VBo Architects + Engineers is a group of professionals led by young couple Junim and Mary Neil Velasco Bocalid, ASEP and UAP respectively, is based in Muntinlupa City and started in 2013. It’s a complete architecture and engineering firm that has already tackled some big ticket projects from well-established developers like Ayala Land in its LiO Tourism Estate, a fully integrated resort community in El Nido, among other notable projects. The company name is derived from the partner’s family names and have designed for different clients ranging from restaurants, business establishments, residential as well as hospitality related projects.
The partners started out as highschool sweethearts. Mary Neil took up Architecture in UP Diliman and worked for a while in Leandro V. Locsin and Partners while Junim studied Civil Engineering in UPLB and worked at TCGI Engineers then later with SYSQUARED + Associates. “It was really our dream to have our own firm in the long run. After five years at Leandro V. Locsin and Partners, I took a risk and established the company,” Mary Neil, who 26 years old at that time, shared. Right from the start, they were already in collaboration with each other. When the demands of the office became greater, that was the time that he joined the firm as well. Mary Neil admit that it was a big risk but something that they have to do. “If you just do your work properly, if you do your best, people will definitely recommend you. The best thing that happened to us is we got projects via word of mouth. Our colleagues, even our co-architects, especially those who are working abroad, they recommend us,” she added. From small projects leading to big ones.
The Coast project and other works
Coast is a new 71 room boutique hotel in Boracay’s Station 2’s beachfront and it was Mary Neil, who was 25 years old at that time, took charge of the architectural works. The project came as a recommendation and she was an outsider as most of the project people were family members. “It’s so rare that you get to get a big project like Coast, so we gave it our best. It’s also great that I was
able to work with the Raintree Hospitality Group which now runs the hotel.” From here, other projects followed like Casa Kalaw and the proposed Artists’s Village in the LiO Tourism Estate, some other resort projects in El Nido, Boracay and Samal, mid-rise office structures in the south as well as interior fit outs for condominiums and restaurants.
“The space is a blank canvas and the true star is our view of the sea—a minimalist approach nestled in the powdery white sands of Boracay Beach“
Design aesthetic VBo’s design aesthetic is more on clean lines, more on modern style, a mantra and design direction that Mary Neil has cultivated under Leandro V Locsin and Partners with the Architect Ed Ledesma as his mentor. “When designing, we focus on the experience of people. If your design is good and pleasing to the eye but people can’t relate to it, you failed in the design. Spaces and architecture should make an impression on people’s memory and on their experiences.” It is this kind of experience that one can get in the Coast resort hotel. The structure is simple but done in such a way that it becomes interesting with the added texture. The perforated wall enables a play of light, shades and shadows that balances the regularity of the form.
Working with clients and working together
The firm is proud to say that it is design and service oriented. Being professionals, it’s about following through with commitments even if it’s difficult, collaboration with client is key. “We had difficult clients before. For me, it’s more about educating them. We don’t totally shut down the ideas of the client. We listen. What does this client like about the design, the aesthetics? We collaborate, we try to improve together. We refine what the client wants to bring out the best solution for the project. In this way, we also learn from them. Design is a continuous learning process and it’s a matter of how you approach it. We’ll give options, we give the advantages. Hopefully, they understand it and our proposal gets approved.” Mary Neil advises that it’s better to know from the start if the client is workable, based on interviews. They don’t really say no to a project, per se, but the rare times that they have to say no is when they have a full work load and can’t deliver a full service to the client. Projects can be either or both architectural and engineering, but either way, the two collaborate. The advantage of offering both services is that either of them can consult with each other based on their experiences and training. “Even outside or even at home, we can’t help but discuss about work but there is always equal respect for each other,” says Junim. One thing that the duo has noticed and experienced is that there is a big difference working with corporate and private clients. For companies, deadlines are strict, demanding, structured but fast paced and on schedule. They get to work with experienced contractors too. On the other hand, private clients can be very personal and intimate. They get to cultivate relationships.
Running a firm
Junim and Mary Neil strives to have a not too strict corporate type of office environment. They prefer a casual, more personal approach with their staff. It’s more an informal setup. This explains why, upon entry to the office, you will see several character figures, from Junim’s collection, and board games occupying the higher shelves. They sometimes play, sometimes they eat out, especially when work gets tough. The staff is mostly from the south of Metro Manila as they are from Muntinlupa City, while the bulk of their projects are here too. They also have people working on a project bases and are work from home, especially those residing in other parts of the metro. Technology thus play a big role by utilizing email and Skype for meetings.
Although as a startup firm there were also growing up problems. “We started out as just the two of us, now we are 18. As a firm, the challenge now is on the business side. It’s not something you learn in architecture school. Compared before working as an employee where it was easy and you just focus on your work, now, how do you manage staff in a way that still has that personal touch? So it’s also important that we train and mentor them. It’s also good that, as founding partners, we have mentors too who guide us like how to go about business processes and handling staff,” Mary Neil shares.
One thing that Mary Neil and Junim provide their staff are travel incentives. Milestones and achieved targets are celebrated with travel. “We treat them abroad like Thailand, Malaysia. Last summer, since we hit our goals, we went to a designer hotel in Sorsogon. I think one way to keep them inspired is to let them experience good design. I want them to feel ownership of their design so that they will be proud of their work. Our approach is holistic. And they are happy and loyal. You should always take care of your people.
Named after the endemic Kalaw bird of Palawan, Casa Kalaw is a modern-Filipino inspired bed & breakfast designed with meticulous attention to detail, offering warmth and comfort through the use of vernacular materials that complement the most beautiful island in the world. Casa Kalaw is a part of the Lio Tourism Estate, the first eco-masterplanned development by Ayala Land in El Nido, Palawan.
Natal Residence is a modern tropical home highlighted by the use of high glass windows, white walls, natural wood, and a high-pitched three-meter shed roof. The design intent was to connect architecture with nature, wherein allocation of spaces aims to have commonly-used spaces such as the living area, dining area, kitchen, and family area, be connected to the naturally-warm lanai and the rejuvenating view of the well-landscaped garden. The simple tropical design and well-thought open planning of spaces maximize the natural lighting and ventilation, providing a cool, bright—maaliwas—feel to the interior of the home.
“In VBO Architects + Engineers, we make our roofs fly”
Katarungan Village, Minutinlupa City
A modern glass box, Kaw Residence is one of the earlier projects of Vbo Architects + Engineers. Headed by the principal architect, Mary Neil Velasco Bocalid, the team was able to provide a modern-minimalist design highly emphasized by the use of full-height glass walls, dynamic geometry, and a striking contrast of the monochromatic stone finish. The glass wall together with the artistic play of lighting, showcases the majestic beauty of the home from inside and out. Indeed, this home is a personalized showroom designed specifically for the owner
South Forbes, Laguna
The site is situated in South Forbes,Laguna—a subdivision known for having a variety of upscale homes adapting the modern minimalist design of Japanese architecture. Alabin Residence was strategically designed to properly manipulate the natural occurrences of the site. The front facade in particular, was designed to withstand the Southern part of the site (hot area), giving it a massive, floating look through large walls and small windows. Whereas the opposite side (Northern part) is largely emphasized with the use of full height windows, maximizing the potential of natural lighting and ventilation.
The neutral color scheme of the residence complements the natural colors of the garden and the warm color of daylight.
Encarnacion Residence. Natural wood, monochromatic stone finish, and a vertical garden—Encarnacion Residence flaunts tropical design not just through proper ventilation and natural lighting but also through the use of natural earth tone colors.
Tahanan Village, Paranaque City
One of VBo’s latest finished projects—Encarnacion Residence is a modern tropical wonder located at Tahanan Village, Paranaque city. From its former Mediterranean look, this newly-renovated home has made a complete turn from ground to second floor resulting to a timeless design that assures quality in workmanship, efficiency in natural lighting, and absolute contentment. Best part is—It is for Sale! Who wouldn’t want to be a proud owner of this finely-built home?
Gen. Capinpin, San Antonio, Pasig City
The 28-sqm condominium unit is an industrial inspired bachelor pad. Flaunting the concept through skim coat finished walls, concrete countertops, and neutral colors—everything was designed according to the owner’s preferences from top to bottom. Despite the limited space, VBo was able to provide not only a visually appealing design but also a comfortable and habitable space. It is made sure that everything is seamless— from design to space allocation
A unit specially designed for a business-minded bachelor, the president of William Brothers Inc. himself, Mr. Bryant Cuison. VBo and William Brothers Inc have been partners for the longest time—it is only fitting to provide our utmost service to one of our most loyal client.
Trafalgar plaza, Makati City
By the use of neutral-based palettes on walls, ceiling and floor—the room serves as a “blank canvas” throughout the whole interiors. This is the major solution to attain a creative office space that is flexible and adaptable to different furniture choices
Tapa King Office
A design inspired from the company’s color palette, Tapa King is a modern inspired interior highlt characterized by the use of neutral colors contrasted by the color use. The use of white furniture and accessories is highly advised to maintain balance to the interior space—a minimal foreground to a striking background.
Maximizing their creativity to the fullest, VBo Architects + Engineers assures uniqueness to every project they handle by providing a diversity of fresh ideas from modern, tropical, and industrial concepts. Their top priorities – provide designs that are minimal yet timeless; dynamic yet sustainable; high class yet economical. The “floating effect,” characterized by long cantilevers and roof eaves, is one of the favorite signature accents of the firm. VBo is also inclined to neutral color schemes, play in geometry and lines resulting to different approaches in form and design intent per project. VBo Architects + Engineers guarantees architectural harmony of the d
Clockwise from top
Suñga Residence, Valdez Residence, Yang-Lim Residence, Vaflor Residence
“In VBo Architects + Engineers, there is neither big nor small project. We give our clients the quality of design and service they deserve.”
WORDS: Estan Cabigas
IMAGES: Estan Cabigas + VBo Architects & Engineers