When you mention BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design, the two people who will come to mind naturally are its principal architect Royal Pineda and co-collaborator and multi-hyphenated designer Budji Layug. What most people don’t know is that along with this iconic duo is one passionate woman, Associate Architect Onet Coronel. This Women’s Month, BluPrint tells her story of finding joy in creative pursuits, slowly discovering her purpose as a woman in the architecture and design industry. 

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The first few steps

“I grew up in an environment of pencils, tech pens and t-squares.” Onet Coronel recalls. “ She shares that it was her father, Dionisio Fajardo Coronel, the first architect of Pulilan, Bulacan, who inspired her to take up architecture. “I was in awe to see how quickly he brought sketches to life.” Right after high school, she took up architecture at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She remembers how her batch was mostly composed of women, while the engineering program that they share the building with was predominantly male. Despite the situation, she implied that there was never an issue between the two programs. “The education at the University of the Philippines College of Architecture was liberal, encouraging us to discover more things on our own.”

Onet Coronel - Women Run Design

Coronel shares that the University of the Philippines influenced her design philosophy in a way that it “laid the foundation” of her professional life. “UP opened my eyes to different philosophies and allowed me to discern which direction resonated with me the most.” During her education, she encountered five intelligent female professors who had different characters and individual teaching methods. One of her favorites, she says, was Professor Norma Chico, who “taught history with deadpan humor.” It has been a while since she graduated from and visited her alma mater, but she is indeed glad that UP Architecture has come a long way, noting that it now holds its own building. 

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Climbing the ladder

After earning her license, Onet Coronel took a detour in the creative field of advertising, working at McCann Erickson. It was only after a hiatus and a year of traveling, plus building her family home that she started in the architecture and design industry. The first retail design job she nabbed involved the rebranding of a well-loved fashion chain in Cebu. ”My advertising stint allowed me to learn branding and apply a holistic and pragmatic approach, especially for commercial and retail projects,” Coronel shares. “I loved being challenged and it was fulfilling to see how our design achieved the client’s objective to expand its market base.” 

Most of her first few commissions were focused on “rebranding,  providing new and fresh looks for the spaces she was assigned to. She was able to contribute to crafting a modern look for an established Hong Kong bank chain just entering the Philippine market. “Aside from designing other bank brands, I also collaborated on the modern rebranding of a drugstore chain.” Coronel also mentions how honored she is to have worked on Kidzworld, an 8.8 hectare-edutainment facility which was quite revolutionary during that time.

During the early stages of her career as a female architect, she encountered a few challenges that presented gender parities in the industry. “I encountered people who thought that construction was a man’s territory.” She recounts moments where contractors had their all-male bonding activities with engineers for happy hour sessions, which, instead of putting her down, actually made her find her way up. “Since I was not expected to join and preferred to keep a distance to maintain professionalism, that made me work harder and more focused on performance and output instead.” A few years after, she found herself at the doorstep of BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design. 

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The peak of her architectural career

Within her first few years, Coronel says that she was very fortunate to meet open-minded clients who trusted her talents. When she got into BUDJI+ROYAL, she was more fortunate to meet co-workers that shared the same passion and love for design. “What I enjoy about my job is collaborating with various people: clients, colleagues, partners, and staff. She shares how their office is supportive in all age groups and is a gender-fluid environment. “We have so many diverse talents, every male or female can learn from anyone. It makes work life very interesting.” Coronel reassures that their firm recognizes women’s needs and provides equal rights to women in terms of opportunities and remuneration. “There are rules that protect women and men from unwanted harassment and inappropriate behavior. Each of us has the responsibility to ensure that these are enforced in our workplace.”

BUDJI+ROYAL Associate Architect Onet Coronel

Working with BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design for over a decade now, Onet Coronel says that she enjoys honing the Modern Filipino sensibility in her. “It has also been a fun journey and an honor closely collaborating with two names in the industry whom I strongly admire for their immense talent and mentoring generosity.”

“Design is inclusive”

When asked about her observations in the architecture and design industry, Coronel says that in Southeast Asia, while there are still cultural gender biases and misconceptions, times have greatly changed due to the advancement of technology and the prevalence of social media. “People’s mindsets are freed from gender biases. Women take on traditional men roles, and vice versa.” She mentions that women have been making remarkable progress in the industry, leading large companies and design projects, reaping accolades worldwide. 

Onet Coronel shares that her parents were blessed with 5 daughters. “They made sure that all of us believe in our capabilities, regardless of our gender. My sisters are in the fields of medicine, health, entrepreneurship, and real estate development.  And I am an architect. We are all women who made our own paths in the world.” As a woman in the architecture and design industry, she shares that women are valued for their patience and attention to detail. She recognizes that women are not afraid to show empathy, they put heart into the business and are more sensitive to the needs of their peers. However, she reminds that when it comes to passion, ideation, design, dare, and delivery, there are no distinctions between genders. 

“When you put value on creativity and ideas, everyone is equal,” says Onet Coronel. For her, the world is constantly evolving for the better and what people need to learn is more of maximizing differences in order to create the best output. Her message? “Let us be our best selves. We now celebrate our very own uniqueness. Collaboration among creatives needs only one language: Design. It speaks to all genders.” 

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Images courtesy of Onet Coronel

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