Why Joey Yupangco loves Milan

CITIZEN OF THE WORLD - Edu Jarque (The Philippine Star) - March 24, 2013 - 12:00am

Travel is mainly an education for Joey Yupangco, for he has done so rather extensively to expand his knowledge as a design visionary, and now on his unexpected career as an educator. His journeys are replete with unforgettable adventures where he has met some of the most important people in his life. As a young Industrial Design scholar at the Pratt Institute in New York, he was introduced to his future wife Gina, a fashion design major at the same school. They have been inseparable since. Joey eventually went on to the Parsons School of Design for his master’s degree in lighting design. Years later, he was off to the United Kingdom for a design program at the graduate school of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, where he was tutored by contemporary and experimental architecture masters Brett Steele and Patrik Schumacher.

Joey is presently carrying out his well-rounded design vision. He is design principal at his practice, Joey Yupangco + Associati, and dean of the School of Design and Arts at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, the biggest department of the well-respected, much-admired institution of learning.

Joey, however, never spreads himself thin. “For relaxation, I sing to myself in my bedroom,” he admits. He is Mr. Cool, a creative thinker with exceptional talent and a youthful spirit to boot.

When asked to name a structure he would have wanted to build, he settles for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Seattle Library by Rem Koolhaas, and Bibliotheque Nationale de France by Dominique Perrault. All three edifices are erected with innovative imagination, articulated with books and yet ideal venues for social functions.

Inasmuch as he enjoys books, he can’t read for too long because words eventually and constantly become pictures on the page for him. Instead of fleshing out these visuals with the usual pen and paper, Joey is never without a stainless-steel cutter. With his inventive mind and skillful hands, he cuts, puts them together, and voila! — produces a new shape, creates a new form!

PHILIPPINE STAR: What do you remember most about your first trip abroad? 

JOEY YUPANGCO: My first trip abroad was a journey that would be hard not to remember. It was a 21-day cruise aboard the Philippine President Lines ship with Hong Kong, Kobe in Japan, and Keelung in Taipei as ports of call. The visit to the 1970 Osaka World Expo was the highlight. It was focused on architecture from all over the world, and it left an impression on me for a long, long time.

I met several interesting people on this trip. One was Tita Florina K. Liboro, and she became like a second mother to us. I was with my brother, and we encountered a schoolmate from La Salle who was also traveling with his brother. It became a breakout of sorts as we relived young men’s adventures together day after day, night after night, and port after port. The ocean, at times, can be ruthless. At some points, the ship tilted variedly, especially when crossing the Sea of Japan. But the arrival to and the departure from the harbors were a series of spectacles that continually left us breathless.

What won’t you leave home without?

My favorite nail cutter, made of black steel, which I got from Ad Hoc in Manhattan.

What would you consider a must-do activity in every foreign city that you visit? 

I am particularly drawn toward three important places. These days, I always check out museums, bookstores, especially the ones that I have singled out from research, and art supply shops.

Traveling with my family always involves shopping and the sampling of local food, so these two activities have become a regular for me, too.

Once upon a time, when traveling with my brother, say, before 2005, when there were no MP3s, dropping by music stores was a must. It was also during these times when we were very discovery-oriented, opting to explore on foot the new places that surrounded us. This was, of course, when we had stronger legs. (Laughs)

Describe your most memorable trip. 

Two come to mind. In 1973, I joined a trip of the Philippine Bridge Team, of which my aunt was a member, for an international tournament at the Palma de Mallorca, Gran Canaria in Spain. It included visits to Madrid, San Sebastian, Vienna, Venice, and London, among many other destinations. My sister and I were really just sabit to my aunt. We had our own adventures, and in a skewed way, it changed my whole persona and objectives in life completely. It triggered me to change and alter my life’s end goals. These beautiful places made me realize that a city itself can be transformed to be even more beautiful yet functional.

The second that comes to mind was a fantastic vacation with wife Gina to New York City in 1995. Nine months later, we had our daughter Martha. 

What is the best travel advice you’ve been given?

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” I think you need an open mind in order to immerse and appreciate what the destination truly offers. You must remember you are a guest, a visitor, and must adapt to the culture of the country and the lifestyle of the people who host you. In a way, that is the unspoken golden rule as soon as we step on the plane.

What is the strangest thing you have done on a trip?

In one’s life, you dream of doing one or two things that exceed your expectations. I must have done a dozen, and the things that come to mind instantaneously, I’d rather not reveal in print. (Laughs)

Let’s talk favorites now. Name your favorite city abroad. 

Without a doubt, my sentimental choice is New York City. I must say at one point, while Gina and I lived there for seven years, it felt like home and I almost felt like a true New Yorker. It is really the character of the city, what it offers, and what it does to you. Over the years, we have been to many great cities, but when you want the totality of the city verve, it will still be NYC.

Name your favorite spot in the Philippines.

My home, especially my room. The way I live life, I can only have one percent of my time totally for myself, and in this one percent, I choose to be most at home in my own room.

There was a time, though, when I was a young boy, that I truly loved Baguio. I would always look forward to its rustic charm, its colorful culture, the blooming flowers and the ripe fruits come summertime. The Baguio I knew has now become so commercialized and, increasingly, tightly urbanized. Regretfully, the city has changed very much.

Favorite airline? 

There are several. I like to fly Air France, but sadly they no longer fly all the way to and from Manila. Another favorite is Etihad Airways. I look forward to someday taking All Nippon Airways.

Favorite airport? 

Charles de Gaulle International Airport for its general ambience, and for a time, I was very interested in its massing and design. It is one of the world’s principal aviation centers, boasting of grandeur fit for the many lives that cross its premises.

Favorite museum?

I like The Museum of Modern Art in New York, not only for its vast collection of contemporary art. It exhibits an architecture collection that documents buildings through drawings and models that are so complex — they are buildings in themselves! There are furniture, tools, textiles, sports cars — even a helicopter!

Favorite hotel?

Affinia 50 on 50th and Lexington Streets is nothing fancy, not luxurious at all. Yet it certainly makes you feel right at home. It is in the center of circulation in New York City. It is conveniently located near Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, and Fifth Avenue boutiques and stores. To explore the city outside of Manhattan, the hotel is around the corner from the 51st Street subway. It is a favorite for all the sentimental reasons.

Favorite landmark? 

The Duomo in Milan is remarkable for its size and for its intricate design, with decoration in even the most hidden parts of the roof structures. Milan’s main streets either radiate from or circle around it. It marks the center of the city, not just in a geographic sense but from an artistic, cultural, and social point of view as well. It is where the city is best felt and experienced. 

Favorite building?

The pilgrimage chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, simply known as Ronchamp, and the Villa Savoye in Poissy in the outskirts of Paris, France. Both are by the Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier and are some of the most recognizable and renowned bases of modern architecture today. The Musée du Louvre in Paris, on the other hand, in all its grandeur, is an antithesis of modernism.

Favorite park?

Central Park in Manhattan for it boasts several lakes, theaters, ice rinks, fountains, iconic statues, and picturesque tree-lined paths. It is also home to the Central Park Zoo.

When in London, my favorites are Hyde Park and Regent Park. Hyde Park has the Serpentine Lake ideal for boating, while Regent Park has Queen Mary’s Gardens, a bed of more than 30,000 roses of 400 varieties. I like them most especially in autumn.

Favorite musical or play? 

Oh! Calcutta! — for the wrong reasons (laughs), and Annie, if only for the song Tomorrow.

Favorite mall or store?

Nothing comes to mind. I’d prefer instead areas like upscale Knightsbridge in London and its bustling Kensington High Street, all in the same borough. In New York, there is the multicultural Canal Street as it cuts through the bohemian SoHo. Via Solferino in Milan’s Brera shopping district has rare finds. In a way, strolling in and out of these busy, happening locales stimulates me very much.

Favorite restaurant or bar? 

A Chinese restaurant that serves excellent crispy orange beef, which, unfortunately, is only found in New York City.

Name an event anywhere in the world you would like to participate in?

Venice in Italy is ripe with artistic inspiration for both work and play. The Venice Biennale is a major exhibition of contemporary design and arts, while the playfulness and the magical masquerades of the Carnival of Venice stir romance.

What are your favorite pasalubongs — inbound and outbound?

From different destinations, I always bring their best local food items. From Madrid, Spain, all the chorizos and baby lamb chops. From Sicily, Italy, all the Ferrero Pocket Coffee, an individually wrapped praline candy with Italian liquid espresso encased in a shell of dark chocolate sold only in the winter months. To members of our families residing abroad, they truly appreciate all the allowable permitted kakanins and big, ripe, yellow mangoes.

Aside from unpacking your suitcase, what is the first thing you would do upon returning home? 

Check the mail, call the office, and take a nice, long bath!

Name a city you have never visited but would like to someday.

Istanbul in Turkey for its modern architecture that blends seamlessly with its rich history and culture, and Prague, Czech Republic, for its art and how people live there. Beautiful cities! Must see them soon.

Name a country you wish to explore.

Turkey and Chile have great, contrasting landscapes, both architectural feats by Mother Nature. Turkey’s rock formations and Chile’s snow-capped mountains are both fascinating, enchanting.

In Chile is where the once-popular television series Profugos was set. It showcased the country’s progressive modern architecture. I like their architectural attitude.

What is the best part of travel?

Travel is the best education. We must learn and absorb as much as we can in order to emerge as a well-rounded person. It is a complete exposition that lets you live another lifestyle in another space and time, but only for a period. In a very personal way, you may even find the perfect setting for your life’s most romantic moments.

What would you say then is the worst part of travel?

Constant delay of flight schedules and the whole regimen of airport protocol has become straining. It is no longer just a breeze — not with multiple checks and many restrictive policies. We must adhere to rules, though, for everyone’s peace of mind. After 9/11, air travel has increasingly become very tiring. Come to think of it, the speed trains are a better alternative that still allow you to experience the romance of travel.

If you could reside anywhere in the world aside from the Philippines, where would it be?

I think I’d opt to live in Spain, in all its latitudes. It is a most blessed country from south to north, east to west. There’s lots of sun, the architecture all around is at its best, the food is unbeatable, plus the beautiful, friendly people with their bright temperament. It is the ideal place to live life to the fullest!


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