New mindset in urban planning

Reading Time: 8 minutes
KVP Photo
Karima Palafox

Palafox Associates is an architecture and urban planning firm in the Philippines that looks back at a multitude of projects in more than 900 various projects in 37 countries. Inside Investor caught up with Karima Palafox to learn more about these stunning achievements

Q: What is your role in the company and when did it all start?

A: I am with Palafox Associates for eight years now, while my father, Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr, founded the company in 1989. I went to university and am holding a Master’s degree in Industrial Economics from the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a Master’s degree in urban planning from Oxford Brookes University in the UK. My thesis was directly related to urban planning and I have overseen many crucial projects for Palafox Associates, including the development and zoning plans for cities, provinces and islands, as well as master plans, streetscape designs and place making projects. It is not overly common that architects are also educated in economy, they either focus on residential architecture or commercial and industrial planning.

Q: With this background, did you have the feeling you need to change anything in urban planning in the Philippines?

A: After my economics degree I spent 2 years in the UK and focused on urban design and transport management, and I was the only economist in our group, all the others were designers, engineers architects. With time, I realized that it is a good mix to see things from both sides. In the Philippines, although urban and environmental planning has been around for quite some time now, actually since the 1960s, it’s all about design and it is only slowly seen that it is complementary to have an economist approach when working with developers and the government. It needs to be seen what kind of planning is needed for metropolitan areas, in terms of transport etc. For example, the planning of BPO call centers does have a big effect on cities. Architects are just thinking of the building design, but there needs to be a bigger perspective in a complex environment such as in Manila or Cebu or other big cities in the Philippines. We have to think about the people who will be working in such a building, the environmental impact, commuting times, garbage management, green space, possible flooding etc.

Q: In Southeast Asia, some cities have great urban planning such as Singapore, others such as Kuala Lumpur or even Bangkok are almost there, but others have to catch up, such as Jakarta. What is your honest opinion on Manila in terms of urban planning and how would you improve it?

A: Whenever something happens in Manila, for example flooding caused by typhoon, it makes people think that there is a lack of urban planning. We have some of the best consultants and experts here to advise urban planning in Metro Manila who work together with the government to draft an urban master plan that would include flood barriers, traffic congestion charging and other things. There are a lot of suggestions, and several plans have actually been made. The problem is the implementation. There are management issues, and the planning is also overshadowed by public opinion and property rights issues. Many officials might have bright ideas, but if nothing moves they quickly lose interest as they are in office just for a few years. All in all, there is a lack of continuity, and because the Philippines is a democracy, public voices have to be heard. Those with the loudest voices are heard. Urban planning requires some sort of compromise among different demands and needs in a city.

Q: What projects do you have abroad?

A: Projects abroad are important as a company like ours gets noticed more in the Philippines when it has foreign experience. We have a lot of work in Dubai where we did a lot of collaborations with other big foreign architecture firms such as Atkins and Halcrow. We are also present in Qatar. In ASEAN, we have some projects in Vietnam and Brunei. We do not spend anything on marketing yet – I know we should do more to get more projects awarded especially ahead of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. However, we are planning to eventually work together with a marketing group because we have to be more offensive to face new competition that will be coming in, for example from Malaysia and Singapore.

Q: Are there any markets in ASEAN in which you would be interested?

A: Indonesia is an interesting market and we have potential partners there, so we are planning to enter this country. We also want to do more projects in Brunei where we have established some relationships.

Q: Speaking of “democratic architecture”: In the West, planners and architects are more and more resorting to incorporating communities in the planning process, for example to design green spaces. How does this work in the Philippines?

A: In every project we do, be it urban master planning or mixed-use developments, we recognise the healthy balance in the people’s environment. There is always a public confrontation in the planning process, and we apply what we call resource mapping where local participation is helpful. However, compared to the West, the requirements for affordable residential housing are different and we need to educate our governors and official to influence private developers to be more social oriented. As architects, planners or designers, we are rather limited in implementing such projects because ultimately it’s the developer or government that makes decisions. But we do the best we can.

Q: Do you see more potential in luxury high-rises that are popping up in Manila?

A: There is a lot of activity in this sector, but I really think Manila needs more affordable housing, not just outside of the city and in locations that are inaccessible by public transport. This housing should be for key workers in the city, such as secretaries, waiters, office workers, security guards and so on. They cannot spend so much for a room since they have practically been priced out by the very high land values in the business districts. The good thing is that there is some awareness, but the developers only act when the government steps in. Just 10 per cent of this workforce I mentioned lives in Metro Manila, and the rest live in the suburbs or in towns outside of Metro Manila.

Q: Where do you see your company in 5 years?

A: The Philippines will be entering the ASEAN Economic Community and we want to have new projects in our neighbouring countries. We are also looking into new collaborations with Western designers and architects who want to come to the Philippines or to Southeast Asia. We’re aware that they are looking for an alternative to the markets in Europe and the US. We also aim to offer related services such as property management, real estate consultancy, and ultimately property development.

Top 5 projects by Palafox

MALCAPUYA ISLAND RESORT DEVELOPMENT, Palawan, Philippines

Malcapuyajpg

Envisioned to be a benchmark in resort development, the project is deemed to be a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable development in Coron, Palawan. Structures take inspiration from the native Tagbanua tribe’’s architectural style and are situated on the flat areas within the island to minimise site development activities and land development costs. As such, natural materials found in the vicinity are recommended to be used in the construction.

A water desalination plant is envisioned to supply fresh potable water to the island, while grey water will be recycled for toilet use and landscape irrigation and solar panels generate renewable energy. To minimise consumption of water in the island, water-efficient plumbing fixtures will be utilised in the resort accommodations and water saving technologies are recommended. Initial plans for the source of electricity called for diesel powered generator sets. On-site energy generation has also been recommended. This will be in the form of solar/photovoltaic panels and/or wind turbines.

PROPOSED MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENT (Phase 1), Davao City, Philippines

Mixed Use Development, Davao

Covering almost 40,000 square meters, the development will be the site of a new mall, offices for BPO companies, residential spaces, and an activity area to create a robust network of people, information, and resource to meet the need for speed and innovation. The development will have its own rain water collection and plants that are easy to maintain but at the same time, providing a refreshing foliage for the visitors.

SAN JUAN CLUPZO, San Juan City, Philippines

San Juan Clupzo

The project aims to re-shape the city through the application of new urbanism concepts, development principles and global best practices, and engage its citizens towards a green approach to city planning. The formulation of the CLUP was a smart project to the pressing issues of climate change and flooding. The plan calls for a three-phased transit-engaged development: The first phase would be the development of the main level, which is the street level, with wider and more defined sidewalks for pedestrians and cyclists. The second phase, the upper level, will focus on elevated and interconnected walkways for pedestrians, and the last phase will be the overhead integrated monorails.

The plan also calls for the improvement of parking facilities in the city through a city-wide organised parking system. This plan hopes to alleviate the imbalance between jobs and housing and thus address traffic congestion in the city.  Moreover, the plan does not just call for a better transit system, but also improved easements along the banks of the San Juan River and its creeks for pedestrians and as well as flood mitigating and adaptation measure. Palafox Associates created a flood overlay zoning map in order to provide the city government and council a blueprint for mitigation and adaptive architecture of which areas are liable to flooding. A flood overlay zoning map, in the long-term, will be a tool in creating policies, plans, and programmes to save lives and property as a result of flooding in these areas.

2-TORRE LORENZO, Manila, Philippines

Palafox_pic

The design concept of this 35-storey mixed-use residential condominium takes into consideration the development concepts of vertical urbanism and new urbanism. Palafox Associates, the architects and designers of the building, ensured that the tower not only reaches the sky but it should also meet the ground. As such, it should be able to relate to the pedestrian movement by providing easy access to public and private transportation. The tower also sits on a podium, enabling the tenants to maximise the panoramic view of the morning sun and the sunset, the Manila Bay horizon, the grounds of the De La Salle University, the adjacent Rizal Stadium, and the skyline of Makati City. The daily needs of urban living so tenants are within reach and places to live, shop, work, dine, play and learn are easily accessible. Precautions toward disaster preparedness were also included in the design. The tower has two sets of staircases and fire escapes, accessible to the tenants from both sides.

ALSON’S 112-HECTARE DEVELOPMENT PROJECT, Davao City, Philippines

Alsons Development 2

The Alson’s residential community is a 112-hectare development comprised mainly of single detached residential units. The main road acts as the unifying element that connects the different phases of the development to each other, making it easier to navigate through the site. Bigger lot sizes are allocated in lots located along the main spine and smaller lot sizes are given to subsequent/adjacent lots. This allows the development to have a wider variety of choices that will cater to all the needs of the market. The said development has been designed to be fully walkable and bikeable from the community’s sports complex, grand clubhouse and lush pocket parks.

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Reading Time: 8 minutes

Karima Palafox

Palafox Associates is an architecture and urban planning firm in the Philippines that looks back at a multitude of projects in more than 900 various projects in 37 countries. Inside Investor caught up with Karima Palafox to learn more about these stunning achievements

Reading Time: 8 minutes

KVP Photo
Karima Palafox

Palafox Associates is an architecture and urban planning firm in the Philippines that looks back at a multitude of projects in more than 900 various projects in 37 countries. Inside Investor caught up with Karima Palafox to learn more about these stunning achievements

Q: What is your role in the company and when did it all start?

A: I am with Palafox Associates for eight years now, while my father, Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr, founded the company in 1989. I went to university and am holding a Master’s degree in Industrial Economics from the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a Master’s degree in urban planning from Oxford Brookes University in the UK. My thesis was directly related to urban planning and I have overseen many crucial projects for Palafox Associates, including the development and zoning plans for cities, provinces and islands, as well as master plans, streetscape designs and place making projects. It is not overly common that architects are also educated in economy, they either focus on residential architecture or commercial and industrial planning.

Q: With this background, did you have the feeling you need to change anything in urban planning in the Philippines?

A: After my economics degree I spent 2 years in the UK and focused on urban design and transport management, and I was the only economist in our group, all the others were designers, engineers architects. With time, I realized that it is a good mix to see things from both sides. In the Philippines, although urban and environmental planning has been around for quite some time now, actually since the 1960s, it’s all about design and it is only slowly seen that it is complementary to have an economist approach when working with developers and the government. It needs to be seen what kind of planning is needed for metropolitan areas, in terms of transport etc. For example, the planning of BPO call centers does have a big effect on cities. Architects are just thinking of the building design, but there needs to be a bigger perspective in a complex environment such as in Manila or Cebu or other big cities in the Philippines. We have to think about the people who will be working in such a building, the environmental impact, commuting times, garbage management, green space, possible flooding etc.

Q: In Southeast Asia, some cities have great urban planning such as Singapore, others such as Kuala Lumpur or even Bangkok are almost there, but others have to catch up, such as Jakarta. What is your honest opinion on Manila in terms of urban planning and how would you improve it?

A: Whenever something happens in Manila, for example flooding caused by typhoon, it makes people think that there is a lack of urban planning. We have some of the best consultants and experts here to advise urban planning in Metro Manila who work together with the government to draft an urban master plan that would include flood barriers, traffic congestion charging and other things. There are a lot of suggestions, and several plans have actually been made. The problem is the implementation. There are management issues, and the planning is also overshadowed by public opinion and property rights issues. Many officials might have bright ideas, but if nothing moves they quickly lose interest as they are in office just for a few years. All in all, there is a lack of continuity, and because the Philippines is a democracy, public voices have to be heard. Those with the loudest voices are heard. Urban planning requires some sort of compromise among different demands and needs in a city.

Q: What projects do you have abroad?

A: Projects abroad are important as a company like ours gets noticed more in the Philippines when it has foreign experience. We have a lot of work in Dubai where we did a lot of collaborations with other big foreign architecture firms such as Atkins and Halcrow. We are also present in Qatar. In ASEAN, we have some projects in Vietnam and Brunei. We do not spend anything on marketing yet – I know we should do more to get more projects awarded especially ahead of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. However, we are planning to eventually work together with a marketing group because we have to be more offensive to face new competition that will be coming in, for example from Malaysia and Singapore.

Q: Are there any markets in ASEAN in which you would be interested?

A: Indonesia is an interesting market and we have potential partners there, so we are planning to enter this country. We also want to do more projects in Brunei where we have established some relationships.

Q: Speaking of “democratic architecture”: In the West, planners and architects are more and more resorting to incorporating communities in the planning process, for example to design green spaces. How does this work in the Philippines?

A: In every project we do, be it urban master planning or mixed-use developments, we recognise the healthy balance in the people’s environment. There is always a public confrontation in the planning process, and we apply what we call resource mapping where local participation is helpful. However, compared to the West, the requirements for affordable residential housing are different and we need to educate our governors and official to influence private developers to be more social oriented. As architects, planners or designers, we are rather limited in implementing such projects because ultimately it’s the developer or government that makes decisions. But we do the best we can.

Q: Do you see more potential in luxury high-rises that are popping up in Manila?

A: There is a lot of activity in this sector, but I really think Manila needs more affordable housing, not just outside of the city and in locations that are inaccessible by public transport. This housing should be for key workers in the city, such as secretaries, waiters, office workers, security guards and so on. They cannot spend so much for a room since they have practically been priced out by the very high land values in the business districts. The good thing is that there is some awareness, but the developers only act when the government steps in. Just 10 per cent of this workforce I mentioned lives in Metro Manila, and the rest live in the suburbs or in towns outside of Metro Manila.

Q: Where do you see your company in 5 years?

A: The Philippines will be entering the ASEAN Economic Community and we want to have new projects in our neighbouring countries. We are also looking into new collaborations with Western designers and architects who want to come to the Philippines or to Southeast Asia. We’re aware that they are looking for an alternative to the markets in Europe and the US. We also aim to offer related services such as property management, real estate consultancy, and ultimately property development.

Top 5 projects by Palafox

MALCAPUYA ISLAND RESORT DEVELOPMENT, Palawan, Philippines

Malcapuyajpg

Envisioned to be a benchmark in resort development, the project is deemed to be a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable development in Coron, Palawan. Structures take inspiration from the native Tagbanua tribe’’s architectural style and are situated on the flat areas within the island to minimise site development activities and land development costs. As such, natural materials found in the vicinity are recommended to be used in the construction.

A water desalination plant is envisioned to supply fresh potable water to the island, while grey water will be recycled for toilet use and landscape irrigation and solar panels generate renewable energy. To minimise consumption of water in the island, water-efficient plumbing fixtures will be utilised in the resort accommodations and water saving technologies are recommended. Initial plans for the source of electricity called for diesel powered generator sets. On-site energy generation has also been recommended. This will be in the form of solar/photovoltaic panels and/or wind turbines.

PROPOSED MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENT (Phase 1), Davao City, Philippines

Mixed Use Development, Davao

Covering almost 40,000 square meters, the development will be the site of a new mall, offices for BPO companies, residential spaces, and an activity area to create a robust network of people, information, and resource to meet the need for speed and innovation. The development will have its own rain water collection and plants that are easy to maintain but at the same time, providing a refreshing foliage for the visitors.

SAN JUAN CLUPZO, San Juan City, Philippines

San Juan Clupzo

The project aims to re-shape the city through the application of new urbanism concepts, development principles and global best practices, and engage its citizens towards a green approach to city planning. The formulation of the CLUP was a smart project to the pressing issues of climate change and flooding. The plan calls for a three-phased transit-engaged development: The first phase would be the development of the main level, which is the street level, with wider and more defined sidewalks for pedestrians and cyclists. The second phase, the upper level, will focus on elevated and interconnected walkways for pedestrians, and the last phase will be the overhead integrated monorails.

The plan also calls for the improvement of parking facilities in the city through a city-wide organised parking system. This plan hopes to alleviate the imbalance between jobs and housing and thus address traffic congestion in the city.  Moreover, the plan does not just call for a better transit system, but also improved easements along the banks of the San Juan River and its creeks for pedestrians and as well as flood mitigating and adaptation measure. Palafox Associates created a flood overlay zoning map in order to provide the city government and council a blueprint for mitigation and adaptive architecture of which areas are liable to flooding. A flood overlay zoning map, in the long-term, will be a tool in creating policies, plans, and programmes to save lives and property as a result of flooding in these areas.

2-TORRE LORENZO, Manila, Philippines

Palafox_pic

The design concept of this 35-storey mixed-use residential condominium takes into consideration the development concepts of vertical urbanism and new urbanism. Palafox Associates, the architects and designers of the building, ensured that the tower not only reaches the sky but it should also meet the ground. As such, it should be able to relate to the pedestrian movement by providing easy access to public and private transportation. The tower also sits on a podium, enabling the tenants to maximise the panoramic view of the morning sun and the sunset, the Manila Bay horizon, the grounds of the De La Salle University, the adjacent Rizal Stadium, and the skyline of Makati City. The daily needs of urban living so tenants are within reach and places to live, shop, work, dine, play and learn are easily accessible. Precautions toward disaster preparedness were also included in the design. The tower has two sets of staircases and fire escapes, accessible to the tenants from both sides.

ALSON’S 112-HECTARE DEVELOPMENT PROJECT, Davao City, Philippines

Alsons Development 2

The Alson’s residential community is a 112-hectare development comprised mainly of single detached residential units. The main road acts as the unifying element that connects the different phases of the development to each other, making it easier to navigate through the site. Bigger lot sizes are allocated in lots located along the main spine and smaller lot sizes are given to subsequent/adjacent lots. This allows the development to have a wider variety of choices that will cater to all the needs of the market. The said development has been designed to be fully walkable and bikeable from the community’s sports complex, grand clubhouse and lush pocket parks.

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