Beyond creating good design, Rebecca Plaza believes architecture is all about its social purpose for communities
In this hyperactive age where cities are packed way past the brim with life and people hustling about, it was nice to see a change within the quiet walls of the storied Intramuros. The world seemed to take a slower pace as I observe a young woman prepare for her cover shoot from a glance, the suits and accessories all laid out on a table in the quaint Batala Bar. Although it began raining sometime during the early stage of the shoot, Rebecca Plaza remains poised as she walks around the old yet well-maintained Casa Manila, following the photographer’s directions with enthusiasm. In-between trying to find shelter from the rain and pleasant conversations, Rebecca is indeed a woman who continuously leads a meaningful life beyond the face of a rousing powerhouse within the architecture and design industry.
How Dreams and Cities are Built
After settling down from the weather’s shifting temperament outdoors, Rebecca remains vibrant and buoyant as she shares how her passion for architecture began. Growing up visiting sites with her father, a real estate developer, she admired the progress of cities as time passed from an early age. After studying and working in London, traveling across the Philippines realized her goal of improving city life in the country. She knew she was treading through unfamiliar waters when she began building her own firm, Plaza + Partners. Much like creating a blueprint, she had to work on everything from the ground up. Though the process was difficult, her family continued to support her. After all, it is no easy feat to build a good team. “You have to have really good people who share and understand the same vision that you do. When people believe the vision, it’s so much easier to accomplish good work,” she explains.
Rebecca believes architecture is more than developing buildings. “I always looked at architecture as a way to improve society, as a vehicle to improve life,” she affirms. Thus, she says buildings must start from learning about the community that will benefit from it. To explain, she details the research she did on markets in the country that began with the question: “If the markets are such a vital and important place in our lives, how come the facilities aren’t better?”
Reflecting the way she realized her dreams, inspiration struck from observing context. “A building should be unique to the site. Architecture needs to respond to the user’s community. We look deeply into context and intent. ‘What are you trying to achieve?’, ‘How can you make it better?’, ‘What solutions can you provide to the problems that people don’t even see as problems?’” These questions must be reflected on, keeping in mind the transformative power of architecture.
Working Hand in Hand
As we spoke about developing cities, she happily shares the process and turn-outs of the Anthology Festival. Running for over five years, the annual three-day festival is something she looks forward to albeit over light laughter, she admits organizing it poses tough challenges. Amassing support for it alone involves hard work. Yet during its course, she reveals, “We come to the festival and see the smile on people’s faces, see how they enjoy, and we have foreign architects tell us, ‘Wow, this is the best conference I’ve ever gone to,’ is super fulfilling.” It proves to be a heartwarming experience for her when she witnesses thought leaders, urban planners, architects, and students gather to partake in dialogues and share ideas, especially in improving Manila and the greater country. Through the festival, working together is crucial to make a positive difference in the lives of people.
Where Cities are Headed
With the impact of the Anthology Festival and the continuous work on improving cities, Rebecca is no stranger to insights from all her experiences. I asked her if she has any advice to impart to aspiring architects or those wanting to be part of the industry. “Don’t just do things for the sake of doing things. If you’re passionate about something, you will find the drive and the determination to accomplish anything. That passion is what will get you through all the hard times,” she says firmly. Building a legacy of her own is definitely challenging. She may have started at a young age but the need to help out people drives her to do more and enjoy the process. As she says, “It is in the journey that you make meaningful relationships and you produce meaningful work.”
As she traverses the journey to fulfilling her dreams, she is happy to see the promising future of design in the country. She may come from a background of witnessing great ideas of Western architecture yet she reflects on how the Philippines is in a better place at present than decades ago. “We’re no longer looking to the West for solutions and ideas to things. We’re looking toward our Southeast Asian neighbors and really within [the country] as well to create really good design solutions that respond to our needs.”
Fleshing out developments in our cities has to be unique to its itself, serving the people who use it. This is how she perceives having a meaningful life. She adds that it is also about “experience that really enriches the way you look at the world.” Through architecture which she treats as the most public of art, she came to learn about its impact in a community. This had me looking back to our shoot where we got to ride the monumental tranvia or the old electric street tram in Manila. Remembering all the heritage sites we passed by, these antique buildings sure did undergo numerous improvements to maintain its structure. It made me recall what Rebecca commented on designing buildings: “You realize nothing good ever happens overnight. It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of determination to create something good.” She ended our conversation with a striking statement, “Whatever you do has to have a social purpose and it should seek to improve not only your life but life for future generations.”
Photos SHAIRA LUNA
Stylist DAPHNE ARANILLA
Makeup BEA COLET of MAC COSMETICS
Hair PATTY INOJALES
Shot on location INTRAMUROS, MANILA
Special thanks to YSMAEL SUAREZ, INTRAMUROS ADMINISTRATION, and THE BAYLEAF INTRAMUROS