The new normal is beyond this pandemic, two architects and a public policy consultant say

August 4, 2020



Gabrielle De La Cruz

“We’re not just talking about how our cities will look like or how we need to rethink the landscape. We need to go back to why we are doing things. It’s more of finding the challenge to answer what fundamentals such as government institutions and private sectors will do,” Marco Sardillo said in an insightful Zoom meeting with BluPrint, moderator Judith Torres, and his fellow reactors Leandro Poco and Benjee Mendoza a week prior the second Design DeepDive™ Live Session. The public policy consultant and sustainable cities specialist explained that we might be looking at a short-term response to the ‘new normal,’ which is too focused on the pandemic, forgetting that many of the problems that escalated years ago have long been buried deep.

READ MORE about the second live session: Co-Creating with Government: Opportunities for Positive Change

Redefining the ‘new normal’

Sardillo shared that he has always been skeptical of using the term ‘new normal’ to describe or identify the situation the world is currently experiencing. “To be honest, when I first heard the phrase, I was a little peeved. A ‘new normal’ encapsulates a larger context; it is about climate change, adaptation, and so much more.” Poco agreed, saying that climate change itself is a fast-paced pandemic. “I understand that you need a word to anchor what things will be, but I agree with Marco. I don’t think there’s enough impetus to change things,” Poco added. He explained that “the global systemic change is not happening because there’s too much interest, there’s too much inertia in the system,” and that the current pandemic may be “an opening chapter of five to ten dark years.”

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Although the COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm, the three reactors agreed that climate change is probably the biggest pandemic that the world could ever experience. NASA says that even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, global warming would continue to happen for at least several more decades, if not centuries. Photographed by Karsten Wurth via Unsplash.

Mendoza supported Poco’s assumption. He cited that it can take five to ten more years “to understand what’s happening now,” because the reality is that the society cannot even envision what the ‘new normal’ could be. “Perhaps through time, technology itself will heal us,” Mendoza hopes. Taking the phrase ‘new normal’ into context, Mendoza said that the term is “too pandemic-centric, rather than a totality of what we’re doing.” He emphasized that ‘new normal’ highlights a scientific and trendy solution, instead of one where humanity and the surrounding environment can thrive. Mendoza underscored that this needs to be addressed and that the Philippines has long lacked the ability to immediately confront the pressing issues. “A pandemic is a part of the ‘new normal,’ but it shouldn’t be the driving force of this new normal.” 

Hospital architecture firm John Ryan Santos + Partners worked with Polomolok Mayor Honey Lumayag-Matti in building their first rapid-build hospital isolation unit. This facility is under the Sagip Pilipinas project, a vision by the firm to help ease the overcapacity of hospitals by building a network of compact health units around the country. The isolation units were built to last until 3-5 years so they can still be used post-COVID-19. Read more: Polomolok completes pioneer build of COVID-19 isolation unit by John Ryan Santos + Partners


The Ninoy Aquino Stadium’s arena was opened as a COVID-19 quarantine facility last April 8. The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) sought the expertise of hospital architect Dan Lichauco of Archion Architects to convert the stadium into a temporary health facility designed to hold 112 PUIs (persons under investigation) and PUMs (persons under monitoring). Read this article to know more.
Among the first responses to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic in the Philippines was WTA Architecture and Design’s Emergency Quarantine Facilities (EQFs). The first three EQFs were erected in Manila Naval Hospital and Army General Hospital in Fort Bonifacio, Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo Station Hospital, and Joint Task Force NCR to help augment the decreasing number of COVID-19 beds in both public and private hospitals in the country. Photo from WTA Facebook page.

READ MORE: How do we make sure Asia’s megacities are healthy cities?

The real issues 

“Part of the idea of a paradigm shift is you try to make it work until it no longer can,” Sardillo explained. “We use glasses to improve our eyesight, right? But there comes a time that our glasses are no longer effective because they were worn out and we used them for years already, and that’s how it works. We throw it away when it no longer works and what we have to do is find a new one that will,” Sardillo construed.

One question that Sardillo would like to ask at the live session is: “How exactly can design professionals get over the hassle of working with the government?” He recounted his experience as the former administrator of the Intramuros Administration, when he observed that people in the government do not exactly know how to deal with creatives. “I hope that maybe if we provoke AECOM and ADB, we can look at their premises on working with the government,” he shared.

A nighttime aerial perspective of the winning Bagong Senado design by AECOM. Announced on 28 May 2019, AECOM’s win tops a list of 40 firms, 16 local and 24 foreign, who expressed initial interest. Image courtesy of AECOM.
New Clark City masterplan. The three speakers’ companies are in collaboration with each other to bring the Bases Conversion and Development Authority-led project and vision of a smart and sustainable city in the Philippines into reality. AECOM created the masterplan, BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design designed the first buildings in Phase 1, as well as the River Park, and Asian Development Bank (ADB), did the computations for finances, funding, and potential private sector partners. Image courtesy of AECOM
The New Clark City Aquatic Center, designed by BUDJI+ROYAL. October 12, 2019. Photographed by Ed Simon.
Inside the 20,000-capacity New Clark City Athletic Stadium  by BUDJI+ROYAL. October 12, 2019. Photographed by Ed Simon.
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Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MCIA). The Private Sector Operations Department of ADB is involved in the expansion and rehabilitation of the MCIA, a priority PPP project of the Philippine government. Photo from ADB via Flickr

Mendoza recalled his studio’s experiences in joining a number of design competitions for public infrastructures. He said that most designers are “not inclined to join public initiatives” because of a “language barrier,” among architects, designers, engineers, planners, and the government, which can lead to a lack of understanding of how design should be treated. “Competitive bidding should not just be about bidding; it should be about design proposals,” Poco proposed. The architect also shared that there are plenty of good civic designs simply because these were not intended for or interfered by the government. 

READ MORE:  Revitalizing Downtown Iloilo: The Push for City-wide Initiatives

According to the three reactors, there is a lack of criteria not just for public design competitions, but for the entire public design landscape. Poco identified the local government units, which he thinks define infrastructure up to hard infrastructure only. He added that “we really focus too much on personalities, on these ‘enlightened leaders.’ There should be an institutional framework, provide procurements for design.”

The issues raised by Poco, Mendoza, and Sardillo boil down to a lack of understanding between design professionals and the government, all because of a language barrier that is taking years to break, and a lack of a consolidated framework for projects between public and private institutions. 

reactors-secondlivession-new normal-POC
The modernization of the Philippine Orthopedic Center sparked left and right conversations during the term of then-President Benigno Aquino III. In a press release by the Public-Private Partnership Center last February 10, 2014, it was made clear that the hospital “will remain government-owned and will be responsible in making sure that its partner gets the job done as stipulated in the contract to be signed.” It was discussed that the government “uses PPP as a mechanism to complement all its efforts in expanding access to high-quality health service that is at par with other privately-run, world-class medical facilities while ensuring its affordability to the public.” Image courtesy of DOH.
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Light Rail Transit (LRT) Line 1 in Sta. Cruz, Manila. On 3 December 2013, the Department of Transportation (DOTr) published an invitation to bid for the P64.5 billion-peso LRT Line 1 Cavite Extension, one of the PPP projects of DOTr. The latest news about the project was last 26 May 2014, regarding the submission and opening of bidding for the Operations and Management, published on the DOTr website. Photographed by Juan Polo Cruz via Unsplash

Establishing the fundamentals

Sardillo encouraged design professionals to break the language barrier among the construction and design industry and the government sector by allowing them to understand each of their manifestos. “Write your ideas down. Convince them. I believe that your ideas are made to be seen, but nobody is going to recognize them until you actually give these officials permission. The government needs ideas that will actually make them move because the reality is that they do not know how to.” 

Figure-ground analysis of Makati and BGC by Poco, 2019.
BAAD Studio’s redevelopment plan for the Sunken Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes of Cabetican in Tarlac, Pampanga, won the Civic Future Project category at the World Architecture Festival 2018. The massive Brutalist church was buried five to six meters in ash and lahar after the horrific explosions of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991.
BAAD Studio’s entry for the design of the new Supreme Court. Mendoza says that they really poured their hearts out into this project and that they are proud of it despite the fact that it did not make it to the final list.
Aerial view of Intramuros. Photo from Intramuros Administration
Museo de Intramuros. The two-story building opened last May 2, with its first six months offering free admission. The museum is housed in two reconstructed buildings, the Mission House of the Society of Jesus and the San Ignacio Church. Photo from Intramuros Administration.

Mendoza responded, “I cannot complain if I do not do my part.” He said he is very curious how the three speakers will respond to their questions about convincing the government to pursue good design projects and actually listen to what industry professionals have to say. “Again, this is a problem that most of us have probably encountered, so I can only hope that the speakers are prepared to answer these not just for us as designers, but for the public to understand as well.”

During the first LIXIL Design DeepDive™ live session, ‘Advising Clients in a Brave New World,’ the speakers and reactors all agreed that there is a need to revise the Philippine Building Code. Poco referenced that and said the issue is beyond the building code because it is our policies that need to change. “Design management is happening now for corporate clients. Because of the design parameters set, people from property management cannot say things like, ‘That is not part of our budget.’ Why can’t we do that for government projects?”

READ MORE: Industry experts advise clients on their next move towards a pandemic-ready world

About the reactors

L-R: Architect and urban planner Leandro Poco; local economic development consultant and sustainable city specialist, Atty. Marco Sardillo, and Architect Benjamin Mendoza

Leandro Poco completed his MSc Space Syntax: Architecture and Cities degree at the University College London’s Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment in 2019, and his MA in Urban Design at the National University of Singapore in 2008. He has over 12 years of practice as an architect and environmental planner in Manila and Singapore. He is a partner with Leonardo A. Poco & Associates, Architects. 

Marco Sardillo is a lawyer and independent consultant, working on public policy and local economic development. He is presently engaged as a “Sustainable Cities Specialist” for the UNDP Philippines’ #NextGenCities Initiative. He served as the Administrator of Intramuros from 2013 to 2016 and laid the foundations for the ongoing redevelopment and revitalization of Intramuros. In 2015, Intramuros Administration received the Premio Patrimonio, the first award to be conferred by the Group of UNESCO Heritage Cities of Spain to an organization outside of Europe.

Benjamin Mendoza is a partner and Principal Architect at BAAD Studio Co., an architecture and design firm in Makati, established in 2010. BAAD Studio won the Best Future Civic Project category and earned a high commendation for Future Project of the Year at the World Architecture Festival in 2018. The following year, Mendoza was invited as juror for the same category at the World Architecture Festival. 

Do you agree with the reactors’ claims and recommendations? Join the discussion on ‘Co-Creating With Government: Opportunities for Positive Change,’ the second leg of LIXIL Design DeepDive™ Live Sessions – Philippines. The live session streams live on GROHE Facebook page from 2:00 PM to 3:15 PM (UTC+8) tomorrow, free of charge. 

The  LIXIL Design DeepDive™ Live Sessions – Philippines is themed, ‘Build a Better Normal,’ a call to action for architects, designers, planners, and policymakers to create a safer, pandemic-ready world. The three-part live session is presented by American Standard, GROHE, and INAX.

Design DeepDive™ Live Sessions is a platform LIXIL has organized for designers across the region to discuss relevant issues. The first webinar series was hosted by India and ‘Build a Better Normal,’ by the Philippines.

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