Cover Photo: Ed Calma / by Marc Henrich Go

Locally or internationally, these architects and designers are always making an impression

With construction and development back in full swing, let's reacquaint ourselves with 2021's Most Influential Architects and Designers.

Read more about how these inspirational and innovative thought leaders and their respective work have made a significant impact in the design scene, here and abroad.

 

Paulo Alcazaren

At the height of the pandemic, landscape architect and urban planner Paulo Alcazaren's esquisses made rounds online inspiring a frustrated populace with viral sketches of reimagined Metro Manila spaces. From elevated walkways to flood-resilient structures, Alcazaren has been designing possibilities in cities challenged by bureaucracy and policy.

The head of PGAA Creative Design, Alcazaren has a master's degree in Urban Designing from the National University of Singapore, where he was awarded the Singapore Institute of Architects' Book Award upon completion. He has overseen a huge number of projects from around Asia to the Middle East throughout his career. These include the 10-kilometre Esplanade in Iloilo City, park and pedestrian networks in Makati's and Ortigas' Central Business Districts, and the shopping landscape of Orchard Road in Singapore, among others. In each of these endeavours, Alcazaren literally paves the way towards heritage sites and cultural spaces for the community.

As a thought leader, he was the editor-in-chief of BluPrint magazine for a decade. Today, he maintains a column in The Philippine Star. Over the years, he has authored dozens of books on architecture, urban design, and green cities. In the midst of public uproar against the big business initiative for a Pasig River Expressway, he proposed an alternative: the Pasig River Esplanade and a 25-kilometre linear park that would run across the skyline of Old Manila. The metropolis, without exaggeration, swooned. Alcazaren's imagination takes form in legacies and landscapes that are not only enjoyed by the public, but made for future generations of Filipinos as well.

Read Paulo Alcazaren's full profile on Asia's Most Influential

Ramon Antonio

As the son of Philippine National Artist for Architecture Pablo Antonio, Ramon Antonio has that particular talent running in his veins. The younger Antonio followed in his father's footsteps to become an architect himself and is now one of the most sought-after architects in the upper echelons of Philippine society,

Known for his eclectic personal style, Antonio knows how to artfully juxtapose Asian elements with a more austere European sensibility. It is in this way that he has defined the modern Asian-tropical home—taking inspiration from different corners of the world and finding ways to incorporate them into a clean, practical and sustainable structure. He also emphasises the importance of plants and gardens in homes, frequently embracing nature in his designs.

Antonio's work can be found in many of the Philippines' most exclusive enclaves, from Forbes Park to Ayala Alabang. The unique quality of his designs and eye for perfection has made him one of the most popular and in-demand architects today.

Read Ramon Antonio's full profile on Asia's Most Influential

Carlo Calma

There is a reason to believe that expertise in design runs in Carlo Calma's blood. Both his uncle and his cousin—Lor Calma and son Ed—are renowned architects. His father Pabling is a retired civil engineer who was once a leading interior contractor. Design, one can imagine, came naturally to Carlo Calma.

But bloodline aside, Calma's merits stand tall on their own—so tall, in fact, that he is one of the country's most prominent architects. He finished courses in sculpture, painting, and light design at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco in 2003, and then moved to London and graduated from the Architectural Association of Architecture in 2009. He then went on to build a formidable body of work, including structures, interiors and installations. Known for his progressive, art-informed style, Calma has designed restaurants like Gallery by Chele (formerly Gallery Vask), which he co-owns, and Mesa. He has also had art installations in Solaire Resort and Casino and Nuvali.

Read Carlo Calma's full profile on Asia's Most Influential

See also: 3 Influential Architects Who are Reinvigorating Asian City Spaces

Ed Calma

Ed Calma is an architect, an interior designer and the design principal for Calma and Partners, his father's eponymous firm. And while there's certainly a continuity of design principles from father to son, the younger Calma sets himself apart with a distinctly modern style that has placed him among the country's most sought-after designers and architects. 

In 1994, he earned his master's degree in advanced architectural design from Columbia University in New York. Since then, Calma has built an unparalleled body of work. Apart from his residential projects, of which many are in the Philippines' most affluent neighbourhoods, Calma has designed boutiques, buildings, hotels, resorts, schools, museums and entire developments.

The Mind Museum in Bonifacio Global City is an Ed Calma original and so are the boutiques of luxury purveyors Univers and Ronnie and Joe, as well as the College of St Benilde's School of Design and Arts building. Thanks to him and his work, the Calma name lives on as one of the most well-respected in Filipino design. 

Read Ed Calma's full profile on Asia's Most Influential

Kenneth Cobonpue

The industrial designer Kenneth Cobonpue plays his own game of thrones among royalty of certain types. His signature Yoda chairs—rattan reeds with woven rattan on a steel frame—seated the state representatives of the APEC Summit in 2015, including former US President Barack Obama. HRH Queen Sophia of Spain purchased his award-winning Bloom chair. Hollywood's then-couple Brangelina ordered a custom buri and abaca Voyage crib for their new-born, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt. His latest collaboration with Disney produced a Star Wars collection that includes the Sidious Easy Armchair inspired by Emperor Palpatine.

These inspired pieces stem literally from the natural abundance of the Philippines' landscapes, particularly the raw materials of rattan, abaca, and bamboo in his hometown of Cebu. These simple fibres have taken form through Cobonpue's designs and exhibited the workmanship of local artisans. Now their skills and quality are prominently displayed among the world's furniture luxury brands. Cobonpue has earned the distinction of being the first Filipino furniture designer to penetrate the global market, changing the misconception that things made in the Philippines are cheap and unoriginal.

Cobonpue's work is a campaign in promoting Filipino design. His efforts created the Creative Economy Council of the Philippines, developed the Industrial Design programme of the University of the Philippines Cebu, and placed him as the Chairman of the Regional Council of Development for Region 7. In 2005, he became the first Filipino to receive the Design for Asia Award and in 2020, the Asian Designer Award of the inaugural Maison & Objet Asia. He helped design the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Terminal 2, and he has also opened a 10-million-peso public outdoor canopy walk and water park called Pasilong sa Naga, which creates a safe green space for leisure amidst the pandemic for the residents of Cebu. 

Read Kenneth Cobonpue's full profile on Asia's Most Influential

Maricris Floirendo-Brias

"Love Local" is a mantra that is oft-repeated, but few people live by the words as closely and as deeply as designer Maricris Floirendo-Brias — to the point that the phrase seems shallow in comparison.

A graduate of Graphic Arts at Goldsmiths College, University of London, this is a woman who has dedicated her life to studying and working with various ethnic tribes of the Philippines. Her discoveries inspired to establish TADECO Home as a development programme to support the wives and dependents of workers at a Mindanaoan banana plantation. TADECO Livelihood and Training Centre has been around since 1962, although Floirendo-Brias would eventually rebrand it in 1989 as TADECO Home using the company's existing resources in order to create home products for export. Today, it is an award-winning handicraft business that uses only local abaca and banana fibres and traditional techniques passed down by ethnic tribes for generations. 

Through her passion and dedication, TADECO Home hasn't just preserved indigenous artistry: it has provided a livelihood to communities. And this authenticity takes material form in the nature-inspired shapes and patterns of Brias' home pieces — which continue to impress, if her win at the prestigious Red Dot Design Awards are anything to go by. “Our culture really stems from the indigenous people”, she says. “That's where we find what is really Filipino, through their arts and crafts.”

Of her design philosophy, Floirendo-Brias shared to Tatler, “I believe the Past and Present can co-exist in harmony.”

Read Maricris Floirendo-Brias' full profile on Asia's Most Influential

Budji Layug

He first made waves in the design field with his bamboo chairs that were sold in Bloomingdales New York in the seventies. Budji Layug's pioneering concept of Filipino design fit seamlessly into the narrative that he would expand his knowledge, experience and network through trade expositions, particularly CITEM.

Layug then partnered with the architect Royal Pineda to establish their well-known design and architecture firm Budji+Royal.

Their collaborative effort is a total design approach that marries function and flow into the spaces that surround the homes and structures of their clients. Layug's style is present but changing.

The designer captured this in his coffee table book, BUDJI: Design Journey, which launched in 2019. The effort took four years to complete and detailed an extensive portfolio and a rich, broad view of the landscapes of his mind. Highlighted in the book are the insights this visionary talent created in countless tropical resorts-like spaces.

In 2020, Budji+Royal designed the SEA Games Pavilion and the Philippine Pavilion for the Dubai Expo. Over the pandemic, Layug discovered a love for painting, holding his first exhibit last September 2021, and is opening another show this coming June 15. 

Read Budji Layug's full profile on Asia's Most Influential

See also: Paying it Forward: How Len Cabili is Championing Filipino Artisans and Regenerative Livelihood With Smart Infinity

Jonathan Matti

In 2017, the esteemed British design firm De Gournay partnered with Filipino interior designer Jonathan Matti— who had been known to use De Gournay wallpapers in his designs— to create bespoke wallpaper panels. The result was Latina Manila, a collection of 20 panels inspired by 19th-century Manila and the Philippines' flora and fauna. This prestigious collaboration is just one of many testaments to Matti's illustrious stature in the world of design, especially among the high-society circles of his clientele. His taste and intuitions for good interior design are highly sought-after among these circles, and are, as evidenced by Latina Manila, drawn from a deep appreciation for Filipino culture, history and art.

Through his firm, Jonathan G. Matti Design Consultants, Matti continues his work of filling homes with his idea of luxury, which often refers to pieces that are bespoke, handmade, and unique. 

Read Jonathan Matti's full profile on Asia's Most Influential

Felino "Jun" Palafox Jnr

After 50 years of work and over a thousand trips around the globe, Jun Palafox has named his legacy project in the country The Aerotropolis, which is currently being built in Bulacan by the San Miguel Corporation. The envisioned expanse will be among the largest airports on this side of the world and will serve as the base of a model green industrial city by 2050. For the principal architect and designer of Palafox Associates (his namesake company and the first Filipino architectural firm to be included in the Top 500 Architectural Firms in the World), there is no overnight success to be had in such a dream; but true to his values for environmental planning and sustainability, the significant impact will require time and cooperation. Palafox has mentored hundreds of architects and urban planners through lectures across Harvard University, MIT and the University of the Philippines, among others.

He was the youngest Filipino architect and urban planner on the team that built Dubai, where he spent more than a decade creating architectural design guidelines on top of the progressive city's building code. Jun Palafox has seen the blueprint of the seemingly impossible come to reality from literally creating the most future-ready city from dirt and sand. He believes there is hope yet for the Philippine and its urban jigsaw puzzle.

Read Felino "Jun" Palafox Jr's full profile on Asia's Most Influential

Daniel Romualdez

Fashion brand empress and American billionaire Tory Burch shared to Tatler in 2018 that when she and Daniel Romualdez were having dinner at her lavish Fifth Avenue apartment about 15 years before, the renowned architect and interior designer drew sketches on a napkin, creating a framework for the expansion they would be doing. Brilliant thoughts could not go amiss from Daniel Romualdez's mind, and this is just one of the many reasons why he is one of the most sought-after architects and interior designers in the US and Europe.

Romualdez and many of his designs would land on the cover of other premier publications such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Architectural Digest, of which he was included in its 2012 AD100 list of the World's Best Interior Designers and Architects, and again in 2014. Phaidon Press' By Design: The World's Best Contemporary Interior Designers book included his work on a living room of a Los Angeles home in its 2021 list of Best Living Rooms in the World.

Born and raised in Metro Manila. he moved to New York to pursue studies at Yale and Columbia University. His signature style has always been defined with an ingenious usage of colour and vibrant prints, mixing them with antiques and mid-century furniture of classical style. This may have been influenced by his experience in working for renowned classicists Thierry Despont and Robert A.M. Stern before he started his own company in 1993. His impeccable taste is evident in his wide range of projects like villas, condominiums, apartments, and even private jets and yachts. 

Read Daniel Romualdez's full profile on Asia's Most Influential

See also: 5 Filipino Podcasts You Should Listen to This Rainy Season

Alfred Wieneke

“Let the work speak for itself,” and it's often said. Such is the case for top architect Alfred Wieneke, whose works are not the brutalist edifices or modernist spaces we think of when we talk of design. What he specialises in is building homes: warm, bespoke, and built entirely from scratch.

Inspired at a young age by his father who built apartments and condominiums in the 1970s, Wieneke's respect for the home is in his focus on maximising natural lighting and ventilation. Everything opens up to the outdoors and all colours are earthly and natural—a style that Wieneke has honed over his years of practice on a great number of projects.

This isn't to say that Wieneke hasn't pushed the envelope in office and commercial structures. Take, for example, the intimate spaces of Txanton, which revolve around feeling like a wine cellar. This same balance of elegance and cosiness comes alive in the different textures of M Dining + Bar. In the world of design, Wieneke is not an advocate of spectacle, as big names often are. Instead, he champions warmth and natural light: spaces for people to actually live in. 

Read Alfred Wieneke's full profile on Asia's Most Influential


Tatler Asia’s Most Influential is the definitive list of people shaping our world today. Asia’s Most Influential brings together the region’s most innovative changemakers, industry titans, and thought leaders who are driving positive impact in Asia and beyond. View the full list here.

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