‘ ONCE A STRONG ARCHITECTURAL IDEA IS FORMED, I CONSCIOUSLY TRY TO CARRY IT THROUGH — EVEN DOWN TO THE DETAILS. I TRY TO DESIGN WITH RESTRAINT AND DELETE SUPERFLUOUS GESTURES AND ELEMENTS THAT DETRACT FROM THE MAIN IDEA.’
“I don't feel that architecture is a ‘ man's job,' it's just been dominated by men due to social conditioning that molds women from a young age to gravitate towards other fields," explains Anna Sy, a licensed architect in the US and co-founder of the award-winning global firm CS Architecture. “I'd imagine that the ratio of women to men in architecture schools has risen through the years. This must be the same for other fields traditionally dominated by men." She is right, at least in the case of the Philippines. A notable report was released by the World Bank earlier this year: the Philippines is a world leader in gender equality with its large share of women in highskilled occupations. Currently, more than half of Filipinos in the industries of legislation, business management and government are female.
The reality of the architecture industry being male-dominated, however, isn't news to Anna. After she graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, she moved to Los Angeles and worked at a firm that was a typical “old boys' club," with constant utterance of sexist jokes and comments in the office. “It didn't help that the main design partner at the time encouraged and fostered this attitude," Anna remarks. She knew it would have been more advantageous to work with the interior design group as a woman, but in the architecture division, she understood her place. She was lucky to be placed under the wing of a seasoned and well-respected associate who did not condone such ridiculous behavior. “I didn't plan on staying there forever, so I simply took in the experience, learned from it and moved on."
Anna believes that female architects tend to be more thorough. They think of the specifics of how a space or a piece of furniture is used and design it with the user in mind. “I think of context and relationship to the site first and foremost," tells Anna of her design philosophy. “I love layouts and spaces that connect seamlessly to the outdoors, [with] abundant light and ventilation that liven and complete the experience." She aims for “a quiet architecture" whose drama is subtle but progressively unfolds. “Once a strong architectural idea or diagram is formed, I consciously try to carry it through even down to the details. I try to design with restraint and delete superfluous
gestures and elements that detract from the main idea." Growing up, Anna always loved looking at architecture, especially residential homes. CS Architecture's portfolio features exquisite residences, both here and abroad, that evidently projects her style of nonchalantly connecting the house to the outdoors, creating a space where the environment is as significant as the building itself, whether the house is in the city or by the sea.
It was only in college that she decided to seriously pursue architecture, thanks to the highly regarded program at Columbia University. Before that, she considered going into industrial design, setting up a home decor store and being a fashion buyer. “My parents didn't know much about the architectural profession, but were supportive of my career path," Anna recalls. “My dad was a banker all his life, and my mom, being more traditional, perhaps preferred that I settle down early."
She is thankful to her parents for a wonderful childhood, when they were well-exposed through frequent family travels and moving around. They moved to Hong Kong when Anna was six, and then moved to Tokyo afterwards. She moved to the US for college and a few years of practice. She is currently based in Manila as a design consultant. “I've always enjoyed building things with my hands, first with Lego as a child, and later on, building countless models of my design projects," shares Anna, who adds that it was frustrating to grow up at a time when toy stores only carried model kits for planes or cars, with no alternatives for girls who liked to build as well. “My mom refused to buy me any toy that was specifically for boys. I was limited to Lego and thousandpiece jigsaw puzzles for many years," she recalls. “Sadly, I don't think the industry has changed much since then, where the absence of developmental toys that encourage three-dimensional building skills for girls is highlighted."
Anna believes that in any case, unequal opportunity should never be a deterrent for any woman. Quiet and reserved, it is surprising how Anna deals with adversity. “I try not to dwell on things that don't go well. I solve the problem and move on. I learned this from my dad, but I am still not as good in handling adversity as he is," she admits. “What is important is that you work hard and behave professionally, that these overcome whatever gender bias or preconceptions that other