Architect Paul Pena on the Lessons He’s Learned from His Father

June 19, 2021



Maria Rebecca Abaya

Here, BluPrint chats with Mike and Paul Pena about restructuring their family firm, on how their collaborative relationship came to be, and how they embody FILIPINISM among their projects together.

Fitnesscape Creative Studio was the brainchild concept of the Peñas to elevate their family venture.

In between talks revolving around golf, cars and their recent family firm, Father and son tandem Mike and Paul open up about what they’ve learned from each other over the years. According to Paul, his dad was the first architect in their family. He graduated from the University of Santo Tomas in 1983 and after some experience, he established his own architectural firm in the 1990s. For him, who graduated in 2008 from the same university and right after he passed the licensure exams, the family did some restructuring with the company to include him and his sister Carla, who is an interior designer, giving way to the birth of their new family business venture, the Fitnesscape Creative Studio.

Father son architect
Photo by Ed Simon

BP: Can you tell us more about Fitnesscape Creative Studio?

Ar. Paul: The word Fitnesscape was my thesis during college. Fitnesscape iwellness concept means escaping to a natural vibrant environment which affects a person’s fitness and well-being. I believe that the way we move, act and think are affected by the structure and environment we live in.This is the same concept that we apply to Fitnessscape.

BP: As father and son, how was your working relationship? How do you balance family and work life?

Ar. Paul: Our work-relationship is way different from the corporate setting. Considering I started working for my father early on during my college days, it was very informal and spontaneous. Aside from work, we get to spend time together since we are a family. We have lots of things that we do in common like playing golf, driving, and fixing cars, we love to travel and explore as family. This becomes an advantage because sometimes during family time we can still talk about work and design. We talk about work anywhere, whether it be over breakfast, or during time spent with common interests like golf, cars, and travel.

BP: What is it like getting advice from your dad when it comes to work ethics?

Ar. Paul: I started working for my dad during my college and on-the-job training days. He mentored me by always being there to check each project and by being my number one critic. He brought me to different job sites, so I get to visualize the plans and processes during construction. All his knowledge with design and even the back office of running an architectural firm, he practically passed down to me. But I believe the most important mentoring principle he mentored me was not only through work and business but also emotionally and spiritually, as a father.

Having been in the business for more than three decades, of course starting with Ar. Mike, the Peñas are one of the most sought architects and builders in the country. As creatives, there are so many ideas and concepts that they want to present and translate into built structures that will be of great contribution to the local industry and the end users. Seeing their remarkable works, it is evident that one of their goals is promoting Filipinism through Modern Philippine Designs.

Filipino Architecture
Pena residence is all about filipinism and character evident among their choice of furniture
Filipino Architecture
Filipino Architecture
Filipino Architecture
Pena residence main living room

BP: As architects with massive experience, what do you think is the most valuable element in design and why? What elements that must not be overlooked?

Ar. Paul: The most valuable consideration in architecture is first listening to the needs of the client. Our goal is to improve the well-being and function for the users inside the structure. If this is not properly addressed, the structure becomes the “sick building syndrome.” In terms of design, the most valuable element is to design something that will exemplify the surroundings where the structure is and to be able to promote local and Filipino artistry and creativity. Also, the elements that shouldn’t be overlooked are the ones that’s naturally present – the use of the sun’s orientation, wind direction, geography, and the availability of natural resources in the locality.

BP: Who do you take inspiration from? Any specific architect whose work you love internationally and locally?

Ar. Paul: The foreign architect we take inspiration from is Tadao Ando. We love his style of using raw materials such as concrete finishes. We believe that natural materials and finishes, age and last longer. For the local artists, we will definitely go by Ar. Bobby Mañosa because of his Philippine Architectural designs.

BP: Specializing in Filipino Architecture, do you have any specific reason for this choice of style?

Ar. Paul: There are so many principles to learn from the traditional Filipino architectural design which we can apply up to today and these principles best suit our environment. We also want to showcase these principles so that Filipinism may be recognized worldwide.

BP: Highlighting Filipinism, what is it in architecture and design? Is the term acceptable to be associated with local artistry, craftsmanship, and culture? How do you promote it?

Ar. Paul: Yes definitely. The significant factor that makes our designs unique is the incorporation of traditional Philippine design, natural elements, and sustainability. When this concept is achieved, it breaks the massive form of the structure and forms clusters allowing more space for natural elements and better circulation. There are so many principles to apply from the “Bahay Kubo” design. We try to apply this concept in all our projects because the addition of natural elements such as landscape, water, air, and light creates a tranquil, calm, and refreshing oasis for the users of the structure. This concept does not only affect the design but the well-being of the users since the majority of our projects are in urban areas wherein the environment is surrounded by modernization and development.

BP: Can you tell us more about your current projects and how did the pandemic affect the way you conceptualize your projects? What’s your favorite part and how do you ensure that the importance of sustainability is incorporated in the projects?

Ar. Paul: Most of our projects are focused on residential design and the style of which is a Modern-Philippine Design. We always believe that a house should be a complete place that would improve the well-being of all the users. During this pandemic, we had new opportunities since most of our new clients are coming from condominiums and townhouses seeking a more complete place that they do not need to leave their homes for a long time. I think the favorite part is the new planning requirement by most clients which are the additional needs for a home-school room, a home office, home theaters, vegetation, and planting areas, and even to personal basketball courts, gyms, and other family activity rooms. All these needs started to become a consideration by most clients during the pandemic.

BP: Amongst all your notable works and creations, do you have any special projects that you’d like to talk about?

Ar. Paul: I think the best design we can showcase will always be our personal house because with this, our client is ourselves and we can be free to explore and execute our ideas.

Filipino Architecture
Filipino Architecture
Filipino Architecture
Filipino Architecture
Filipino Architecture
The Peña’s collection of arts and curated furniture adorning the living room

BP: Let’s talk about the recently built Patriarch Peñas Residence, what was the inspiration for this home? Were there any special design principles used? Is it a family collaboration and kindly describe the sustainability concepts used in the project?

Ar.Mike: The design came about when I acquired the property. It was literally a cliff. The former owners had a hard time selling the house because no one can comprehend how to design a cliffside house. But when I saw it, the creative juices started to flow in me and as a green architecture advocate, I followed the natural topography of the lot, creating a look that makes the house part of the landscape. To address that illusion is through the use of a long sweeping roofline. Also, I oriented the house in such a way that the view of the Sierra Madre Mountain ranges can be maximized. Based on an Asian industrial design, it is in mind to use wide ceiling eaves to prevent excess direct sun and also to serve as protection from harsh monsoon rain without obstructing the view. The high ceilings create a feeling of openness and skylights are provided for natural light to come in. The harnessing of the use of natural light and wind by innovative design approaches, reduces the carbon footprint, thereby making this house green and sustainable.

BP: What is your favorite part of the house?

Ar.Mike: The favorite part of the house is the man cave! It is where I keep my toys and that too has a magnificent view of the mountain ranges. It helps me to distress and soothes my nerves for complete relaxation.

Filipino Architecture
Filipino Architecture
Filipino Architecture
Details of wood and steel fine craftmanship in exterior facade

BP: What is the legacy the Peñas would like to give our country?

Ar. Mike: Despite the continuously modernizing and innovating atmosphere we have today, we still find refuge in nature and its natural environment whenever we want to rest, relax, and unwind. All these elements and principles can be found in Philippine design. This has become our perception whenever we design residential structures. As Architects, we may have different concepts and approaches in design. But it is imperative that we are able to suit the needs of our clients and integrate them with the right design to come up with a successful project.

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