Thursday, June 11, 2009

Palafox Jr. is one green architect

By Tony Lopez

Architecture: When green is gold

Felino Palafox Jr. is one architect who puts his money where his mouth is.

In December, he gave up a $1-million professional fee because his client, a Korean gaming company, wanted to cut down 366 trees in an urban area inside the Subic Freeport.

Not only did he forgo an impressive fee. He also went on a media offensive to denounce the supposedly $120-million hotel casino entertainment project for its assault on the trees. “The trees were marked like convicts to be executed,” he winced.

Not surprisingly, the project proponent, along with top Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) and Subic town officials, began to bad-mouth him. But Palafox got the backing of President Arroyo to whom he complained. The massacre of trees was aborted.

No artist or architect of his generation has embraced environmental protection with more passion and professionalism than Jun Palafox.

While at first blush, green architecture adds to the cost of a project “you can recover your cost in seven years,” Palafox reckons. And of course, green architecture recovers the environment for future generations.

Green architecture came early to Jun Palafox. As a young architect who arrived from a two-year scholarship at Harvard for his master’s degree in the 1970s, he headed the team that made designs for the future megalopolis, Metro Manila.

His design incorporated a walkable, bikeable green city with plenty of greenery and high-rise residential buildings near a mass transit system.

He also proposed charging an extra tax for vehicles for entering the central business district during peak hours—a concept used successfully by cities like Singapore. Palafox thought of the idea 35 years ago. Until now, Metro Manila has not adopted it.

Jun Palafox’s architectural firm—Palafox Associates is perhaps distinguished for its focus on green design.

Palafox Associates combines architecture, interior design, engineering, landscape architecture, environmental planning, urban design, land use planning, and planning management.

Explains Palafox: “We are merely borrowing the environment from future generations; therefore, we endeavor to minimize the impact of our actions, plan and designs, enhance the environment and minimize the negative impact.”

According to Wikipedia, green architecture or sustainable building focuses on efficiency of resource use—energy, water and materials, while reducing building impact on human health and the environment.

The world’s No. 1 polluters are not cars, but buildings. In 2006, in the US and Europe, buildings used up 40 percent of total energy demand. In the US, 54 percent of that 40 percent was consumed by residential buildings, and 46 percent by commercial buildings.

Contractors usually add 17 percent to the cost of construction when incorporating green design. But according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the additional cost is only 5 percent.

With the passage of the Renewable Energy Law, it is now cheaper for homes and buildings to go green. Raw materials and green products like solar panels come enter the country tax free. Locally produced ones enjoy a tax perk.

Palafox is considered the Philippines’ No. 1 architect and foremost urban planner.

His firm, Palafox Associates, is ranked as the No. 1 architectural firm in Southeast Asia, with 100 architects, work in 32 countries around the world, and 33 years of experience—including a four-year working experience with a multinational and interdisciplinary professional staff and with international consultants in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

His clients are among the largest and most prestigious land developers, building owners, tycoons and taipans, not to mention the sheiks, kings and sultans of the world.

Jun Palafox carved his name in the Middle East planning and designing their buildings, palaces, malls, ports, airports, townships and cities. The biggest structures and projects in that area carry his imprint.

The firm has been involved in the architectural design of more than 10 billion square meters of building area. It has also master-planned over 100 communities covering more than five million square meters of land area in 32 other countries from different continents.

It was in the Middle East where Henry Sy Sr. met the then young architect and enticed him to come to the Philippines, paying him consulting fees higher than what the retailing taipan was paying his executives. Jun Palafox did indeed come back and helped Tatang Henry Sy design some of his shopping palaces, injecting ideas and visioning he learned from abroad.

Later, the Zobels also asked Palafox to join their group. He left Ayala and made a name of his own. He likes the old designers of the old Ayala like Joseph McMicking and the late Enrique Zobel. They fought hard to preserve trees and parks because they are, as Palafox says, “the lungs of the city.”

In July 1989, Jun went on his own putting up what became the largest architectural firm in the Philippines. In 1991, the firm became a partnership.


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