Tourism-worthy design

Longaberger Company basket buildingBuilt in 1997 as the headquarters of the Longaberger Company—an American manufacturer and distributor of maple wood baskets—the building takes the shape of the company’s biggest seller, the “Medium Market Basket.” The building measures seven stories and 180,000 square feet. The structure and its surrounding 21 acres were purchased by developer Coon Restoration.

But news has it that the building’s sold to a developer. The current design is amazing so I hope it stays. 

The Philippines doesn’t venture into similar “riskier” designs, architects here influenced and still preferring Brutalist design ie. concrete-heavy fortress-like buildings. But what buildings would we have if builders design out of the box? A bahay kubo (nipa hut) perhaps? But then there’s already the iconic still operational Cultural Center in Manila…derided by people of the extreme right on the grounds that it was a project of Imelda Marcos (in other words, everything the former First Lady had ever touched is bad). Or, perhaps a reimagined pine tree…burned during the holidays in Baguio City. Accordingly some people had had enough of the artificial kind that manifested each year the dirty hand of politics.

Tourism which is being aggressively-promoted in the country iif it is to endure as a unique offering need to be packaged as a total experience of place which includes architecture. You can’t call people to come visit for them to just see or smell the flowers (literal and not!) and not care about them seeing vandalism on buildings, abandoned and decaying properties, and haphazard and uninspired design all over the place. Consciously designing the place ideally right from the start should eliminate the need later on to hide from visiting VIPs embarassing elements such as decay.

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More on Burnham Park

This is Baguio City’s only park but how come City Hall couldn’t maintain it as it should? Is City Hall bankrupt?

Seats around the lake and elsewhere. They’re the same old ones from my childhood and my parents’ college years. What’s not doable with improving say five seats a year following modern design (as below) until every seat has been updated?

Park seating design

The grass at Melvin Jones football ground. Shamefully patchy and an embarassment to City visitors if not City residents themselves. The City’s tree planting activities should expand to grass patching in this area.

“Let a thousand flowers bloom” so goes the Panagbenga banner. Where else in the City to show this but Burnham Park? But, for several years now, the statement is like the truth in most ads: believe it at your peril. Take for instance, Pantene’s current TV ad of it’s 3-Minute Miracle Conditioner. This beautiful lady with the beautiful long hair goes off to stand inches away from a jet plane’s engine. The engine is started and the turbine whirls sending the hair flying in all directions. The turbine is turned off and…”damaged hair”. But no worries, Pantene Miracle Conditioner will save the day. Thing is, in the real world, there’d be no more hair (or, head of hair, wait, in fact, no more beautiful lady) to speak of when you stand right in front of a jet’s churning turbine. At full speed it’d send you off to Laguna de Bay if not suck you in…a bloody mess for the airline’s mechanics to clean up. Back to the Park. Anybody with eyes, a City resident or a tourist, can see that the few surviving flowers at the Park are near-wilting. Or, perhaps since the City has not actualized the bloom of a thousand flowers since the first festival it’s time to revisit the slogan to see if it’s still appropriate. The phrase is actually borrowed from Mao Zedong:

Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land.

In reality, however, according to history, “many of those who put forward views that were critical of Mao were executed”. 

The Children’s Park. On hot windy days, earth from the grass-less ground is carried by the wind to end up on children’s skin and into their lungs. Meanwhile City Hall declares itself a child-friendly City.

The Cycling Area. The place is full of potholes. City Hall has leased this part to rent-a-bike entrepreneurs who, obviously, have not done any maintenance work. What are the provisions in their contract with City Hall? Whose responsibility is it to maintain and repair the area? If it’s the entrepreneurs’, what’s City Hall doing to ensure they act on their responsibility? The area is not private property that maintenance is left to the whims of the users.

The Park as a cultural space. For culture to thrive, grow, and be appreciated and enhanced, it needs to be made a regular part of community (or, public) life. Where else to do that best than at the Park? The mall has become the place to see, hear, and know culture but what’s hosted there are the commercialized versions. As a result, people now believe that them buying and putting on a pair of earrings of native design is culture. That’s similar to getting pranked on April Fool’s Day. Culture is a mindset, that shows in one’s daily decisions, actions, and habits.

Theater stage modern design

How else could Cordillerans pass on their indigenous legacy than through stories, songs, and dances, art forms very much indicative of who they are? Once a year as in street dances on opening day of Panagbenga is not doing their culture justice. These require a public staging place. How else did the English influence the rest of the world with their culture? They were staged (in short, written and replayed again and again to audiences who in turn passed them on to and through their networks and so forth, similar to Facebook’s friends of friends business model).

Open public theater

Speaking of Panagbenga, City Hall should’ve by now come up with minimum quality standards that booth-owners renting space at the Park should comply with (otherwise, go find the place where polluters are so welcomed). This sounds heartless but, think, this is the only remaining Park we have in the City- would we leave it’s health to business which if left alone to do it’s thing will naturally maximize free resource in order to squeeze out the most profit? The years have shown that the businesses that rented from City Hall were just that. 

Booth design sample starbucks

Finally, the felled trees of the Park. Where were they brought to? They should be publicly-displayed artistically, something like the one below, with appropriate captions (name, age, specie, history) as monument to ancient ones that had lengthily served the City and it’s people; also to educate and develop appreciation among the public for the City’s tree species and the role of trees in the survival of human communities.

Tree logs public display

To build or not to build: City parking at Burnham Park

Baguio City is back to two of it’s more contentious topics- parking and Burnham Park. The long term solution to this, given that the City’s land area is non-expandable unless the mountains around it are bulldozed (I say this because it’s actually started for inappropriate residential and commercial projects and I don’t know if some people have just totally gone mental) is usage of economic tools to manage vehicular traffic within the CBD in particular and car ownership in general. There has been no initiative from City Hall toward this, despite persistent recommendations from local architects and planners, which is why parking has grown and grown and grown into this monstruous problem now.

In the short- and mid-term, parking buildings could be considered which as prerequisiite should’ve undergone environmental impact assessments. Anybody who’s done an EIA would know that risks posed by construction of a parking building in Burnham Park include:

  1. Cultural – loss of heritage (mana) for the City’s present and future generations, as in, ano na lang ang mamanahin ng mga anak natin at ang kanilang mga anak? a graveyard of parking buildings?;
  2. Environmental – during the 1991 7.6 earthquake and aftershocks, those of us who were trapped in the CBD and spent the night (or, days) at the Park know, from experience, that the ground there is water underneath; increased pollution from incrrased vehicular traffic in and out the Park; increased heat island effect as a result of pollution and conversion of green space; accelerated loss of biodiversity as a result of pollution and habitat disturbance; decreased capacity of the Park to provide ecosystem services eg. air filtration, protection from solar rays, carbon absorption, climate regulation;
  3. Socio-Economic – loss of space for the City’s civic activities (eg. jogging, morning exercises especially among senior citizens, strolling instead of in malls thus benefitting from fresh air and natural Vitamin D) that promote health and wellbeing in the population; loss of green space offering to tourists and visitors (they don’t come to this mountain City in order to drool over a parking building but rather for the zen effect of mountain foliage and cool weather that are fast becoming a thing of the past by the way);
  4. Etc.

Such an assessment, together with cost-benefit analysis, will provide scientifically-correct data and information on which to base decision as to whether project risks can be mitigated or the entire project scrapped.

Let’s say City officials take the road oft-travelled which is, to go on ahead and put up, without being informed by an EIA, the parking building right in the Park. Common sense will still say the project has got be done in a way that it  will “continuously compensate” for the losses, hardships, and inconveniences it brings to the community. What are some of these compensations?

One, design. The reason why City folks (and others in the country) are protesting such a project is because of how ‘parking building’ has been normally imagined by Filipino builders: a massive concrete box and nothing else. Walang ka-arte-arte. The word now in building design is ‘green’ as in integration of carbon minimizing aspects of the naturally beautiful natural environment into built spaces.

Parking area design

Green building design

Green building design

And, since the City is the residence of choice of artists, the building could be a mount for their works (which by the way should be regularly maintained and, resouces permitting, changed periodically. One of the City’s bad habits, which it needs to change, is inaugurating a work of art in the public space and then completely forgetting about it until bugs have eaten it away and there’s nothing to see, or a passerby had to be hospitalized after the rotting thing fell on his head).

Green building facade design

Two, as talk show host Boy Abunda always reminds his audiences, be kind. This in today’s design sciences means, buildings are mindful of the needs of people, both their residents and visitors. An unkind building is one which has not for instance a single bench for children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities, or the suddenly ill to sit or rest while, say, waiting for the elevator to come up or down from the 100th floor.

Once, at a posh department store, at the ground-level parking area, I saw a man, maybe 50s, shopping bags of women’s brands to his side, sitting on a narrow bench just outside the mall doors. He was apparently waiting for his partner who I guessed, if she’s female, was still deliberating on a thousand choices of shoes. He looked spent and close to imploding. That area of the mall was hot but I had a feeling his state of being was more due to discomfort. Where he was waiting wasn’t exactly heaven and if he was inside his car, well, these days everybody’s saving on gas, and if he waited inside the mall he had to do it at a cafe or restaurant which meant he had to buy, again. 

Green building interior design

A kind building has thought ahead about it’s users and visitors and purposefully integrated human needs into it’s entire space (versus throwing in a bench or two on afterthought). My point, basically, is for buildings or technology to cater ultimately to humans (people) and not to things. When planners, decisionmakers, and builders use this as their guiding principle there’s no reason for most people to protest or suffer from effects of mindless decisions.

Rainwater harvesting

My past employer used to fund construction of rainwater catchments for households. They’re the standard water tank design but concrete ones. This one by BMDesign Studios as featured in Dezeen is amazing and more sustainable.

rainwater catchment bmdesign studios

rainwater catchment bmdesign studios

The government should promote and support rainwater harvesting given that we’re often visited by rains and storms.

Earthquakes

The islands, and everywhere, have been experiencing more frequent quakes these past few years. It means plates are more active than ever. The 6.7 quake in Surigao, on a weekend, reminds us once again that disaster strikes anytime and as the country’s located on active faults, it pays to know in order that appropriate decisions can be made and safeguards put in place throughout the islands.

We trust that PHIVOLCS will invest more in earthquake research and be more forthcoming in educating the public through various media forms.


Video Lecture: Yes, Humans Really Are Causing Earthquakes by Justin Rubinstein, USGS Research Geophysicist

Video Lecture: Unusual Sources of Tsunamis From Krakatoa to Monterey Bay by Eric Geist, USGS Research Geophysicist

Rude awakenings

The Fire Rooster is indeed a hard worker. It’s still the first days of the new year and already we’ve been buzzed up to hard realities. We need those energy bars to keep up!

First: Typhoon Nockten/Nina made a total of eight landfalls. It’s second was in Pili, Camarines Sur when it was at it’s strongest, around 300 kph. Turns out 12,000 out of the municipality’s 17,000 households incurred damages. And except at the town proper, electricity has yet to be restored.

I learned of this just two days ago. I was shocked because media has reported just about everything post-Nina but these. The typhoon struck the area on Christmas Day while the rest of the country were gorging on Noche Buena fare and joyful for gifts received. There was a report about the Vice President who went to her hometown, Sorsogon, right after her return from the US where she spent Christmas. She commented on the response as “I think it is somewhat slow” and “wish(ing) I was here”, but nothing more afterward.

As it happens around here, owing to so-called politics over local funds earmarked for disasters, local governments have again failed to step up as first responders. By this, I mean not just handing out one-time emergency food rations but as mandated of them in the DRRM Law, ensures compliance to humanitarian standards, and systematic and comprehensive disaster management up to the time affected communities have recovered. Once again, it appears the bulk of response (as there are still households in remoter areas in need of food rations), recovery, and reconstruction work is heaved upon civil society, triggering within the community switch to familiar hyper-fast high-adrenaline mode of doing things.

Stressful for humanitarian workers but on one hand, projects that do get funded give rise to relatively high-paying job opportunities for otherwise unemployed locals that in turn help revive otherwise stagnant local markets, contributing in the long term to the phenomenon of disaster areas becoming boom towns. For the urban manager, this opens up the opportunity to plan ahead and set in motion the strategy that will shape the “future town” the people want (as opposed to a hands off approach to growth and development which inevitably leads to sprawl which was what happened to Baguio City after the 1991 earthquake).

Second: Former President Noynoy Aquino et.al. are sued for plunder over his sign off during his term on the shipment to a bank in Thailand of USD141M 3,500 metric tons of gold bars of 99.999 percent purity confiscated from the Marcoses. In exchange of the gold bars, the Philippine Government under Aquino had purportedly agreed with Thailand’s Centennial Energy Company to produce funds for humanitarian projects. Talk about disaster politics! True or false, my god!!!

Third: South Korea has the fastest average internet connection speed globally, Akamai reports. At 26.3mbps Whoa! At the rate we’re used to here, 4.6mbps, Filipinos find it hard to imagine that kind of speed.

What is with speed? I knew of employees who got memos (getting sacked even) for “not immediately responding to urgent emails” and “lying about why you’re not responding to urgent emails”; organizations missing out on much needed funding because “sorry, you did not send in your proposals on time”. Headquarters with their relatively faster internet speed have difficulty believing that field offices located in godforsaken areas are hard put (and fed up) with what to them is a 0.0000000000001mbps internet speed at best. The email site takes years to open and another century for one document to be uploaded. Then, just when you’re on the verge of throwing out the device you hear a beep. It’s the telco sending a notice hi! we noticed that your data usage today has been really high. we’re now reducing your browsing speed to maintain quality service for all users blah blah blah; oops, you’ve used up the MBs of your surf promo. The regular browsing rate will now apply…avoid unexpected data charges by turning on SurfAlert blah blah blah. In these places, it is more reliable and speedier and a lot less stressful to send documents, photos, and recordings via bus lines but then this forfeits the meaning of ‘urgent’. Folks at head offices who rarely visit therefore wouldn’t know how it is really conclude that field people are ignoring their notice. They refuse to acknowledge that internet speed is a valid concern.

Same conversation between consumers and the telcos. The latter, because they’re only, what, three (plus a subsidiary each)?, they put on earplugs to cancel out the constant banging of customers on their doors (picked up even by international papers such as Forbes), or better yet, stage superfluous marketing gigs that promise more than what could actually be delivered. In this sob story we see the Department of Communications approaching the telcos’ doorsteps at incredibly slow-mo- ten years at a time. Could someone please throw them the dictionary opened at ‘breakneck’?

Modernization in the time of Scrooge

If street sweepers could grow into giants, what then?

collage-woman-hoovering-urban-street

Easy breezy, no? I did think emergency powers to solve traffic is more effective in the hands of street sweepers! Or, perhaps even mothers- mothers against traffic.

Kidding aside, and still on the topic of transportation, my recent dawn ride in a turboprop was different this time ie. it wasn’t as scary as what my mind’s able to imagine it. The unfortunate incident that wiped out members of Chapecoense is exactly the reason behind my fear of flying. It could happen to anyone, anytime. And anybody surviving a plane dropping out of the sky which incidentally is happening more frequently these days is I believe a miracle through and through. If such an accident is my fate, I just want that it will happen on a bright cloudless day. I don’t want to go down on a gloomy day. Gloom + doom is too much of a double whammy.

PAL Express Bombardier turboprop Q series

Anyway. I noted the plane is a Bombardier Q model. What did I know of Bombardier besides that it sounded French-y classy? There was something lodged in the recesses of my brain… maker of the first bomber aircraft? Well then I should feel comfortable. This plane’s for extreme weather! Didn’t it have an invisible shield somewhere? And there must be something more to Q. Now that such things had sparked my interest, I had to know. From take off to when we landed – it felt like a quick five minutes all – I focused off my fear to knowing more about the manufacturer.

It turns out, the founder Canadian Joseph-Armand Bombardier invented in the 1930s the snow mobile which eventually became the company’s first product. (Ah, nothing of a bomber aircraft in it’s history then.) From the snow mobile, the company went on to build rail vehicles and related solutions which is actually it’s best known product, making headway in European countries. It then expanded to aircraft eventually buying out Learjet (of course! this was what’s lodged in my memory but can’t readily recall). The Q in it’s turboprop Q series stands for quiet, to describe the company’s breakthrough invention, Active Noise and Vibration Suppression (ANVS) system, that “make turboprop cabins almost as quiet as those of jets”. Indeed, yes, there was just the soft whirr-ing from the plane’s props and I was seated near the left side propeller. Today, Bombardier continues as a global leader in rail vehicles and solutions.

Bombardier sustainable solutions in rail transport

What am I saying here? We should buy quality for our rail transport. We should not be a Scrooge or Grinch when it comes to providing Filipinos infrastructures and services- these should be the best. (Scroogey-ness by the way extends to the private sector in relation to it’s local Filipino consumers- we here get the littlest – apple, grapes, soap bar, name it – and lowest quality of products in supermarket shelves and without corresponding and I mean fair change in price; same for PUV fares, we pay the same even when service is crap or the vehicle is near shambles or noncompliant to standards. Nobody cares to report because nobody on the other end care to right things. Then we shout human rights in streets? Start with food and basic needs first!) We should let go of our tingi-tingi mentality in purchases or investments in public goods. We should also let go of our pwede pa yan i-repair mentality (getting junk parts from god knows here, there, and everywhere and piecing them together to imitate the original when it’s obviously junk) when things have reached their expiry dates we should not think twice about buying new and better.

The only message that daily news of the breakdown of MRT and LRT rail cars sends to the public is how dumb and dumber those managing it are. It’s not the machine’s fault as it’s not some human who’s able to intuit and decide on his own if he or she is sick and needs a day off to go for medical treatment. We need Congress to step into the real attitude of modernization. Instead of wasting public money on a merry go round chase of whodunnit, it should be talking about how to connect remote areas to urban centers and up Philippine infrastructures and services. This will take years so it has to start today.

TEB-1

Monday, I’m still on cloud nine over Brasil’s win in Rio, and everybody’s on the road. As we’re mulling over easing up monstrous traffic at home, China has already launched a new bus model, the transit elevated bus:

Powered by electricity, the bus (an alternative to subways) has a raised passenger compartment that straddles the traffic beneath. It can carry up to 300 passengers (although future models might take more) and is about 22 metres long, 7.8 wide and 4.8 high.

Four challenges from President Duterte’s SONA

President Duterte, in his first SONA, mentioned four things I’d like to further write about here.

First, land banking. He said it was his practice as Mayor of Davao City to buy land that would be developed as relocation sites for the City’s slum dwellers. He said he talks to private owners of the lots his team has eyed to bargain for a fair price. Now, that is the Mayor we want for all Philippine cities! Land banking or the purchase of land for future use is a must for cities and municipalities. Farsighted cities see the need to secure prime strategic locations ahead of private buyers. Cities do this because, acting in the public’s best interest, Mayors and their planners wouldn’t, for instance, build a PUV terminal a hundred kilometers away from the CBD. In Baguio City, the lack of such a terminal has caused much disorder in it’s core but still City Hall continues to sit on it. Apparently, City Hall lacked the foresight to buy land well before the need arose because right now no vacant lot lies close to the CBD for such an infrastructure unless City Hall can persuade GSIS to sell or lease it’s idle property near the Victory Liner terminal. So, land banking. Real estate developers maintain units to do this work. City Halls should too.

Second, human trafficking. The President said he regard human trafficking at the same level of importance as the campaign against drugs. Great that he reiterated that. In the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), heavily-tinted vans from outside the region carrying trafficked persons mostly young people though there are children (as young as grade schoolers) as well enter Baguio City and regional towns to deliver “goods” – one could call them harems for hire – to clients who ordered for them. Think the ease in which Zalora delivers ordered packages to buyers around the country because that is how easy it is now to transport trafficked persons. When they are in the areas that’s when the bugaws tell their “goods” to have medical check ups. Some are already sick with HIV or STDs. Their records are logged in local files and so show up as local data. This is the story behind why CAR health records on HIV-AIDS and STDs are questionably high. It’s a strategy, really, of traffickers to avoid detection. Try to visualize the intricate spatial networks or should I say trade routes of human flesh from within and across the country’s regions and from this country to the world. It is similar to a drug trafficking network map. In fact, exposure of drug trafficking nodes should also expose that of human trafficking. The two go together. Just as the business of illegal drugs ensnare and involve children and young people so does the human trafficking trade. Children and young people are placed in the front lines (like, child soldiers in warfare). With enough brainwashing and fear tactics to control them, they do just that. What do we have here? Stolen and broken childhoods. Massacre of innocents.

Civil society organizations – international and local – have excellent community-based anti-human trafficking programs as well as researches and evaluations on the subject which present partnership opportunities to government. There are already such partnerships forged although these are mainly at the local level and not as widespread as desired. For the greatest impact, this needs to be consolidated at the national level toward a national strategic action against human trafficking.

Third,  the power of technology. The President, speaking about cutting back transaction time (hence costs!) in government agencies, mentioned gamitin mo ang computer (make use of the computer) more than a few times. If I understood that correctly, he meant that government offices ought to harness the power of technology. In this my observation is, most offices whether public or private put it in their budgets to buy the latest top-of-the-line computers – PCs, laptops – which only end up being used like they were typewriters! It’s like you own a Ferrari but for some reason work it like it was a donkey. A total waste of investment. Let’s take the ATM as a computer program model. It’s programmed capabilities and direct user interface increasingly done on touch screen is a breakthrough innovation that has de-clogged the volume of transactions over bank counters at the same time exponentially increased financial transactions outside the banks and beyond banking hours This redounds to overall profit for the sector. But, in order for programmers to build such an infrastructure or software package they need to have a clear picture of users’ needs and wants spelled-out in SMART i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bounded terms. To be able to give them that information though, agencies need to know and understand their clientele’s needs and wants in SMART terms. Technology can’t be one-sided. One of the thing that pisses people off is when the person behind the counter types at a speed of one word per hour. A five-minute transaction drags on to one hour. You want to tell the person, “hand me the goddamned keyboard why don’t you!” My point is, maybe these kind of users work faster with touch screens or voice-activated programs? Gamitin mo ang computer.

Lastly, disciplining the Filipino. The President said if he ever comes across complaints against public officials sleeping on their jobs, he’d personally go confront the official. Parents have learned that if they’re lax or inconsistent, their children would think and grow to believe that anything goes. One needs early on to instill understanding that if reasonable rules are willfully disregarded, there are consequences to face. Filipinos abroad have learned that early enough. They follow rules even without reminders. With Filipinos here, it is imperative to come onto them strongly in order to get the desired result. Why this difference? Our political and social milieu here has for quite some time shaped us to believe that we can do anything we like. We park wherever and however we like. We throw our garbage wherever we like. We spit wherever we like. We urinate wherever we like. Simple things that redound to our own personal welfare and yet. But then again nobody cared. Not community officials. Not law enforcers. Not property owners. So I’ll do what I goddamn like! My world’s a playpen! This time though the message is, the higher ups are watching you. Yes, you, Barangay Captains. You Mayors. You who are supposed to do your jobs. This time the State is saying it cares. It cares that our communities are safe, clean, and healthy places to live in. It cares that public officials do their work toward that. And if kicking ass now is the effective means to get people moving until following rules and caring about their communities become a habit, I support the President.