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Modern Living

Wili's wonders

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren -

I received a lot of e-mails from last week’s feature on architect Gabby Formoso’s houses of the ’60s and ’70s. These were mainly from sons and daughters of those who grew up in those huge and well-designed houses. I also got a call from Bobby Formoso, the architect’s son, who I went to school with at the College of Architecture in Diliman. He, of course, also grew up in a Formoso house — on a sprawling site in Antipolo. Aparently, they all enjoyed growing up in them, a testimony to the designer’s good work.

Formoso’s work in exemplary architecture is today continued by his firm, which survives him. The office is now known as GF Partners. The firm was recently honored by Ayala Land as one of their favored design partners in successful development projects over the last decade. They still design great houses although most of their work now is concentrated on large high-rise residential and commercial projects.

I feature one exemplary project of Formoso this week — the Antonio Martel residence in Dasmariñas, Makati — to take another peek at his facility with majestic residential design. The theme chosen was that of a Polynesian resort. Tropical resorts in the ’60s were mostly concentrated in that part of the Pacific along with Hawaii. Asian resorts had to wait until the ’80s and ’90s to become popular models for residences.

The Martel house spreads over a large lot in the posh enclave. In the late ’60s, the area was slowly filling up with structures but this one stood out for its sheer size and silhouette. It had the standard sweeping driveway leading to a deeply canopied entrance. The spaces inside were of expansive dimensions, giving the structure a truly resort-like ambience.

The work also highlights the creative input of another under-appreciated Filipino design pioneer, interior designer Wili Fernandez. Fernandez took up architecture at the UST in the 1950s and is a contemporary there of the likes of Leandro Locsin, IP Santos, Dolly Perez, and architectural writer and scholar Fr. Bobby Perez. He worked for a while as art director for President Magsaysay’s anti-Huk campaign (I still have to find examples of the work he produced for this project).

Fernandez’s foray into interior design, which at the time was not taught as a complete degree course, was with the Aguinaldo’s Department Store in Echague. The company was one of the first to offer interior design as a service. They also manufactured and sold furniture to complement these designs produced. By the 1960s, Wili left to form his own firm, which grew quickly with scores of residential and commercial projects. Also along the way, he married Doreen, renowned culinary maven, prolific writer and bon vivant.

Wili’s practice and firm set the standards for the professional practice of interior design in the Philippines. He did what IP Santos and Dolly Perez did for landscape architecture; and that is to change the mindset of architects (who they work with) and clients — that his profession was more than just “decoration” or add-ons to architects’ designs.

Jose Punzalan, editor of Philippine Arts and Architecture magazine, interviewed Wili in the ’70s on his design philosophy. Fernandez espoused the practice of interior design as both an “art and science,” stating that interior design is a process “in which detailed programming, planning and a thorough understanding of what makes for comfort and efficiency are given equal play with artistry and the creative imagination.”

Punzalan noted the professional framework Wili and his staff took in any interior design project. “The evolution of any interior starts with its discussion by Wili Fernandez, chief designer… and Terry Gavino, associate designer and planning head. Interviews with the clients give them an understanding of the needs, traffic patterns (inside the house), work habits and budget that decide the disposition and character of the interior space in question, be it a home or a hotel, an exhibit or a commercial institution. Time and motion studies are undertaken when necessary, and a complete (appreciation) of the projected use of the space is achieved before the schemes are made…”

Fernadez’s firm was also one of the first to offer additional specialty services like graphic design. He and his designers would create graphics, way-finding systems, signage design and even menus, tableware, linen with logos or pictograms to complete the package.

Wili’s interior creations included the ABS-CBN offices in Quezon City (the architect was Carlos Arguelles), show- rooms for Tai-Ping (the carpet company), the Sulu Hotel (Mañosa brothers), the Amon Trading Corporation offices (AJ Luz). Fernandez’s office was one of the first to go international with interiors for the Ambassador and Mandarin hotels in Malaysia, the Ambassador Hotel in Hong Kong, the Central and Imperial Hotels in Taipei, and the Tropicana in Singapore. Fernandez was one of the first Filipinos to establish offices abroad, with a base in Hong Kong to service the needs of the region.

Fernandez was a leader in his profession and helped establish the Philippine Institute of Interior Designers for which he served two terms as president. His interests extended beyond his commercial interiors. He designed stage and television sets, furniture, even greeting cards. He wrote a weekly column with his wife on Asian food and eating out. He enjoyed life and shared his with many.

He and his firm sadly did not survive to see the boom years of the ’90s. In a way, he is lucky not to have been witness to the Filipino designers’ devolution from leaders on the Asian design scene to today’s hired help of Hong Kong, Malaysian and Singaporean firms.

Wili would have asked the question, “What happened to the next generation of designers” who came after his wave of innovative and creative masters? Are today’s interior designers, architects, planners and landscape architects not ambitious, forward-thinking, or sure of themselves, that they strive more to just earn a living — many as OFWs overseas — than to project Filipino design overseas and to an appreciating local public?

Where are the Formosos, Fernandezes, Arguelleses and Locsins of today? These are the questions all Filipino design professionals have to answer.

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Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at Paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.

AMBASSADOR AND MANDARIN AMBASSADOR HOTEL DESIGN FERNANDEZ FORMOSO HONG KONG INTERIOR WILI WILI FERNANDEZ
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