De­sign In­ter­view

Renowned ar­chi­tect Con­rad Onglao opens the doors to his home and gets can­did with MJ Jose about his hob­bies, week­end rou­tines, and the lessons he’s learnt along the way

Philippine Tatler - - CONTENTS -

Con­rad Onglao talks about what in­spires him both at work and in life

His high school ap­ti­tude tests yielded re­sults stat­ing he would do well in pro­fes­sions re­lated to science and art. A young Con­rad Onglao first set foot in the Uni­ver­sity of Santo To­mas as a chem­istry ma­jor, in­tent on be­com­ing a doc­tor as his mum had wished. “The shift to ar­chi­tec­ture was in­evitable,” Onglao re­flects. “Though chem­istry was a sub­ject I liked, I wasn’t quite en­joy­ing be­ing in such a reg­i­mented en­vi­ron­ment.” He adds, in jest, “As the science build­ing was close to the ar­chi­tec­ture build­ing, I would see the stu­dents milling around; to me, they looked like a bunch of cool peo­ple hav­ing lots of fun. I de­cided to cross-en­roll, and the rest is his­tory.” Is there a par­tic­u­lar ar­chi­tec­tural style you spe­cialise in? I wouldn’t say I have a sin­gu­lar style. I don’t want to be pi­geon­holed and I en­joy be­ing flex­i­ble. Any de­sign men­tors? There was a pri­est-ar­chi­tect who taught me some of the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of ar­chi­tec­ture. When I

asked for ad­vice, he told me to “just travel.” I took this lit­er­ally and flew to the United States. Years later I came back to him and he said, “Well, travel some more.” It was only later that I re­alised he meant that I should travel with my senses—travel with my hands by read­ing a book, and travel with my eyes by be­ing a keen observer.

When are you most in­spired?

In­spi­ra­tion is not al­ways on call; it comes when you’re re­laxed. I no­tice I’m very creative in the morn­ing. Some­times, I get in­spi­ra­tion while I’m do­ing mun­dane things, like driv­ing, for ex­am­ple. On oc­ca­sion, I even get jolted awake by a stored idea that’s just wait­ing to burst. That’s when I come down to the break­fast ta­ble to sketch or write down my thoughts.

What are the chal­lenges one faces in cre­at­ing struc­tures?

Some­times, the sim­plest form is the most dif­fi­cult to cre­ate. De­sign­ing be­comes the easy part when one’s cre­ativ­ity is fully at work. The engi­neers, who have so many vari­ables to con­sider, are the un­sung he­roes that make things hap­pen. We won’t be where we are with­out them.

What is the most unique project you’ve done to date?

A client com­mis­sioned me for a house that was in­spired by a château. I’ve never done any­thing like it.

Are there any ex­ist­ing struc­tures that you are in awe of?

The China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion Cen­tre cre­ated for the Bei­jing Olympics is one. The Falling­wa­ter or Kauf­mann House by Frank Lloyd Wright is an­other. I find a lot of amaz­ing works on Pin­ter­est, too.

Any favourite shop­ping des­ti­na­tions for fur­nish­ings and art­works?

The United States is one. Also flea mar­kets in Europe, as there are many won­der­ful finds.

How do you de-stress or switch off af­ter a long work day?

I cook or tend to the gar­den. I watch ac­tion films, too. Rest for me is not sim­ply sit­ting around or ly­ing down do­ing noth­ing, but do­ing things un­re­lated to work.

Any favourite films or tele­vi­sion shows?

I en­joy his­tor­i­cal films. I saw Marco Polo on Net­flix just re­cently.

What about favourite restau­rants?

My part­ner Zsa Zsa and I are crea­tures of habit. We go to the same places such as An­to­nio’s in Ta­gay­tay, and Sala and Tsuk­iji here in the city. Holy Smokes is a part of the list, too.

What are week­ends like?

Satur­days are fam­ily days for us, so we go to the mar­ket to look for in­gre­di­ents, and cook and eat lunch at home. On Sun­days, I tend to the gar­den

and do my per­sonal chores. When Zsa Zsa comes home from the stu­dio, she rests a bit, and then we go to church.

What would be your dream project?

I’ve al­ways wanted to do an in­ter­ac­tive mu­seum, but I don’t know if that’s go­ing to be re­alised any­time soon—per­haps be­cause of a shortage of ex­hi­bi­tion pieces or in­vestors. Ide­ally, some­thing like the Na­tional Septem­ber 11 Memo­rial & Mu­seum in New York, where you can be in touch with the ex­pe­ri­ence.

What ad­vice would you give to a younger Con­rad?

To take things easy from time to time. When I was younger, I was highly com­pet­i­tive and al­ways felt the need to catch up with ev­ery­body.

How are things now?

I’m more re­laxed. Yes­ter­day, I came to work at noon and left at around four in the af­ter­noon. When I was younger, I some­times stayed in the of­fice for three nights in a row to beat dead­lines, but I’m now at the stage where I don’t have to do that. I’m grate­ful that I can say no to projects I might not en­joy. Life’s too short, af­ter all.

Ar­chI­tect In res­I­dence The gar­den, one of his favourite spots, is a per­fect back­drop to the spa­cious liv­ing area; (op­po­site) Con­rad Onglao on the steps of his con­tem­po­rary glass home; (inset) Chi­nese lion stat­ues from his time in Los An­ge­les

TREA­SURE TROVE (From top) The ar­chi­tect’s home holds many items ac­quired dur­ing his trav­els or as gifts from friends; An an­tique Bud­dhist model house; (inset) A sketch from Anita Magsaysay-Ho, in­scribed with a per­sonal note

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