From creative partners to family: behind the scenes at BluPrint’s WAF coverage in Amsterdam

BluPrint and Grohe host and cheer 2019’s impressive crop of Filipino finalists at the World Architecture Festival

  • December 18, 2019

  • Written by The BluPrint Team

  • In partnership with Grohe

“Blood, sweat, and tears, and empty coffee cups—that’s the prerequisite to every WAF coverage,” says MH Canlas, BluPrint’s lead reporter at the recently concluded World Architecture Festival 2019. This year’s WAF was particularly grueling for the editorial team, as we had four Filipino shortlisted finalists to tail. It was our country’s biggest crop yet—Alero Design Studio’s Baliwag Community Center for the Future Civic and Community category, Carlo Calma’s Infinity House for the Future House category, John Ryan Santos + Partners’ Sagip Kanlungan Hospital for the Future Health and Education category, and finally, Kenneth Cobonpue and Zubu Design Associates’ Cor Jesu for the Built Religion category. Then there were some 20 ASEAN finalists, most of whom we had interviewed and featured, whose presentations we also wanted to report on.

Long-time partner

Our posts on WAF thank Grohe for making the coverage possible, but that doesn’t begin to capture our relationship and the extent of the care they extended to the finalists and our reporters. Apart from helping with visas, flying us in, and making sure BluPrint and the finalists were nicely settled in Amsterdam, the folks from Grohe made it a point to be in the crit room before each Pinoy finalist was due to present. And arranged for opportunities for members of the Philippine contingent to get to know each other better. So thoughtful was Grohe that our contributor, Margarita Barcia, who took breaks from schoolwork at the Delft Technical University to help us cover the event, characterized our Grohe hosts as “motherly.” She adds: “It was a joy to be with like-minded, happy people! The camaraderie and bond between BluPrint, Grohe, and the finalists were endearing!”

(L-R) Grohe Country Manager Alen Alban, BluPrint editor Judith Torres, the four WAF 2015 shortlisted architects: William Ti, Connie Roxas, Carlos Arnaiz and Jorge Yulo; and WAF 2014 shortlisted architect Manny Miñana

Grohe-Lixil country manager Joralyn Ong laughs and admits that she did indeed feel maternal over the finalists: “Funny, but it’s true. The main objective was to really support our finalists. The goal is to help form a community that helps and supports each other. We have a bunch of talented architects and designers who are globally competitive but are not motivated to join international competitions probably because of the lack of a support system or none at all. I want Grohe to be at the forefront of supporting the design community to flourish, not just in the Philippines but also internationally.”

Attending each crit, our Grohe hosts said they felt just like parents watching their children compete. Says Ong: “I felt nervous seeing some of our finalists’ looking a bit uneasy while waiting their turn. My way of making them comfortable was to ask them to say ‘Hi’ to my camera and telling them that I’m going to send the pictures to BluPrint as part of the coverage.”

(L-R) BluPrint contributor Margarita Barcia, and siblings Jaemi and Jesy Cruz of Alero Design Studio before the live crit

Carlo Malantic, head of Grohe’s Project Key Accounts, adds: “I felt so proud as a Pinoy to see them represent us, excited and anxious at the same time. Just like a parent feels when you are watching your child perform for the first time.”

First time Europe visitor and BluPrint WAF correspondent Canlas was another beneficiary of Grohe’s ‘motherly’ care. “I was an anxious mess for most of the trip due to the stresses of media coverage and being in a place I’ve only seen in pictures, but Grohe was a constant source of support and encouragement! The dynamic duo of Carlo and Ms. Jora went above and beyond in helping me execute my coverage, be it in helping to gather the participants together for photo ops for our social media, covering up for me for crits when I have to attend a conflicting one, even having me tag along at the Gala dinner sans invite enabling me to break the news of the winners real-time,” he recalls. It wasn’t all about media mileage; Canlas was also appreciative of how the client partner was concerned particularly about his well-being; aside from the regular dinner invitations, on the third day of the festival, Grohe asked Canlas to join them on a day tour to rest and relax from the busy coverage. He had to decline to cover the remainder of the 20 something ASEAN crits; while the plum prize proved elusive for ASEAN this year, our neighbors from Thailand (Creative Crews) and Taiwan (JC Architecture) got Highly Commended and Interior of the Year nods for INSIDE Festival of Interiors, a sister event of the WAF.

(L-R) Carlo Malantic (Grohe) and Joralyn Ong (Lixil), Benjee Mendoza (BAAD Studio), and Buck Sia (Zubu Design Associates)

“BluPrint is fortunate to have found a client partner as driven and passionate for design such as Grohe. But more than that, their team treated us like family; it was what made the WAF experience all the more memorable. Beyond our quotas, targets, and numbers, this little diaspora gelled and supported each other as a team and not just as clients or competitors. I think having a support system you can trust is a key factor in boosting the morale of our WAF finalists to present at their best,” Canlas adds.

Prepping for WAF

At the mock crit this year, previous WAF winners and finalists like Benjee Mendoza, Sudar Khadka, Manny Miñana (photographed here), Jorge Yulo, and Terence Uy advised the 2019 finalists where they could trim their presentations and what they could expand on.

BluPrint and Grohe’s support for WAF finalists begins months before the festival. BluPrint has been covering the World Architecture Festival since 2013, and since 2015, we have partnered with Grohe to help Filipino finalists prepare for the competition. We hold mock crit sessions with the finalists following WAF specs—10 minutes for presenting one’s project and 8 minutes for the Q&A with a mock jury and audience of architects.

BluPrint and Grohe also hosted a session with Alero Design Studio and John Ryan Santos + Partners so they could ask questions of 2018 WAF winner in the Future Civic Project category, Benjee Mendoza.

“It’s a technical rehearsal for our finalists. Every year, the audience has gotten larger, from an intimate 30 attendees in 2015 to about 100 last September,” recounts BluPrint editor Judith Torres. Previous WAF winners and finalists are invited to share their experience and offer tips on presenting and the challenges they faced in their WAF journey.

This year, apart from the mock crit, BluPrint and Grohe flew to Cebu to visit Cor Jesu and observe Zubu Design Associates’ Buck Sia and Kenneth Cobonpue plan their presentation.

Aside from helping the finalists practice presenting and responding to questions, there’s another agenda to the rehearsals. Torres explains: “The mock crits are also intended to expose Filipino architects to critiquing and dealing with skeptics—a healthy practice that onion-skinned Pinoys would rather not engage in. We need to learn to ask good questions, and we need to learn effective ways of answering, especially given the eight-minute time constraint. After the Q&A and the sharing, the gathering becomes a send-off party. We eat and toast the finalists.”

bluprint architecture waf coverage bts grohe
Back row: Carlo Malantic (Grohe), Terence Yu (Visionary Architecture, Inc.), Sudar Khadka (i.incite), Buck Sia (Zubu Design Associates), Pauline Bato (John Ryan Santos+Partners), Jorge Yulo (Jorge Yulo Architects and Associates), Manuel Miñana (EA Miñana Associates and Architects), Benjee Mendoza (BAAD Studio) Front row: Emily Besavilla and Joralyn Ong (Lixil), Jesy and Jaemi Cruz (Alero Design Studio), Judith Torres (BluPrint), John Ryan Santos (John Ryan Santos+Partners), Dheza Paras (Wilcon), Air Zaragoza (Grohe)

Sleepless in Manila

Because we had only two reporters in Amsterdam, we drafted our Grohe hosts, Jora Ong and Carlo Malantic, into helping with the coverage, asking them to take photos and videos of our finalists and crits and send them to Manila for posting. Back home, seven hours forward, BluPrint Manila was at the beck and call of the Amsterdam contingent, staying awake to the early morning hours, awaiting scoops, instructions, and material to share with loyal followers.

The Amsterdam contingent live-streamed the crits to BluPrint’s nearly 150,000 Filipino followers willing to burn the midnight oil to watch. By the time folks in Amsterdam were ready to sleep, it was morning in Manila and time again to feed the website and social media with news and updates before others beat us to it.

Mirroring the struggles of the BluPrint team back home, Team Amsterdam’s Canlas had to brave cold temperatures and a dimly-lit public park in the name of speedy conveyance to and from RAI back to his hotel. “It took me a while to get used to how late the sun rises and how early it sets here in Amsterdam; I had to take this rather dark detour across a park to make it to RAI Amsterdam in under ten minutes, so I could arrive early for the crits, and so I can reach my hotel faster to start writing,” Canlas recalls. The pitfalls of jet lag and a busy coverage schedule have also led to increased investment in caffeine and sodas to keep awake so that daily roundups can be hammered down and released before BluPrint’s readership wakes up the following day.

Critiquing the crits

While Amsterdam was live streaming and before and after the crits, Manila was with them on Viber, constantly messaging Canlas, Barcia, Ong, and Malantic: How are Jesy and Jaemi? Carlo and Carmina? Carlo is cool, right? Is Kenneth there? Did he and Buck get to practice? Where’s JR? Why was his crit moved? How’s the jury? How’s the crowd? OMG, what did the juror just say? Tell them congratulations! Good job!

(L-R) Alex Furunes of Eriksson Furunes, Cany Ash of Ash Sakula Architects, Benjee Mendoza of BAAD Studio at the WAF 2019 live crit for the Future Project – Civic category

BluPrint, Grohe, Benjee Mendoza (2018 winner who served as a juror this year), and the finalists will be meeting after the holidays to discuss ways we can improve support for the finalists. In the meantime, here are some of our crits of the crits:

Alero Design Studio

Ong: “Since they were the first to present among the Pinoy delegates, they must have really felt the pressure. They knew all eyes and ears were on them. Their presentation was much improved compared to the practice session we had in September.”

Malantic: “You can see the big improvement in their presentation compared to our send-off party. Knowing that they are still young, I see their potential to become better. Their experience in WAF is such a great investment for them.”

Carlo Calma Consultancy

Ong: “His presentation is one of a kind. This must have been the most unconventional presentation in WAF, based on what I’ve seen in past years. Carlo was there, not just to compete but more to make a statement—a bold statement. During his presentation, I was really observing the judges’ and audiences’ reactions. It had that “wow” factor, I think.”

Malantic: “I was just in awe to see it. Very artistic. He did what he told me—that his approach to the presentation was to showcase his work. Winning was secondary.”

Kenneth Cobonpue and Zubu Design Associates

Ong: “I had high expectations for this duo, and they delivered well during the presentation and Q&A. You can see they’re used to presenting before huge crowds, being the most mature and experienced among the finalists.”

Malantic: “Buck (of Zubu Design Associates) told me that it was only the night before the presentation that he and Kenneth discussed how they would do the presentation together. But they did very well, and you can see how experienced they are in explaining their work and how they mindfully answered the jury’s questions.”

John Ryan Santos + Partners

Ong: “I really like how he delivered his presentation and how he explained his project. He was confident and calm. His project may seem simple in design, but it would make a significant social impact in the rural areas. This entry was my personal favorite.”

Malantic: “This is the project that I liked most because of the impact it would have on communities. There was also a major improvement in their presentation. I loved the ending—it was emotional. I had goosebumps while the people were clapping. I felt they truly appreciated his vision.”

A toast to the future

“Even though we did not win, it was such a great feeling to see a group of Pinoys flying all the way to Amsterdam to do their best to bring honor to Filipino architecture. The finalists were there for each other and supported one another as each presented. Heartwarming to see this Pinoy camaraderie at play!” Malantic exclaims.

While understandably disappointed in not netting a win, the finalists were still in light spirits after the crit sessions were over. They all got together for a four-course meal at the nearby Roast Room restaurant, where everyone drank a toast to Filipino architecture and a bigger, bolder showing at next year’s WAF.

Alero Design Studio, Carlo Calma Consultancy, John Ryan Santos + Partners, Kenneth Cobonpue, and Zubu Design Associates—what a diverse group. If it weren’t for the WAF and our gathering them together, their paths would not normally cross. But friendships were formed in those three days in Amsterdam, that we hope will continue in the coming years as they, in turn, share with new finalists what their WAF journey was like.

“I was seated at the kabisera (head) of our very long table,” Malantic reminisces. “I just observed them and witnessed a sense of unity and oneness. For me, that was important; the relationship was further built that evening. I hope we can share that experience with others.” Ong adds: “Having a support group to rely on was integral to the admirable showing the finalists presented. I hope this will encourage more people to join the WAF.”

Joining competitions like WAF is important in not just building a reputation for your firm but also to help raise the profile of your country’s architecture; arguably, a huge part of why Vietnamese modern architecture is big and visible now is the penchant for the architects there in investing to join international competitions. It’s also safe to say that the more visible you are, the more you are driven to do better and put your best foot forward.

WAF’s acknowledgment of the many aspects of architecture should also encourage architects and designers who’ve chosen different mediums to express their love for crafting spaces to join in the various other awards up for grabs.

The camaraderie and relationships that blossomed between Grohe, BluPrint, and the finalists is incontrovertible proof of how much more good supporting each other is in the name of national pride, than to gatekeep design and prevent talented people from fully expressing themselves.

“The WAF competition really felt more of a community than anything else. The architects and designers were very approachable and interactive with each other. People would go out of their way to introduce themselves to each other, whether they were waiting in line for coffee or wine at the sponsors’ station. People were just very approachable and open to conversation. Benjee of BAAD had a spontaneous conversation with Yui Tezuka. She ended up giving him one of her books,” Barcia shares. “I think this is the atmosphere that separates WAF from other competitions. They focus on building a community of like-minded people.”

We can’t wait for WAF 2020 in Lisbon.B ender


BluPrint’s WAF 2019 coverage was made possible through the sponsorship and assistance of Grohe Philippines. Grohe is the founding sponsor of the World Architecture Festival. The editors also wish to thank Big Sky Nation for providing the editorial team’s internet connection throughout the coverage. 

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