The Philippine Star
A game changer in architecture
In November 2016, 26-year old Rebecca Plaza won the gold medal in the architecture category and the title of Asia’s Young Designer at the 2016 Asia Young Design Awards (AYDA). Her winning piece, “Project Noah,” is an architectural study for a drug rehabilitation center with a farming facility which is representative of her penchant for using her creative talent to hatch solutions to some of the country’s pressing problems.
“I think competitions like AYDA are the perfect avenue for young professionals in my field to explore ideas that use architecture and design as a solution for positive change,” Plaza said, explaining how her design was inspired by an actual correctional facility where farming provides inmates with a means of income for.
“Project Noah responds to three pressing concerns our country is facing today: the need for drug rehabilitation facilities, food security, and a declining agricultural sector. It just made perfect sense,” she said.
This passion for responding to real life problems with design solutions that impact lives for the better was sharpened as Plaza pursued her degree in architecture at The University of Bath, recognized as one of the foremost schools for architecture and engineering in the United Kingdom.
Bath University was also the venue to hone young Plaza’s thirst for learning, exercise her natural leadership bent and love for non-profit work. Summers would find her with her nose in research and design work with the respected Architectural Association in London and at the University of Hong Kong.
At Bath University, lamenting the lack of an association for students in her area of study, Plaza organized the University of Bath Architecture and Engineering Association.
She also co-founded the Article 25 student chapter, a non-profit organization which provides dignified shelter and housing, adequate and safe school buildings, and effective clinics and hospitals in areas that need them most.
A fitting complement to her graduating at the top of her class, Plaza was awarded The Sir Basil Spence Prize by Prince Edward at graduation rites and was later invited to a recognition banquet at St. James’ Palace with select members of the university.
Degree in architecture in hand, Plaza finally landed a position with UK-based architectural firm John McAslan and Partners.
Here, she worked on projects for different cities around the world including a masterplan for a city in Russia, design for the Royal British Columbia Museum in Canada and the redevelopment of The National History Museum in London; high end residential buildings in The Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington; and plans for a metro station in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Plans to apprentice at the Hong Kong office of one of her design inspirations, Rem Koolhas, had to be set aside to accept a proposal for business from a young businessman who needed her talent urgently.
“I figured it was the perfect time to come home to set up my own firm. There was so much opportunity opened up by the boom in real estate and construction brought about by the continued growth of the Philippine economy,” she said.
On September 2015, only three months after she moved back to Manila, Plaza founded her own architectural firm, Plaza + Partners.
A thriving business
Plaza + Partners is today a thriving business with some 40 architects, engineers and designers with experience from leading Manila-based design firms on her team.
“Our portfolio of work at Plaza+Partners is built on three pillars. First, we are purposeful and precise, which means our plans are inspired by continuously evolving ways of living, working, and playing to enliven, improve and uplift by means of strategic and opportunistic design. Second, our work is collaborative and progressive – we work closely with our clients to give them the buildings that they deserve; and third, and we create socially and environmentally responsive architecture for the overall benefit of the community,” she explains, clarifying that the team advocates the use of sustainable material in their designs and the responsible sourcing of materials for all their projects.
Job one was to output architectural designs for town cen- ters and community malls for Philippine Primark Properties.
After the first 12 were completed, Plaza + Partners was contracted to design 125 more – “from as far as Tuguegarao in the north to Sultan Kudarat in the south” – in a growing business partnership that continues to test not only her mettle as a designer but also her integrity and commitment as a key decision maker in the direction of the developments.
“We are privileged to have been part of the project since day one and to contribute to the evolution of the mall design, taking the nuances of each community and foot traffic patterns into consideration,” Plaza said.
The work on Primark Town Centers complements other exciting projects which the Plaza + Partners team has in the pipeline to include the repurposing of family homes in exclusive subdivisions, hotels in Boracay and Palawan, design for offices, restaurants, fitness gyms and even a drug rehabilitation facility in Bukidnon “using locally sourced materials like araal stone and construction grade bamboo to reduce carbon footprint.”
“I am blessed to have dedicated and hard-working business partners and associates. Our collective experiences have given Plaza + Partners a solid foundation. In five years, I hope the users of our buildings enjoy the spaces they are in and the neighborhoods where our designs are located have become better places as a result of our architecture,” Plaza said.