When Nikki Boncan-Buensalido was a child, she loved to doodle secretly on the walls of their house. She wouldn’t be found out until one day when her father came home from work, praised the drawings and asked who between her and her sister drew them. Being proud of her work, she responded with an enthusiastic “Meeeee!” Since then, Nikki has decided that when she grew up she wanted to live in a house where she could write and draw on the walls to her heart’s content.

Years later, this idea would find its way to her workplace—the new Makati office of Buensalido+Architects (B+A), which she co-founded with Principal Architect and husband Jason Buensalido, and Associate Architect Ems Eliseo. It’s a 182-square meter architecture office that refuses to look like one: fuchsia is the dominant color, walls can be written and doodled on, some floors have fake grass, and employees can play with the office Xbox any time they wish.

“This is a creative office, so we didn’t want an atmosphere that’s super corporate, like we’re horses with blinders just staring at the computer all day,” says Nikki, the VP and Associate Architect for B+A. “We wanted it to be fun.”

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The conference room is where the principals meet with the studios to discuss projects. The studios present their designs via projector, and everyone takes turns critiquing and pitching ideas. “The architect in charge will explain the parameters, tell us about the client, give the client brief… from there, we discuss how we can develop the project.”
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Almost every vertical surface in the B+A office can be written on, and most of the time the sketches can stay there for days. “I like collaborating, talking to others about ideals,” says Jason. “So if we have an idea, we just sketch on these walls, leave it there and let it incubate for a few days.”

While the interior design of the office pops out like a jack in the box, it’s not all about fun. The B+A office places heavy emphasis on mentoring and learning, where everyone learns from each other and collaborates to produce the progressive architecture the firm is starting to be known for.

The firm is very young—it was established in 2006, and the age group of its architects range from 22 to 35 years old. Even Jason, the principal architect, didn’t plan on starting his own firm until he was 40 years old, but winning the master plan competition for the CCP in 2006, when he was in his early 20s, thrust him into the spotlight and won him clients who clamored for his design, accelerating his plan a decade and a half early. Despite the youth movement in B+A, the maturity of the firm’s philosophy and operations makes it more than capable of competing with the bigger and more experienced firms.

READ MORE: A proposed government office by Buensalido+Architects weaves spaces

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Jason and Nikki’s workstations are adjacent to the conference room and secluded from the rest of the team, with VP for Operations Ems Eliseo overseeing the designers’ work stations. To the left is a model of Nikki’s college thesis–a master plan of an Olympic Park in Clark, Pampanga. “I thought Clark was a good destination for an Olympic site… I had to design the stadium, the aquatic center, and the rest of the space is for future expansion.”
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The firm is very young–it was established in 2006, and the age group of its architects range from 22 to 35 years old. Because of the firm’s increased exposure, the number of applicants has shot up to 300 in just the past two years. In order to sift through them all, the firm asked applicants to submit a design to test their creative skills. These are then posted to B+A’s Facebook wall, where the designs are critiqued and applicants defend their work.

Jason and Nikki peg their firm as specialists in “Filipino, modern, contemporary, avant-garde, progressive architecture.” Adjectives aside, their main aim is to get the principles of traditional Filipino architecture like the bahay kubo and bahay na bato and translate them into modern architecture. The social aspect of being Filipino is taken into account as well, which includes the optimism, playfulness and participatory lifestyle of our countrymen. Both the design aesthetics and organizational structure of their office readily reflect these philosophies.

The design team of the firm is divided into three studios with 3 to 5 architects each, with a lead architect assigned to oversee the team. Each studio is given a project to work on, and they talk to the client, develop a concept and handle the design work. However, the studios aren’t left to work on their own. Jason and Nikki still meets regularly with them to discuss and develop further ideas, concepts and solutions they could implement for the project. “In all the designs, we’re very hands-on,” says Nikki. “Everybody is involved. If there are contrasting ideas, we encourage them to share it, because even if you think your idea is stupid, sometimes those are the ones that actually make you think, ‘Yeah, why not? That can work!’”

READ MORE: Jason Buensalido’s four points of Philippine culture for architecture

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The firm has a conference room on another floor that accommodates more people, where they hold client and team meetings.

This setup allows for across-the-board training for everyone in the firm, which includes the principals, who also benefit and learn from the constant discussion of ideas with those under them. The office is designed to reinforce this highly collaborative and creative atmosphere. While the fuchsia color for the interiors can hurt the eye after a while, there is no denying that it is stimulating and different from the usual corporate colors of blue, white or black. Areas are surrounded by white glass panels that people can write and sketch on, so they can hold instant meetings while discussing ideas. “I like collaborating, talking to others about ideas,” says Jason. “So if we have an idea, we just sketch on these walls, leave it there and let it incubate for a few days.” On the day of BluPrint’s visit, the walls are a mess of sketches, writings, and Post-Its, evidence of a firm that constantly churns out progressive idea after progressive idea.

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Nikki and Jason Buensalido

To further stimulate the creative minds of their team, the firm organizes two activities that takes them away from their everyday routine. One of those activities is Technological Innovation Tuesdays, where they bring in suppliers to give presentations about new products and materials that they can use for their projects. The other is Free Fridays, where the whole team goes out of the office to visit art galleries and museums or just watch a movie together. “It’s a very creative office, so we expose everybody to different kinds of art because it’s an artistic field also, not just technical,” says Nikki. “Sometimes, we’ll think of ideas when we’re outside, and we bring those to our projects rin.”

For a firm that calls itself a “laboratory for testing ideas,” squeezing every last drop of creativity from everyone is a must. It’s a good thing that the firm is young as a whole, as it means its designers are always open to try new ideas instead of frequently relying on tried-and-tested methods, so it’s hard to imagine their creative well drying up. For a country that badly needs exciting architecture, Buensalido+Architects is doing everything it can to provide it—all while having fun along the way. 

Original article first appeared in BluPrint Volume 4 2014. Edits were made for Bluprint online.

READ MORE: God, Man, Nature: Amara Chapel by Buensalido+Architects

Photographed by Mark Cuevas

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