In the world of Design where only a few names emerge, one would have to be determined and diligent from the moment one holds a pencil in Design school, but that has not been the case for SDA Dean, Joey Yupango, as the respected designer revealed in our personal, candid and fun dialogue.
This hero saves the day by taking on the many roles he plays; from being the head of his own firm, the Dean of the school, the president of a company, the designer to his clients to being a dad and a loving husband.
Amidst the passing of his wife just 3 weeks ago, he remains strong and resilient; a true Man of Steel, but this modern Superman doesn't don a red cape, instead, he does it all in his trademark printed/loud colored trousers.
How did you discover your passion for Design?
Well, you know, mine is transformation, it didn't happen overnight. When I was younger, like you guys at your age, I had a very different interest. I was more interested in life and in enjoying life (laughs) so I think I was a very typical student at that time. Our era was quite different at that time, a lot of awakenings and transformations. It was the 60's and so, my perception about real serious life was almost non existent although I've always wanted to be an architect actually. When I was a kid, I use to draw a lot. I use to work a lot of my time trying to do things, putting things together but the earlier part of my life I was very, not very serious about where my direction is until I finally graduated and then I worked in a bank and I found myself really an odd man out after some time you get to realize that it is important for you to know what you want to do. It took me a while, it took me about ten years, to actually, well, I knew what I had wanted but it took about ten years before transformations could actually take effect. I had to go through a series of process that involved me setting up businesses' and all that, something that fit me more and then one thing led to another until I went back to school.
Who were your mentors?
That's a good question. Actually, when I was in my Industrial Design program, my mentor was Rowena Reed Kostellow. I've been very lucky to have been in 4 schools; Pratt, I went to Domus Academy.....before Domus Academy after Pratt I went to Parsons in New York, we were living in New York. After my bachelor of Industrial Design under Rowena Reed Kostellow, I was given a scholarship in my 2nd year so after I graduated, my donors were still granting me a scholarship so I decided to use it for Masters in Lighting Design at Parsons. It was initially pioneered by Jim Nuckols, unfortunately he passed away after a year (of establishing) that program. So a year later, my wife and I came back already then I went to Domus Academy and I went under Andrea Branzi, he was the founder of the program at Domus Academy. Finally, when I went to take my graduate studies in A.A. I was also very lucky because that was the start, I was actually the second year of the new laboratory program that Brett Steele and Patrik Schumacher had actually shaped it's called the AADRL program. It was a ten year program and it had led to a lot of explorations in architecture.
How's the transition from being a businessman to being a designer?
Business and being a professional always go together. It's part of being able to practice your field. It doesn't matter whether it's architecture or design but I think business will always be part of it. Equally they are very important but they are very diverse. The business actually keeps your practice in place but it is your practice that will make your business prosper.
You graduated in A.A. with a degree in Industrial Design (--No, no, no. I went to A.A. with the hope that I would be able to graduate architecture (smiles) but I didn't get my thesis so I was not able to get a diploma) and you also studied in Pratt (--Yes. That's where I went to first as I initially said. I was under Rowena Reed Kostellow who was the founder of the Pratt program. I went to 5 schools actually. I went to PSID when I was here then I went to Pratt then I went to Domus, I mean....sorry, Pratt then I went to Parsons then Domus Academy then I went to A.A. I was working in between, so when we got here, for 2 years I practiced, I did my projects afterwhich I went to Domus Academy and while I was at Domus I also did some work. When I got back here I did my work. In between these times, I always kept myself busy with work.) with all of your credentials, why practice here in Manila?
Oh it's important to be where you're at; the origin of your birth. I'm not saying I would have not worked there. There were a lot of possibilities that were given to me when I was initially working in New York, was offered green card and all that, but I think what was initially in our mind, my wife and I, we thought that perhaps it was most practical for us to be able to apply what we've learned in the Philippines only because I think there was more satisfaction that we would actually feel. As a result, If ever we were able to do our projects and do well with them, you'll feel more gratified.
You're the Dean of SDA, how did that come about?
Well, again (smiles) it's something that I never planned. One day, a call came by and I have a friend who's a curator and she is now our curator here at our own SDA gallery. Her name is Yeye Cruz and she asked me if I was interested in becoming the Dean and I said (laughs) no, not really but she said why don't you think about it and if you are interested I'll give you a name 'cause there was a head hunter. There were a couple of people that she had in mind this head hunter. She actually interviewed a very well known designer himself and me. Perhaps I had a broader sense of, not knowledge but the background I had was much wider in the sense that I can actually move within different disciplines. As an industrial designer kasi it's just a general lease, you can move between, you can graphic design and other designs, comfortably I can move 4-5 design platforms and it's not something that I'll find difficulty working on.
How do you balance being the head of your own firm and being the school Dean?
Well, you know after a while you'll discover that whatever your career is, it becomes part of you so it becomes really easy, easier when it's a way of life so it's all time management. Running a position where I'm at, it's not very far from actually how you practice your design. It's a framework and what you see is the application of how your framework can actually work in a more fluid condition, that means that you have to align yourself with different programs, understand what it needs but you don't necessarily have to be a fashion designer to understand what fashion design would need, music and others. It's all about frameworks and putting them in place and I think you would agree with me that architects are like symphony conductors, you understand every little instrument there. It's how you keep the symphony and music attune so it's the same thing when you become a Dean. You actually orchestrate and make see that the program that you're trying to pull out for. You must remember that here you can't put yourself on top it has to be the other way around, you can't think of yourself, you have to think more of the generations that will have to come and learn from.
What's a normal day for a top boss like you?
(Laughs) Top boss? Grabe! Normal days I get up like 6 in the morning 6:30. Of course, when my kids were younger I use to take them to school. I can't do that anymore (laughs) so I have my breakfast at around 8. My wife, until 3 weeks ago was with me but she passed away so now I'm by myself I have breakfast, 'cause the kids have gone out. After that, I try to pass the crypt because her crypt is not to far from where I live then I come here and do my work and then of course I ran into meetings, meetings that concern my profession, in the morning before, now, I take them all in the afternoon. In school, I'm also asked to do certain meetings to attend to during the afternoon. I'm invited to a lot of exhibitions now. I try to go and check them out in order for me to see how I can be relevant to all of you. It's a lot of work. I have a new job which I do every Tuesday because my wife, when she passed away her family, they use to own the Funeraria Paz so when they sold the business in the year 2000 they kept Paz Memorial services and now I have to assume that because my wife was the president, now I'm taking her place so it's a lot of work.
How do you approach a project? What's your process?
My process is very 3-dimensional. I do a lot of 3D. I do a lot of models. I'm not as good as some people are in computer. I think the reason is that I can compensate the model-making, the model I can really do very complex shapes. I learned how to do that so it can compensate myself not being able to be very good in computers but it's not an excuse because I think being good in the computer is also a tool for you to be able to do a lot of experimentations.
We met your Pratt U. buddy, Kenneth Cobonpue during our visit in Cebu. How was it like studying with him?
No, I was not in the same year as Kenneth. I graduated ahead of Kenneth but both of us were in the same school and I think Kenneth would be a very good example of what we were doing at Pratt which was a lot of 3D manipulations and I think the reason why also Kenneth is very very successful in his design is that because he puts a lot of effort in doing his design models himself and the fact that he can also manufacture it and do all the things that can master his program, it's good for him.
Where do you see SDA architecture 10 years from now?
Right now we are already seeing a lot of changes in your program. If you've noticed, the way the teaching is being done now, it's not confined within a structure or building, it's more of understanding the contextual value of the site, what can be done about it, how it affects the periphery so everything is expansive, it takes into account the periphery, circulation. Those aspects which normally is never given a lot of emphasis on, we start really delving into all of these aspects before the form actually even comes. I think that's a very good kind of practice. How will be evolving in the next ten years, we are going to offer more emphasis on development, how you guys can analytically attend to conditions and also we are going to invite very important practices all over the world. (Smiles) Calatrava I think, that's a misnomer. No no, it's actually the photography that would come. It's not us who who asked, it's PIA. Infairness to PIA, it's not a CSB program but they are only using us as a venue so that is a correction so it's really PIA who's handling that program with Santiago Calatrava but next year is our 25th and there a number of surprises that we would like to offer you.
What impresses you?
Generally what impresses me usually is when I see something that is relatively interesting in terms of the idea. I'm more of an idea guy eh. I don't particularly look at things just because it's beautiful. I'm more interested with how things work, why it tends to be interesting.
What do you think of our home, the SDA building?
(Laughs) Well it's a....I don't want to say beautiful building because....I think everyone knows already that it's a very well designed building that Ed Calma designed. It has wonderful spaces around. It was designed at a time where there were only 6 to 9 programs, now that we have blossomed into 14 it becomes also very difficult for the building to be able to be that efficient. Sometimes when you design buildings you have to understand where longevity would come in.
What's your favorite drink?
(Laughs) I'm a sparkling water guy. I've given up drinking alcohol and sweet drinks so sparkling water would be very good or water with lemon.
If your style had a soundtrack, what would it be?
Well, I'm a sentimental fellow. At the end of the day, I want something that is relatively soothing. I tend to go for old music that are quite nice to hear with very good melody.
What is your current favorite thing?
I don't have a particular obsession except that I want to read books a lot so if you'll noticed all around me are reading matters. I know a lot of people say that books can actually become extinct because you can already download everything but I still enjoy it because simply it has color, it has texture, sometimes the smell and you can bring it around and have something that's kinda different with the illustration or the color. (Holds domus magazine) This is the newest by interni and domus, I think you should get one. What's good about domus is that it's starting to put emphasis on different parts of the world not necessarily the more advanced but they go into very rural implementation of architecture like in Africa or third world countries. It's interesting because we can actually learn from them and there's so much to do in the way we can actually foster them. Remember, the Philippines, we are an archipelago, we have a lot of islands so the interesting thing there is that you have a lot of options to work on so there are so many options that you guys can actually put your interest on.
What inspires you?
What inspires me is that, I've been very lucky to be given another......a lot of times you discover that you make a mistake earlier in life and you can't amend it anymore, you just go on with it. In my case, I was given a chance to get back and study and learn something that I would have wanted to do when I was younger except that I didn't have maybe the proper conviction so my interest now is to be able to share this and make a fulfilment by way of making future generations acquire the same learning that I had.
What is your favorite building?
Oh wow. I don't have a particular favorite building but I've seen a number of works that actually impresses me a lot. Of course, the Ronchomp church by Le Corbusier and I think a couple of works of Rem (Koolhass). To a certain extent I like Sejima's (Kazuyo) works. Sometimes there are so many designs that you just see them by chance and then they are more remarkable than the more famous ones. There's also one guy that I went to nasa homestead, Chinchilida is his name, he's a sculptor and he lives in San Sebastian in Spain. I went to his homestead which is actually a spread of small structures and there's an old bar in the theatrum, he transformed it and put his works and I think that's amazing.
Who is the most overrated starchitect for you?
(Laughs) No comment. By the way, I missed the one work on Enric Miralles. I don't know if I'm saying it correctly 'cause in Filipino we would call him Miralyes but in Spanish the double L is said.....so it's Mirayes. His works are fantastic, one of his works I savoured to see it Barcelona, I really liked the market in Santa Catelina. So going back to the overrated, unfortunately sometimes when you become famous na, your work becomes overly done. A lot of them have forgotten what made them famous was the fact that they were always driven by concepts and the newness of their dialogue they had wanted to give. Sometimes it becomes almost signature which actually changes the appreciation one has on their work so that's my comment. There are only a few who actually try to rework their works. An interesting practice that interests me a lot is OMA (Office of Metropolitan Architects by Rem Koolhaas). It is a continual experiment. Parang it's a continous research.
Who are your top 5 starchitects?
Well of course I like the intital Corbu, then I like Louis Khan, then I would think Rem. I also like Enric Miralles and perhaps Sejima.
What's your advice for young designers like us?
Your profession, it's not a 1 year or a 2 or 3 or 4 year kind of thing, it is endless. You can't stop at a point, you have to continually keep on so the word is learning, and then you applying, so I think if you do that, you're perpetually learning. When you're learning, you're trying to execute something what you've learned so if you do that then you'll be a great designer or a great architect because the moment you stop, that's when it becomes a problem because the signature that you're trying to put is no longer something you would want 'cause architecture or design, it actually gets more effective if people learn from it. If you are able to make yourself extended, a part of you becomes a part of other people, it's more important, you're building kasi eh, you're building a more expansive way of making our environment well. A lot of times, I think that's the best thing that you can always do as architects, when people start to learn from what you're doing. It's never good to just be Wow pare! Hayop ako! Galing nung trabaho ko! I think the better aspect of it is when your work is actually being used and being critiqued, not necessarily always kinikopya ka kung hindi they try to absorb it and assimilate they try to go against it. The important thing is there's a continuous dialogue that is being put forward in what you've actually built. That would be the best that I can tell you guys. So NEVER STOP at ANY POINT!
PHOTO & WORDS BY: CHOLO
PRODUCED BY: YNA
Peace and Love,
Cholo and Yna