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Can a city’s success be measured by the number of times Michael Bay decides to blow it up onscreen? Whether by alien invasions or zombie attacks, Hollywood has proven that audiences can better sympathize with skylines that they can recognize.
So what does this say about Metro Manila? Enter Jagnus Design Studio, the team behind “that building on Ortigas,” aka Ronac Art Center. Given the volume of nameless poured concrete structures along Ortigas, Ronac’s unofficial christening as “that building” should be an honor in itself, both to the city and for the team that built it.

With its lack of iconic buildings, it can be said that the charm of our fair metropolis is best experienced at street level—street level being the amount of time spent stuck in traffic on Edsa (or Buendia, or Taft). The built environment, at best, provides us with a minor consolation from the tedium of everyday life. Buildings serve as landmarks; looming on the horizon, they can signal either a turning point in a long and winding journey or a cue that you have arrived.

“As architects, we need to remember that whether the project is for private or public use, a building once erected will be part of built landscape for a long time,” says Sonny Sunga of Jagnus Design Studio, of which he serves as the Principal Architect, alongside fellow architect Arnold Austria acting as Creative Director, and John Cruz heading construction. Jagnus’s now iconic Ronac Art Center was the team’s take on the springform mattresses that built the Uratex empire; playfully riffing on a perforated façade (the perforations are actually a Daft Punk version of a Kanye West song, rendered in Morse Code), with a spiral staircase sweeping through all four of the building’s floors, showcasing the firm’s devotion to clean modernist lines.

While undoubtedly a means for creative expression, architecture still has that non-negotiable business aspect: with one foot deeply immersed in a world of accreditation, paperwork, clients from hell, and controlled plans. Thus, a typical day at the Jagnus Design Studio is possibly no more romantic than the days spent at any other office. “We operate like an assembly line,” says Sunga, giving a rundown of client briefs, exchanging of ideas, brainstorming, and the usual arguments between the partners. “Once we reach a solution, that’s the time I zone myself out to formulate a concept and start drawing the plans” he continues, of what he calls “the most creative part” of this process that can take anywhere between a few minutes to day after 9 to 5 day (or in the case of Jagnus staff, 9 to 6).

That this can be the world behind Metro Manila’s chaotic built environment remains a mystery, and begs the question: How can we have architects and no architecture? To which, Sunga laments, “Sadly most Filipinos still think that architecture is only for the wealthy. They have yet to realize the inspirational and aspirational quality it contributes to our daily lives.” He continues, “A big part of our work is the business of building quality homes at affordable prices in Marikina where land is still affordable.” The homes are meant to provide not only the pride of owning a Jagnus creation, but are meant to create a “sense of place”.

This sense of place factors into our sentiments on what we call home, making it about time we considered the importance not only of the filial ties that keep our feet rooted in Philippine soil, but the comfort and familiarity that comes with gazing heavenward. This is where architects are the principal contributors, with Sunga aptly concluding that, “Great architecture only occurs when the building transcends its functional purpose, elevating us to the level of the emotional and spiritual realm.”

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