Inspiration over Hesitation: the journey of a successful female architect in Asia

 

25 connie dyConnie Dy is one of the best at designing modern tropical friendly houses and picturesque churches in the Philippines. Her work has been featured on different magazines and her designs are climate friendly and save electricity. The current UAP Regional head wasn’t always as iconic, as she used to be a hesitant practitioner in the early years. “Everything comes from the Lord”, she says humbly.

This inspiration for design started when she was a child, as she loved to draw. Her father was very supportive and would get her different materials. However, as an adult, Connie believes that her skill comes from being able to receive and express God’s wisdom in her project through regular prayer. “He empowers me to design and is the source of creativity.”

Connie studied in San Carlos, Cebu and took up BS Architecture. After graduating she started different apprenticeships working in Cebu, Manila and the US. Some of the most memorable Architects she remembers are Arch. Alcoseba and Arch. Manuel Chiew.

In the late 80s and early 90s, the market used to be much smaller and Connie wasn’t sure if she was going to work. However, seeing her friend get widowed and left with 2 children to support helped her decide that working as an architect was a good move. A day after praying about her decision, a cathedral project, under the leadership of Monsenior Baquial, landed on her lap. Shocked at her luck, and very nervous with her first project, Connie mustered the courage to draw up the plans. She informed Monsenior Baquial that they needed P5M to finish the project – a huge amount at that time. Despite the lack of funds at the start of the project, they pushed through. “If it is the work of God, he will fund it himself,” and funding did come in as donors who saw the church renovation started financing Connie’s first project.

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“I was scared [during the first project], but I knew that God would back me up.” Connie shares with an interview. “Maybe God wants me to build churches, build his home on earth,”

After this project, more came in – a restaurant “The Majestic” ,  Aldevinco shopping center, The Apo View Hotel, Villa Margarita and a few more churches.

In 1995, Connie started with Holy Cross Davao, which had 2,000 students. Back then it was a no frills design as the school was small and simple. Today, the growing school has 5,000 students, which can balloon up to 12,000. Today’s designs are more robust, as she also drew up the school complex.

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Connie believes that one must continuously improve, and so has taken up interior design at PSID and is currently taking an MA in urban design. Her firm, CSD and Associates is based in Davao City, where business continues to thrive.

When asked about ideas for design, Connie insists that form follows function, and not the other way around. The two must fit perfectly as space utilization is the primary condition for design. “You live inside, not outside,” Connie mentions as she noticed that some people do not give the interiors as much importance or thought as they ought to receive. In the end, integrity of the building cannot be sacrificed for the form.

This focus on function before form is part of what Connie dreams for the industry. As a leader of the UAP chapter, Connie hopes that architects study their designs more thoroughly. Today, it is common for architects to study in school then design immediately whereas in the past, architects would get an apprenticeship first. Older architects know better, and are more exposed. One can save a lot of time by learning with someone more experienced.

Connie has done a lot of high end houses, and her designs seem to be touched with heavenly inspiration as they are beautiful and have received attention from various architectural magazines such as Zee Lifestyle Magazine and Lifestyle Asia. The houses she builds consider the direction of the sun and the orientation of the property to the wind so that it can pass through. She makes sure that the homes have a lot of indoor light using large windows, and beautiful landscaping inside and out to create a feel of nature within and outside. She uses natural stone – her favorite – to give people that authentic earth feel. If you need modern tropical architecture, then Connie is an architect with a lot of expertise.

Connie notices impractical designs out in the market, and told a story about one structure that had gorgeous glass covering the fire escape. This same visual would make exiting more difficult, and so would become detrimental to safety when the escape is used. “What about the danger during a calamity?” she asks. As creative as they are, architects also need to be practical, and architectural school has to be complemented with field experience to get an architect to that level.

Field work is the foundation for great architects. To get this kind of foundation, finding mentors are crucial. Things like the methodology of construction, or the curing time are things one learns on the job site. Supporting all this knowledge is great execution, which requires discipline in attending regular technical and coordination meetings. Getting everyone on the same page to discuss concerns and report progress is a must – owners, subcontractors and general contractor.

This is easier said than done, and so when I asked her, “What can you suggest to those about to build something for the first time?” I asked. “Get a good architect, one who is concerned about you and is passionate about his or her job. Not one who just wants to make money.” Connie suggests. The best architects make their clients feel like they didn’t pay the architect enough – a mantra that Connie has tried to stick to with the best of her ability. Making someone’s dream house come true is a big achievement, and Connie has received gifts from those whose dreams she has built into reality. “I always consider what the client wants, I feel that I am a dream interpreter. Architects are there to put into reality what you find in their dreams.”

For Connie, this is the most fun part of the job – when the client is happy and proud of their home. They ideally wake up saying “Thank God for my architect!” No matter how big or small a project is, one must always put their heart and soul into the work.

Contrasting with all the fun are the headaches that come with the territory of managing a project. Connie cites inexperienced contractors among the most challenging parts of her job. It’s hard to find a contractor who can provide the same commitment, and who can implement with the same quality and follow the plans to the spec. The phrase “Beware of cheap labor” holds especially true in construction.

Apart from it being difficult to find good contractors, Connie also had early challenges working with them in her youth. She faced discrimination early in her career. Sometimes she would need to correct a male foreman with 30 years of construction experience on his methodology.

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“30 years na ako foreman ikaw wala pa,” one confrontational male argued with her. She notes that this is probably something that many women face in the industry.

It was (and still is) tough to correct older males, and so her defense mechanism was to become strict on site. The architect is the eyes and ears of the owner on site and so it is critical to represent them well. Being strict was one way of making sure that the owner’s money was well spent.

Connie takes the spirit of adding value to others seriously and has also volunteered time and skill for projects of NGO Gawad Kalinga and GK Enchanted Farm in Davao.

As parting words, Connie spoke of two things: continuous learning and relationships. She shared that those in the construction profession need to equip themselves well. “I never stopped studying and learning.” Connie discussed her additional education in green building, landscaping, and much more. Her office was littered with books on different styles of design. “Knowledge is power and this is something that allows you to give value to your client.” Giving value to the client allows them to develop a good relationship, which builds trust and confidence. This trust must be shared not just with the client, but with contractors and the people on the ground working towards making dreams a reality.

If you like Connie’s work, or want to continue the conversation, please feel free to contact her at conniesdy@icloud.com.

Written by Rafael Dionisio

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