Paco Market



Last weekend Maja Olivares Co asked me if I could host their cultural event at Paco Market. Maja is the Project Designer and Head of Culture and Education of the redevelopment of Paco Market. She has told me about the work she’s done here together with ABS-CBN Foundation’s efforts to rehabilitate the Pasig River. I had always wanted to see how they’ve transformed the old market and cleaned up the ‘estero’ but never had the chance. So I thought even though it’s a weekend, this was a good time to give back and have the kids learn a few things about our city and the environment.


Paco Market was built in 1911. Through the years it fell to decay and became one of the main pollutants of the Estero de Paco. When Maja started the restoration plans, some of the beams were structurally unsound. It took a lot of donations from the private sector and government to get this project going.


My kids are not new to markets. We always take them to public markets. This, they say, is one of the prettiest in terms of the “building”.


The event was held at the cultural/multi-purpose wing by the entrance. I love the bleachers and all the big arched windows.


Vice President Binay came early because he had to leave early. But the children of Paco Market held up a sign and chanted, “Vice President, Stay,” so he stayed and watched them perform. Check out how the market was restored. Lots of natural and artificial lighting and cross ventilation.


Cardona Youth Musical Ensemble performed using various instruments. They spent a few months training the Paco Market Youth Ensemble.


This is the Paco Market Youth Ensemble. They were under the guidance of the Cardona group for just a few months. And they were so good with the recorder.


With the children of Paco Market.


With Maja Olivares-Co and her mom, one of the pioneers of professional interior design in the Philippines Sonia Santiago Olivares (in white).


We took the kids to see the estero.


Hard to believe it was once completely filled with garbage. Imagine all this feeding into the Pasig River?! The newly rehabilitated market not only got a physical makeover. The tenants and nearby residents were taught and trained about proper water and waste disposal.


This is how the estero looks like now.


Unfortunately, a few metres away from Paco Market is this informal street market.


Local color, yes. Proper waste disposal, I hope so.


Watch Anna Coren’s report on the rehabilitation of Paco Market  in CNN’s Eye on the Philippines…



On importing books



I received a surprise present from Gari Camaisa, principal designer of Jugenstil Interior + Architecture in California. I had featured Gari’s work a couple of months ago. You can read about it here.

I didn’t expect to receive anything at all. But what he sent was completely appreciated and needed. I have been a secret fan of De Vera for years even shamelessly stalking his small boutique at Bergdorf’s years back. He is one Pinoy I really want to meet and hope his taste level rubs off on me by osmosis. This was the most perfect present anyone has ever given me. Gari’s gesture really gave me much needed inspiration.


The beautiful package was sent to me via Fedex.


The wax seal was scented. Details!


Limited edition book. I will treasure forever.


I hate to taint this story with a bit of controversy, but I feel the story must be told. I promise, it’s for a good cause.

When the courier came to my house, they were charging me P3,400 for a package that was declared as “Books $200”. I felt it was too high and too random, so I instructed the maid not to accept it. Since it was a gift, I didn’t even know what exactly was inside the parcel. But I definitely did not think P3,400 was a fair amount. I was going to go to their office to have it recalculated.

So I Tweeted about my perception of an anomaly at Bureau of Customs (BoC), which, incidentally, made it to’s Tweet of the Week. See #16 here. After a few retweets, it got to Ruffy Biazon, Commissioner of the BoC. He said that books should be exempt from duties and that he would look into this. Fast forward, I emailed him the invoice. One thing led to another and I found out that ALL BOOKS are supposed to be duty free.

Just last December 2011, the Department of Finance passed an Department Order No. 57-2011 declaring that all books – whether of commercial quantity or for personal use – are not supposed to be taxed. This is part of the Florence Agreement, which the Philippines signed.

If you want to read the Department Order in simple English, click here. If you are importing books for commercial reasons, you just have to go through some paper work at the Dept of Finance. The books are free of duty. If it’s a small personal importation, you don’t need any complicated paperwork. You simply have to declare the package as “Books”.

“Department Order No. 57-2011 dated December 9 particularly exempted books for “personal use” from any extensive documentary requirements, but such importations “should be cleared and released through the required declaration of goods as provided under existing rules and regulations.” said Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima, explaining the order he signed. “One example is the one you have to fill out upon arriving at the airport. You need to check if you will bring in goods from other countries, but this does not necessarily mean that you will have to pay for it,” he added.

So, I got my beautiful book delivered two days later. And no, I didn’t pay the “taxes”.

If you think you are experiencing any questionable transactions or if you perceive some sort of unfair customs taxation you may report it in this website set up by Department of Finance – or tweet @CommissionerBOC.

And now back to my beautiful book. Thank you Gari!





Rockwell’s starchitect, Carlos Ott



A while back, Rockwell Land sent me an invitation to meet a “starchitect” with whom they are working on a project. The text said, “Do you want to meet the architect of the Burj al Arab?” Of course I wanted to.

The interview was with Carlos Ott, an Uruguayan architect based in Canada. He first became famous when he won first prize in 1983 (among 744 architects from all over the world) for the design and construction of L’Opera Bastille in Paris, France. He has since designed and built other landmark projects around the world like the Federal Court Building in Ottawa, Canada, Simcoe Plaza in Toronto, Canada, the Jiang Su Opera House in Nanjing China, National Grand Theatre of Hangzhou, China and many more. He claims to have been the one who originally designed the Burj al Arab in Dubai – a very interesting story. He currently has offices in Toronto, Quebec, Shanghai, Dubai and Montevideo.


Carlos Ott by the Rockwell skyline
Carlos Ott, Uruguay-born Canadian architect to design Rockwell’s newest development, east of Estrella Street.


Carlos and I broke the ice by talking about his and my old home, Toronto. He told the story of how his conservative neighbours in the posh North Toronto district would throw eggs on his house because he built a “monstrosity” of a cube. I googled his house, very interesting.


My interview with Carlos Ott. With us were Rockwell Land execs. The Carlos Ott project for Rockwell Land will focus on the new extension of Rockwell east of Estrella Street.


I have a video of this interesting Q&A conversation. I will upload it soon and share with you. For now, I hope you enjoy highlights of our conversation. Intelligent architects. I could talk to them for hours. Here are snippets from our conversation…


Daphne:  You’re a starchitect. You’ve made landmark buildings around the world. Is this something that’s going to be another landmark building?

Carlos:  Everything is relative. I’ll tell you a secret. But don’t tell it to anybody. I will try to do a landmark  building. The only thing is I hope that Rockwell doesn’t think it’s too crazy. And shuts it down. My interest is to try to do something unique. Having said that, I’m quite confident that Manila, Makati is developing very fast. There’s a lot of Starchitects coming in designing buildings here. As a matter of fact, Rockwell has before me, used very well known architects from all over the world to design buildings. So I guess I’m integrating to a process whereby the city of Manila, Makati are coming into a new era with the growth of the country and looking for newer, better, more interesting buildings.

Daphne:  A lot of cities now are starting to look the same. As an architect is that something you participate in or would you like cities to have their own characteristics?

Carlos:  I love cities to have their own unique look. It’s a pity. It’s one of the negative sides of globalization. I think that Manila, you Filipinos are very unique people in the world. Filipinos look different from other people in the world. Their cities should look different. And hopefully we remain that character. On the opposite side, we will be bringing theories and images and looks that are very international. But hopefully, hopefully, the work we do will have its Filipino character.

Daphne:  So what have you come to realize about Manila, about the Philippines that so far you think you will work into your design – characteristics that are Filipino?

Carlos:  The Filipinos I knew – the diaspora of the Filipinos I know overseas until I came to the Philippines and met Filipinos who live in the Philippines – they all have a common denominator I would say. And they are very warm people. Very intelligent people. Very ambitious people. They all love music. They all sing. They all play a ukelele or piano or whatever. They are very artistic. That character hopefully will be included somehow in a venue in this building. Because Filipinos should be able to sing or to paint wherever they are. Here you go out in the restaurants at night, at least here in Rockwell, they’re full. People are all over. I think all that externalization which is a character of Filipinos and perhaps is a character also of us Latin Americans – we’re very outgoing people. We have to create buildings that are not for Danish people or for Eskimos or for Americans. We are different. Filipinos are different. So we need outdoor spaces. Meeting places. Lot of places where a crazy Filipino can come with a guitar and sing. Don’t you think?


L’Opera de la Bastille, Paris, France, 1984-1989.


L’Opera de la Bastille. Carlos Ott won the first prize in this international design competition.


Daphne: When you built the L’Opera Bastille you were ahead of your time, it was a building that stood out, glass and steel in the 1980’s. Now the rest of the world’s caught up. It’s all the same materials. Where do you think your architecture is headed in the next 20 years?

Carlos: To start with, it must be a green building. When we did those glass and fancy buildings that were on the cover of all the architectural magazines, we forgot that operating costs were a very key role. Today the cost of oil keeps on going up. And the buyer, the intelligent buyer, will not only look at the glossy and glassy façade but how much it’ll cost to cool it and to operate it. So we have an ethical obligation to minimize the use of non-renewable sources of energy and use sun, wind, rainwater. So definitely we’ll do that.


Ott - China
Hangzhou Grand Theatre, China. 1999-2004. “A pearl in it’s oyster’s shell. This moon-shaped building formed only by curvilinear planes incorporates teh green open area surrounding it.” – Carlos Ott website.


Ott - Fan
Wenzhou Grand Theatre, China. 2001-2009. This was inspired by a golden fish in its water pond.




Daphne: I can say this because I live here and I’m Filipino. Manila is not the best city in the world. But you see pockets of beauty and progress. What do you think is your role as an architect in improving cities like this?

Carlos: I’m an architect, I’m not God. And I’m a so-so architect. But let me go back. True, Manila is not Rockwell project. Makati is not Manila. And there’s pockets here and there. But believe me, you go to Sao Paolo it’s exactly the same, Rio is exactly the same. You see pockets of the rich, well to do, maybe superficial showy architecture. You see some favellas where poor people live that perhaps are more interesting. You have old parts of the city that’s decaying, the new part of the city growing. Manila is very similar to old Latin American cities. We learned a long time ago, and probably you did too studying as an Urban Planner in Canada, that the architect has a limited role. There’s many other issues. There’s a limited amount of work you can do as an architect but yes, you have to create (if you allow me to use the theatrical language) the stage for this to happen. To that extent, we will achieve our goal.




Carlos: And the other thing we must do is make buildings where you integrate different uses, different levels of people different activities. So I don’t think today, would be a right to do just a residential building. We learned from the cities in Europe for example, or maybe Manila. A vibrant city is a city where the resident lives where the doctor is, where he works, where he shops, eats. Nothing is worse than the dichotomy of the downtown area where people work and the suburb where people sleep.


All photos of architecture from

For more information on Carlos Ott’s project with Rockwell Land, click here.



Play houses



We’re  getting back to normal at home. This is the week kids are back at school. I will slowly be settling into a routine of picking each kid up from school, organizing their things, checking their homework and missing them while they’re at school. Or maybe not too much. I do have a lot of work to catch up on. This summer was crazy busy for me with their activities. So I welcome this when I will have some alone time at home. Meaning, all of two hours.

We cleaned house over the weekend. Decluttered bookshelves and toys. But the “stuffs” are just never-ending. Made me wish the kids had their own place filled with toys because a play room is not enough. Or at least a little cottage or shed. Who am I kidding? I will forever have that house with a piece of Lego or small Polly Pocket waiting to be stepped on by me.

I ended up googling images of dream play houses. These are all so adorable.


I’m afraid to show this to Lily. She will go nuts over this Victorian Wood Playhouse.


Too cute! Pennfield Cottage Wood Playhouse.


modern childrens playhouse design
From Smart Playhouse, the Hobikken model – a rustic playhouse made mainly of wood for a warm, cozy feeling.


Also from Smart Playhouse, the Illinois playhouse is inspired by the Modern Movement from the middle of the 20th century. My kids won’t like this because it’s completely devoid of any adornment. Sophia already proclaimed that she doesn’t like things “too modern”. Another old soul like me. But I am loving this so much.


From Kanga Room Systems, this shed is so adorable. This company actually makes outdoor sheds for adults. I’ve always dreamed of having my own shed – for writing and my pretend home office. Because we all know that home offices don’t really work when you have toddlers.


I think the best play house for our climate is still the Bahay Kubo. Our neighbour’s kid has an adorable one.


Museo Pambata
The one in Museo Pambata was cute too.



Free playgrounds in Bonifacio



Let me get this out of the way. For the record, I think the name “Bonifacio Global City” is complicated, reduntant and too long. I’ve always known that area as just plain old “Bonifacio”. Then when the new development came in, we all called it The Fort. Somehow that name stuck. My friends and I still say “The Fort.”

The new developers have invested in rebranding the place as BGC. For the life of me, I find it too hard to pronounce those three letters. Can’t imagine how everyone else copes. And although it’s a highly urbanized area, it is not a city in the sense that it has no local government of its own. It is “private property” – and they have signs to remind you. And the term “global”. Really? Can’t they just call it Bonifacio? One word?

That’s just me nitpicking. Can’t shake off the urban planner in me. Now that that’s out of the way, hello BGC. The upside is, Bonifacio’s management does try to do some pretty amazing things. I have long been a fan of their public art and open spaces. They plan to keep 15% of the land development as open spaces for outdoor activities. Wish there were more trees though…

BGC recently opened theme parks, Terra 28th, Track 30th, and Turf BGC. And here’s how awesome BGC is – Terra 28th and Track 30th are open to the public FREE OF CHARGE. This makes me want to take up running.

Terra 28th is a playground for kids and families who simply want to hang out together and have fun. It has creative installations for hands-on outdoor play. Track 30th is designed with lush greens, eco-friendly functional installations, and areas for exercising and meditating. In Turf BGC, the publicly-accessible football field frequented by Azkals and UFL teams, the exciting sport found a new home and attracted new legions of fans.

BGC sent me photos of the parks. They heard that I’m passionate about the need for public parks, playgrounds for kids and kids at heart and public art. All photos from BGC Press Kit.


Interactive art. This Color Me Chameleon changes its skin color with the turning of its colorful glass beads.


Back to outdoor basics at Terra 28th’s Larong Pinoy area where traditional Filipino games of piko, habulan-taya, holen, luksong baka, and patintero can be played.


Terra 28th’s colorful Rest and Play Ribbon playground set has monkey bars, swings, and see-saws. Unfortunately I do not see any trees. I don’t think kids can play here ’til 5pm. It’s just too hot. I love the play sets though. Wish my little park project in my community can get something like these. (I am struggling with that, by the way.)


Track 30th’s Raised Running Disc helps track the distance the runner has covered. It is made of recycled shredded rubber.


Yoga practices at Track 30th. Specific Gravity yoga school in BGC guides the guests in their stretches.


Made from old telephone posts, Pole Position is a functional installation for stretching, push-ups, sit-ups, and other fitness routines.


This is Turf BGC, a publicly accessible football field in a highly urbanized area. Turf BGC uses Max-S artificial turf made of ternate yarn, produced by Limonta Italy, a FIFA-certified Preferred Turf Producer.


Terra 28th and Track 30th are open to the public free of charge daily from 6 AM to 10 PM. For Turf BGC reservation and schedule of activities, call 816-2372. Visit for more information.