new clients is a big challenge, given the amount of competition out there.
Is there an advantage to two family generations in the same firm?
Gil: It makes a good balance.
Willy: You get new ideas, because the young ones have their travels, they see new architecture around the world…
Gil: When you’re young, you’ve got more passion, you’re a little bit more aggressive. But of course, you need someone to tame that and bring you back down to reality.
Willy: We’re very close. We always eat together as family. Sometimes we have meetings to discuss not just business, but also family matters. I’m happy that we’re still a family.
Gil: We all see each other daily. Outside the office, we also see each other on the weekends because we have growing kids, so they get to see their grandchildren then.
Gary: We still go on family trips as well, so that keeps the bond.
Do you talk about work on weekends?
Gil: We try not to, you know, but it overlaps… [Laughs]
Any apprehensions about bestowing your firm on your sons?
Willy: No, I trust them. We have been together for many years, so I think they already know the expectations and the necessary principles. For as long as they are following that, they are going in the right direction.
Why aren’t there a lot of children who follow in their architect father’s footsteps?
Willy: Yes, I know some who have not followed in their parents’ good practice. Sayang. Maybe they did not get the right opportunities and remuneration. If you do not get the right income for the office, how can you support it? It’s not easy to run an office like this. It’s not a joke! That’s why sometimes hindi nagko-continue yung office eh. Yan ang kulang sa eskuwela eh. Architects should be trained also in business and accounting. We are bringing that up with the PRC.
Gil: When we joined the firm, we all had to agree first on what the vision is. It paves the path and makes it easier for us to work with each other and move forward. Without a shared vision and passion, it’s going to be quite difficult to work together. I can’t speak for the other families, they may have other reasons, but I guess first and foremost it’s that.
Gary: Could also be clashing personalities, so it’s always good to have a healthy relationship. An open and a give-and-take relationship, because each of us brings something to the table.
Willy: If you want to maintain a practice, succession planning is very important because they should be prepared and know what is coming at them.
Would you encourage your kids to take up architecture?
Gil: That’s a good question. Given that the office has been established for 50 years, and you see the number of projects done… For us it was inevitable that succession happens and that we do it properly. With regard to wanting our kids to take up the practice… I don’t know, maybe Gary will be the first because his kids are the older ones, I only have an 8-month old and a 2 and a half. [Laughs]
Gary: We never want to push. Let them decide for themselves what they want to do.
Willy: But it’s good also to advise your kids.
Gary: Yes, of course, but whatever makes them happy, we’ll support them.
Willy: For me, I really needed their help. At the height of my practice, I needed my kids to take up architecture. Iba yung anak mo eh, diba. There’s trust. Of course, you can get other associates to work with you or train other people, but it’s different when you’re family. Kasi sometimes yung mga partnership, they separate and maiiwan ka, many such things happen to other architectural firms. There are others naman that it’s only the name, wala na yung mga old partners and new ones come in. Pero parang di rin okey yun eh, just carrying the name. It’s now Gary and Gil’s call if they want their children to take up Architecture, but I hope that they can maintain this office together.
This story first appeared as “Willy, Gil and Gary Coscolluela: The Apples Don’t Fall Far From the Tree” in BluPrint Special Issue 3, 2014. Minor edits have been made for Bluprint.ph.