26 September 2016

Escolta Advocate and Resident, Arts Serrano of One/zero Design Collective shares their Story

I’m drawn to things that have that old world’s charm – photographs from the 70s, 60s rock, vintage finds, architectural ruins, the remnants of a world that was. This exact wonder perhaps is what urged me to give Escolta, the business and entertainment center during the 50s, a visit. I first saw Escolta in September 2015; and, despite the undeniable yet often overlooked beauty of the old buildings’ architecture, the street was sad to look at. There were only the blank faces of people coming from different directions, caught in their errands and only seeing this once glorious street as a portal to somewhere they need to be. Convenience stores and a few other establishments stand in some corners. The signs were dilapidated, gathering smoke and dust just like the abandoned buildings – these elegant structures that the times have forgotten as new and more conducive business districts came to life.

It was then great news for me when I learned that some creative groups were making efforts to help revitalize the street, or at least get people to visit the place and give it the admiration it still so deserves. At the time, it was the so-called Saturday x Future market which, after gaining a lot of support, called for an expansion. Thus, it now has a more sustainable set-up that is patterned after an improved concept and has a new name: The HUB: Make Lab – an incubation space for independent start-up companies. It is that which summoned me back to the Queen of Manila Streets.

What I saw was different from when I first came. There was more life, at least in the First United Bldg. where The Hub is located. Apart from the crafts and artworks that were displayed, I also got to witness how artists share the story behind them. Then, I realized that they’re as inspiring as the product of their hands. It is during the little chats with some of them that I learned that there’s more that’s brewing in the First United Bldg. than the bazaar. Save for the coffee shop found at the back, there’s also another space that’s worth admiring – an office that elegantly mixes the old world charm and a modern flavor. They were referring to the One/zero Design Collective’s office nested in the building’s 5th floor.

It was lucky of me that the owner was kind enough to show me the space. Perhaps just like everyone who’s been inside their office, it was the big, hexagonal window that first got my attention. It is that window, I think, which set the building apart from the others surrounding it, and that which became the basis of the office’s overall design. For one, it allows for a wide, picturesque view of the outside – the Sta. Cruz church, the other buildings, neighboring streets, and the hustle and bustle of the district. Architect Arts Serrano, founder of One/zero, shared that they didn’t want to obstruct this view by covering it with blocks of shelving. So, they emulated the proportions of the window frames in planning their shelving and creating their furniture. White paint, steel bars, and glass were used – thin, light, and neat materials – to keep the transparency that the windows beckon. Arts emphasized that it was important for them to design it in such a way that the view outside is visually connected to the person inside – so that the person can capture both the modern look of the office’s interior and the classical grandeur of the neighboring buildings. He also said that the design of the office is their way of reminding the younger generation that old spaces can be used in modern ways – a tangible channel for the millennials to connect with heritage.

More than the idea behind their office’s aesthetic, Arts also shared the philosophies that One/zero swears by, their story, how they found a spot and a community in Escolta, and more in this conversation:

"by being surrounded by these creative individuals, by being exposed to how they work, how the graphic designers and artists around us work, we get influenced by how they think."

Interview by Queencee Quitalig and photos by Bryan Benida

Can you tell us how it all started?
It started way back 2014, I think. That was the first time that I went to Escolta. And I went here on a week day only to find that it’s closed. Apparently, it only happens every Saturday. That was the first time that I went here. Then, when I went on a Saturday, I was surprised to see that people really go here when the bazaar is up. I’m glad that there’s that curiosity. Although, at the time, the set-up was less formal. The set-up before was that every artist who has a craft that they want to sell would just have a “latag” of sorts. I saw a lot of interesting items. And it’s inspiring to see that people are experimental in this place. Then, in September of 2015, I talked to Marica Constantino (executive director of 98b – the group behind the initiative that has now turned into The Hub) with a certain collaboration for a work. I really wanted to just collaborate on something, but she later shared that there are still vacant spaces on the upper floors. So, we went to the balcony, then, we saw the space. It’s available and empty back then. It only had the Dolphy standee (Arts later informed me that the room was once the King of Comedy’s studio). That was the first time we saw it. And then a week after, we signed the contract.

But One/zero, as a firm, was already established before that?
Yeah. Before, One/zero was just me. So, as a freelancer, a startup company, we would just go to different coffee shops and work there. That went on for maybe a year or a year and a half with smaller residential projects. And then, when we got recognition in some of the competitions that we joined, we found it important to have an actual, physical studio. Then, we found this place just in time.

Why did you call it One/zero?
One over zero in Math is undefined. Architecture for me is a constant looking for a definition of what style the Filipino design should be or what a residential project should be. So, for us, design process is fluid. It’s a constant process of trying to find out that philosophy that you would apply in a certain project. So, it’s one/zero.

Is finding an office in Escolta, which is something that one wouldn’t expect, also follows the philosophy behind the name?
Yeah, it’s a very interesting experience. Back in college, I did an undergraduate thesis for a Church. I was very interested with the Renaissance Architecture. But I wasn’t really thinking that I’d be in a classical building 5 years from then. I guess it sort of made sense that, as an architect, I found a home base here..

Having an office in Escolta is quite a risk; but does such feat also reflect how you view your projects?
Yes. Because, as I’ve learned from the four competitions that we’ve joined and luckily got recognized in, for young architects, it really doesn’t matter if you’re established or a foreign architect. As long as you have this idea that you want to highlight, and you’re really passionate about what you do, you can do something great. So, by getting a space here, it’s risky in a way because you aren’t really as adjacent to important city centers. But, I guess, there’s a creative energy that’s thriving here in Escolta. It’s very interesting to be a part of it because the dynamic of being in collaboration with a lot of passionate individuals about their crafts is more inspiring, I guess, than being in a suburb in Makati or in a hipster district in QC, right? I think it’s perfect for us in One/zero to be based in Escolta.

Since you’ve mentioned it, can you tells us more about how you’re working with the other creative groups here in Escolta especially in terms of the initiatives to revitalize the street?
As architects, we can be a bit rigid. The process of architecture is very repetitive. I experienced, when I didn’t have an office yet, getting bored with my own projects because I just churn out a lot of the same ideas. Now, by being surrounded by these creative individuals, by being exposed to how they work, how the graphic designers and artists around us work, we get influenced by how they think. And it’s interesting that we are having regular conversations on our processes and how we do things.

It’s also nice to consider how 98b call themselves a collaboratory while we, at One/zero, call ourselves a design collective. So, I guess, the trend now is being more open to your process and collaborating with others because, really, no one man can do everything on his own. So, it’s interesting that this is what’s happening now.

In terms of the initiatives for the street, we always say that what we’re doing is not a direct effort to revitalize it. It’s just an effort to do interesting art, an effort to engage people with art and architecture. I guess, the by-product of it is you get a lot of people interested with what’s happening in Escolta and you get the conversation rolling by having people interested to come here.

Now, we’ve also learned that you’re behind the set-up or the overlook of The Hub, can you share with us the idea behind it?
I think that was in December last year when Marica pitched the idea of turning the Saturday x Future market into a more permanent set-up. Considering that start-ups do not have as much capital as those who are established, they set up the idea of a 3-month contract that will allow you to dress up your rented space as minimally as possible and you would have your own studio to showcase your work and actually self them. They pitched that idea and then we, as architects, designed it in such a way that everything is still transparent. The idea of the Saturday x Future market before was everyone was just on the floor and people would be walking along the corridor and looking at the products and talking to the makers. We don't want to lose that connection. So, we proposed that the sellers can only use wood, wire mesh fabric, so that everything will still be transparent. You would have the chance to discuss everything with the people going around and your co-sellers. That way, it’s easier to foster one community. So, the whole spirit of community, collaboration, being one collective, that is what’s thriving here, and the design process also. That’s what we want to highlight and not our architecture. So what we did with the space was really just setting up the steel tubes so that the tenants would have the visual delineation of what’s theirs. Since we want to highlight each seller, we want to give them the liberty to show their own character.

When asked about their future projects and plans, Arts shared that they’re working on efforts to push the design conversation forward. This is to challenge the current design fabric which seems to follow a cookie cutter module that makes designs very repetitive. As of now, the firm is set to work on a project which will be their venue to uplift the standards of housing projects and another in which they will introduce the concept of a boutique housing for students. Of course, they’re also involved in the adaptive reuse projects happening in the First United building while keeping their actual projects that help them stay grounded with their process. One/zero is also looking forward to joining more competitions to learn more about how they can be up against more established offices and be inspired to continue questioning and challenging design standards.


Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Copyright © 2012-2016 PURVEYR, All Rights Reserved.
Follow us on Instagram