MANILA, Philippines — More than anything, Rockwell Land Corp. (Rockwell) has always been about bold ambition. From its game-changing beginning in 1995—simultaneously developing five high-rise luxury condominiums at a time when the rest of the industry shied away from taking risks—to its growing portfolio of artfully master-planned pocket developments, the Lopez-owned company has created quite the niche for itself in the real estate industry.

With both office and residential property values rising in the Philippines despite the global financial crisis, 2012 is shaping up to be a landmark year for the company. In a press conference held recently at One Rockwell, Rockwell VP for Sales and Marketing Val Soliven announced that the company was collaborating with one of today’s globally renowned architects, Carlos Ott, in a “Greater Rockwell” expansive development.

Indeed, Carlos Ott’s artistic touch and global perspective adding on to Rockwell’s portfolio would further elevate the company’s position in the real estate industry. Ott, whose ascent to fame began in 1983 with his first prize win for the design of the L’Opera Bastille in Paris, France, has an impressive portfolio of over 80 distinguished landmarks around the world, the most notable of which is the iconic 7-star luxury hotel, Burj al-Arab, whose relatively short tenure on the Dubai coastline has since attracted international attention and awe, ensuring its place as one of the most photographed structures in the world.

A Greater Rockwell

In a recent meet-and-greet with the local press, Ott expressed his excitement over working in the Philippines for the first time. “I’m amazed by the amount of construction going on,” he shares. “I think that the Philippines has never experienced so much activity as the last five years, and we are just starting so this is in crescendo. As time passes, there will be more activities, more buildings,” he adds.

The fact that there is currently more construction in the Philippines than all of the United States is amazing enough, says Ott. “Who would have said that 20 years ago, but that’s the case,” he shares, adding that his work overseas has seen him witness the explosive growth of Dubai in the Middle East and Sau Paulo in Brazil, “countries that are like the Philippines,” he points out. He says, “Manila today is the Dubai of 15, 20 years ago. Manila will mushroom, is mushrooming.”

As an architect and designer, Ott is known for his iconic and sculptural designs, and this is what he will be bringing into his collaboration with Rockwell in the development of the Colgate-Palmolive compound along Estrella and Camia Streets. “I suppose that when Rockwell hired me, they have to bite the bullet and know that they may end up with a funny-looking building, because if they expect a shoebox building from me, they will be disappointed,” he jokes.

Taking on a more serious tone, however, Ott shares that the buildings in the mixed-use development will definitely be built using sustainable practices. The architect’s designs may vary in its lavishness, but the common denominator among his buildings has always been in urban planning. “Every project I design must always be carefully master-planned,” he says. “When you do a building, it’s not just about what you want. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the user, and there are many users—there’s the guy who bought the unit, the neighbor who looks at it, the guy who rides by who sees your building everyday on his way to work, and the tourist who comes once in his life, whom you want to take a photograph of your building to remember his trip by. All these people are also users of the building and you have to consider all that,” Ott asserts.

The Humble ‘Starchitect’

For someone with millions of Google hits to his name, Ott ostensibly maintains quite the humble outlook toward his profession. Even with his star shining brightly in the arena of global architecture, he asserts that, “Time is the only critic.”

“Yes,” he says, “many of us are temporarily famous, but the good architecture will be known many years later. Good architecture will make the silly superficial architecture of today rapidly fade away. Who am I to say if this is right or wrong? All I know is that when Gauguin and Picasso painted buildings, people then thought they were crazy and wouldn’t pay a penny for their work. Today, people would pay a hundred million dollars for their work. Time will go through the woods and select the good-looking trees.”

He cites the Eiffel Tower as the perfect example. Built for the centennial anniversary of the French Revolution in 1889 by Gustave Eiffel, the tower received much criticism by the public when it was built. “Mr. Eiffel was an engineer and he wanted to make money by building this big structure with an elevator, which was then just invented by a German engineer. When he finished it, people started saying it was a horrible building and that it should be taken down. Today nobody would say that,” shares Ott, “and those critics then were famous and they were the guys who ‘spoke’ the truth. But time proved them wrong; in architecture, only time will tell.”

Humility, adds Ott, is the number one condition to being an architect. “Architecture is a fantastic profession, magical. A musician would probably say the same…a doctor, a lawyer…but me, I can only speak for architecture. Architecture in Greek,” he says, “means ‘the combination of all the arts.’ The number one of all the arts because it integrates everything—paintings, furniture, sculpture, building, engineering…all that has to be there. You don’t design a building the way Coco Chanel would design clothes for the summer of 2012. You wouldn’t use the same Chanel dress 12 years from now, but my building you probably will. If I do a building, it has to still be there in the summer of 2212.”

As such, Ott asserts that architecture requires team effort. “You cannot be a soloist,” he says. “If you think you are Michelangelo, then you are lost. Architecture is done by teams of engineers, landscape designers, interior designers, colorists, people who know how to cool buildings at minimum costs, the guy who bought the land, the developer who risks his money to sell it, the marketing team that has to come up and think about what the client wants, and the bankers that have to finance it. It is bigger than you,” he concludes.

Published March 12, 2012 in the Business Agenda section of the Manila Bulletin. 

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