In the Eyes of an Apprentice:

We often go to our elders and those with large amounts of experience to take a look at different situations. However, it’s also very interesting to listen to the perspective of the youth, who are still out of the box in terms of realities.

I sat down with Cebu-based millennial architect apprentice Audrey Chua to get her thoughts on the construction industry and learned a lot from her.

Audrey chua

Dreams for Philippine Construction

Despite her age (below 30), Audrey shows an advanced understanding of what buildings need. “Aside from aesthetics, a well-designed building improves the efficiency of its users. Every building helps shape the community and I hope we develop architecture that fits with our own Filipino identity.”

She went on to tell a story of her visit to Australia, where she saw practical solutions to the hot weather which, ironically, aren’t that popular in the Philippines. “I had the chance to visit Australia and was surprised to see jalousie windows everywhere. In the Philippines, when we see jalousie windows, we immediately think the building is cheap and we avoid it even though it’s the ideal window for our climate. I think that we need to look back in history and be creative with our design. I feel like the aim should not be to have the same architecture as Westerners, but to revamp the things from our past – to have our own identity in the field of architecture.”

Audrey sends out an important message that our history and identity are as important as the present environmental context when designing things. As a tropical country, the Philippines could use a lot of well-ventilated and large window structures. Ironically, it has relied on AC and has kept most of its more modern structures Western-designed, which means they were designed with cooler weather in mind.

Its things like these that a future architect like Audrey can influence,  as she took architecture because she believes that systematic design can improve people’s lives.

Next, we discussed how professionals in the industry can help each other out and her answer could not have been simpler or more fundamental – ethics and values. We often get caught up in a technological world that we forget what really matters in the work – relationships with others. Construction is team play, so being able to build trust and strong relationships with those around you is critical for design and implementation. It is often times also the deciding factor on whether or not a project will be enjoyable.

I asked Audrey about advice to those building for the first time, and she humbly mentioned research – the part of the process where she is focused on now, as a critical element for anyone designing something. “I’m not sure if I have enough experience to answer this question extensively, but I think that research goes a long way in construction. As designers, we have to treat every project as unique. We have to look at the site conditions – on a macro and micro scale. We have to study how every element of the building will affect interaction, efficiency and the individual’s experience. These are just some factors that when taken for granted, result in sub-par structure for several decades.”

Audrey speaks close to home as Globally buildings are responsible 18% of energy, electricity, water and materials consumption, and can reduce this significantly by utilizing proper design, supported by the right material and technology.

This research involves taking time to explore different possibilities for each project, studying the model and constantly revising details in order to offer the best design solution based on usage and environment.

In terms of challenges, Audrey was thoughtful about the question. “In general, there is no one way to approach a design problem. In the first project I was assigned to we had to come up with a design that would be iconic, while taking limited space, materials and skills of local labor into consideration.” The first two weeks of her work were dedicated to coming up with the best combinations. She also admits that there are probably bigger challenges in the future, especially when it comes to the actual build and implementation of the plans.

Along with challenges comes joy and fun of the work. Audrey enjoys the brainstorming and problem solving process. Ever positive, she notes that limitations force her to become more creative in the design approach.

One trend that Audrey things should become mainstream is sustainable construction. She shares that the Philippines is blessed with natural resources and Filipinos should take it upon themselves to contribute to its preservation. These resources, after all, help build the country’s identity. By building sustainably, we respect nature and heritage.

The International Energy Agency released a publication that estimated that existing buildings are responsible for more than 40% of the world’s total primary energy consumption and for 24% of global carbon dioxide emissions. With these statistics, Audrey’s desires for greener construction make even more sense.

“We try to keep abreast with first world countries and sometimes we end up copying whatever design they come up with regardless of context. This is why design is so important. Good design addresses problems. It’s not about what’s popular or visuals. We are designing systems, shaping the built environment to improve the lives of everyone in the community. Architecture is a science and an art because we need science to build, and we need art to come up with creative solutions to underlying problems.

With a keen interest in design sustainability, it’s no surprise that Audrey loves louvers and other shading devices. Glass buildings may be pretty, but they are impractical in this tropical heat, she shares.

As her learning continues, Audrey hopes to develop a strong sense of leadership and coordination skills necessary to turn drawings into buildings.

Finally, I asked Audrey if she could share some of her design work. She replied candidly, “I don’t have projects of my own yet so here are pictures of my thesis. It’s a bamboo pavilion design for A Proposed Gawad Kalinga Livelihood Center.” (Designed by Audrey Faith Chua and Kirsten Jen Galeos under the supervision of thesis adviser Ar. Nheil Crisostomo and thesis coordination Ar. Omar Maxwell Espina).

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Audrey currently works at Visionary Studio Architects under the mentorship of Ar. Jason Anthony Chua. She took up BS Architecture from University of San Carlos, Cebu and is preparing to take the licensing exam.  If you enjoyed Audrey’s thoughts and want to continue the conversation, you can reach her at audz_chua@yahoo.com.

Written by: Rafael Dionisio

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