There is, to date, only one Philippine startup that has reached unicorn status, or one with a valuation of at least US$1 billion—Revolution Precrafted of Robbie Antonio, who reveals to Chit Lijauco a bit about how his mind works and allows just a peek into his famed art collection

Privacy, to Robbie Antonio, is as sacred as the artworks of masters that he possesses. Recognised as one of the most important collectors of modern art (he is part of the World’s Top 100 Art Collectors for 2016, as reported by Artnet), invited to major art fora all over the world, Antonio created quite a stir in 2013 when Vanity Fair discussed his home in Manila, designed by no less than Pritzker Prize-winning Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas himself. The buzz that Antonio created was both a PR agent’s dream and a challenge. But it cannot be denied that at the end of the day, and in the years that followed, people continued to talk about him.

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Above PULL Pavilion by AFGH for Wallpaper and artwork by Studio Job

He has only ever given a peek of his home to the media (like a photo of his stairs appearing in Surface magazine). But now, for Philippine Tatler, Antonio opens up more of his home, though still not in its entirety—then again, more than he has ever allowed for any other medium. The graciousness, however, comes with a plethora of do’s and don’ts, to include the number of people allowed inside his much talked about and speculated on home: One.

While magazine cover shoots usually command a cast of art directors, stylists, assistants, make-up artists, set designers, light men, and the photographer, Antonio would not have any of this. From the get-go he laid down his non-negotiable requirement: only the photographer will be allowed in.

So, what you see in these pages is just what Antonio is willing to show—but it’s already quite an eyeful. The dramatic and dazzling works positioned on his lawnand in his basement overwhelm an artistic appetite. Add the names of the artists behind them and the headiness turns into a yearning to see more.

At the negotiating table, however, Antonio (who is the founder and president of Antonio Development in New York and founder and CEO of Revolution Precrafted) morphs into an entirely different creature.

ONE DAY BEFORE a European roadshow that will take Antonio and his team to 54 meetings in six cities in 10 days, the office of Revolution Precrafted is a beehive, not quite the milieu of a private person. Clearly, Antonio has transformed into his other personas: the master negotiator, the visionary with a lot to say, the game changer. The alpha male talks to everyone on his staff or shoots orders from his room. He has everyone on Ventura and Poklong Anading. Awesome does not even begin to describe the list of Antonio’s Revolutionaries.

It didn’t take him long. By the end of the year, in December 2015, he launched his company at the Design Miami fair. “I started with the strongest names in the industry so that others will be encouraged to be a Revolutionary,” he says. And what a showcase it was: a dining pavilion designed by Hadid (who died in 2016) and Patrik Schumacher, plus a mobile gallery by Gluckman Tang.

“I wanted to make design affordable and accessible. And from the business point of view, get the volume. There is nothing game changing about doing mega mansions by Jean Nouvel or some of these people, but to make their designs accessible at a different price point is something game changing, big time, in the world point of view,” he adds.

The thought process was simple, really. Antonio looked to his strengths: he knows real estate; has a huge database of, he says, 35,000 significant people; has a high-profile celebrity-studded network. Then he identified his goal: he wanted to be a global player completely on his own, by the time he was in his forties.

What was the missing link between his goal and his strengths? Precrafted. By manufacturing his own materials, he will be able to build the iconic designs of his Revolutionaries anywhere in the world, in a short production time, and at a much lower cost. His medium? Revolution Precrafted, a prop-tech that offers technologically innovative products and new business models for the real-estate market.

“It has to be a true global company,” Antonio elaborates. “I want to be asset-light, no capex [capital expenditure], no inventory. I can be anywhere. If a market is in crisis, I go elsewhere.”

Revolution Precrafted focuses on developing countries. Antonio has already pinpointed 85 that he wants to bring his prop-tech to by 2020—broken down into 20-25 by end of 2018, 50-55 by end of 2019, and the rest on the year of target. “I did not choose all the 85. Some came to us with an invitation to build in their countries. I listened to them and I made my decision,” he says.

Out of the 40 countries Antonio aims to visit this year, Revolution Precrafted is already present in 20, with a few more to be announced by the time this feature comes out. He is confident he will meet his target.

In the Philippines, two major developments are already in full swing.

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Above Sculpture by Daniel Libeskind, who designed the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada

Flavorscapes in Mexico, Pampanga, nearly 60 kilometres north of Manila, is envisioned to be the world’s first liveable food park, developed in partnership with Central Country Estates Inc. This 140-hectare project is designed to contain 15,000 homes, three museums (ice cream, candy, and chocolate), and a microbrewery with a beer garden. The museums were designed by the French architect and urbanist Christian de Portzamparc, Pritzker Prize winner in 1994. To roll out in 2020, its total cost is US$750 million.

Artscapes is the theme for the Batulao property located on a hilly spot in Batangas, 81 kilometres south of Manila. With Century Properties as its developer and Revolution Precrafted as its supplier, the 142-hectare project is envisioned to be a haven for artists and art lovers. It will feature four pre-crafted museums and house 8,000 living spaces designed by Revolutionaries like Nouvel, Cobonpue, Philip Johnson/Alan Ritchie Architects, Calma, Marcel Wanders, and Budji+Royal. This, too, is scheduled to open in 2020.

In total, Revolution Precrafted has bagged at least US$7.6 billion worth of project revenues from its developments in 20 countries. These projects include: $3.2 billion “The World” project with Seven Tides in Dubai, the $1.2 billion Okkyin Project in Myanmar with KT Group, and the $300 million residential project with Novo Development in the Caribbean countries of Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Bahamas. The prop-tech company also has developments in Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Cyprus, Spain, Japan, and Indonesia.

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Above The Infinity Ring by Sou Fujimoto, the Japanese architect who designed the Serpentine Gallery in London

WHEN ANTONIO SAYS he loves being busy, that is an understatement. Like an energized atom, he runs roughshod over his staff, every single day, sending them a wake-up text at 4:30 in the morning and texting them until 10:30 in the evening. He doesn’t succumb to the luxury of sleep, averaging five to six hours only; after all, a global player must be awake when the other side of the world is.

The challenge of a good deal is what fires him up. “I’m a deal-hungry, deal-centric individual,” he admits. “I enjoy the process. Nothing is more fun than closing a deal.” But he makes sure he always holds the trump card (“I will never take no for an answer”), Antonio says, clarifying in the same breath that he is not an unfair player “I am competitive but I am not jealous. It is not
like my way is the high way or the only way. I try to come out with a potential win for the other as well. Otherwise, they will never come back to me!” he says, proud about the relationships he
has built around the world.

So instead of competing with existing players like developers, Antonio partners with them, as what he has done in the countries that Revolution Precrafted has successfully penetrated. “My business demands me to be their friends, not their enemies.

Like a seasoned player, he knows when to join the fray. “I know I cannot do many things in life, but I know what I can do and the game I want to play. I do not like a business that is not a billion-dollar idea. I do not like it if I do not have the skills for it. If I will not enjoy a comparative advantage, there is no point in my entering something,” he says.

Does he also know how to walk away—and when? Seems unlikely. What’s more believable is for Antonio not to enter the arena if the odds are stacked against him; but once inside, he will be, in his words, “super-relentless” in claiming victory.

And yet, he says he does walk away, “when the terms are not favourable to me.”

At this stage in the game, the odds are still in his favour with Revolution Precrafted. In fact, Antonio wants to add 19 more Revolutionaries for a total of 99. One of the architects he must be eye-ing is IM Pei (the glass pyramid at The Louvre Paris). After all, they’ve already collaborated on a project: The Centurion, a high-end condominium building in Midtown Manhattan, two blocks off Central Park.

However, the 100th Revolutionary is already known to him. “I will be No. 100,” he declares, with the confidence of a player who knows he can make this happen.

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Photography: Marc Henrich Go | Cover photo: The Wooden Cloud by Kengo Kuma, one of Japan’s most significant contemporary architects

This story was first published in the August 2018 issue of Philippine Tatler, available in all leading newsstands and bookstores, and downloadable via Magzter, Zinio, and Pressreader.