Architect Ian Fulgar
and the Fusion of Art,
When you enter the Fulgar Architects meeting room, you’ll find it striking that it doesn’t look like an architecture office. Instead of models and photographs of buildings and facades, the room is accented with large canvasses. Paintings of various dimensions lean against the wall, its subjects reveling in an oasis of color and geometry. The room is as much a studio of imagination as it is a hub for concepts and calculation. It’s an odd sort of cognitive dissonance. However, this irony of art and technology became almost definitive as I interviewed Fulgar Architects’ founder, Arch. John Ian Lee Fulgar.
Arch. Ian considers himself an architect, an artist, and a technologist. These titles are hard-won—they’re not just simple labels. Upon graduating from the University of the Philippines and passing the bar, Arch. Ian reaped experience in Singapore, working with LEED and Greenmark mega-projects. He returned to the Philippines with enough resolve and inspiration to start his own architecture firm, Fulgar Architects. A love for technology flaring in his heart since childhood, Arch Ian is certain that programming can be both technical and artistic. Much like the English language, technology can both extrapolate data while maintaining a sense of grace and elegance.
Arch. Ian was impressed one piece of tech in particular. Introducing: parametric BIM (building information modeling), the future of architecture. BIM is the digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility. You can input data and algorithms to simulate the construction and maintenance of a building. Arch. Ian places confidence in this intelligent 3D-model based process will equip architecture, engineering, and construction professionals with startling new insights. Boasting classical training in art, Arch. Ian is currently taking graduate studies in Fine Arts, expanding his avenues and using the knowledge to bolster his architecture.
Taking inspiration from Arturo Luz, among other artists, he traces similarities between art and architecture, wryly concluding that the two have quite a lot in common. “When you create art, it’s an internal discussion with you as an architect. You question forms and spaces. What is an artistic form? A meaningful space?” This constant questioning will catalyze the architectural mind and allow it to reach heights past the cloud cover of economical limitations. In a country where budget and the bottom-line reign as king and queen, Arch. Ian works as a revolutionary to dethrone them. He left a thriving career in Singapore, grappling a personal existential crisis. “Why am I here? ” he asked himself, “I should be at home.” So he returned, starting up Fulgar Architects and taking in projects that he found interesting. For Arch. Ian, every project is a passion project—every job assignment is an exercise in invention and a pursuit of perfection.
Arch. Ian thinks it’s high and time local architects tread new ground in defining new Filipino architecture. While he places respect where it is due, he believes that the age of aping the bahay-kubo should be reconsidered. He attempts to distill the objective of the bahay-kubo, “They’re trying to address tropical design, but if you take apart those initial concepts and consider Filipino lifestyle and culture, you might just think up of architectural canons of your own to define what Filipino architecture could be.” True to his artistic inclinations, he put forth the possible reinvention of the pitched roofs or the many gradients of shadow and shade Filipino architecture is meant to possess.
Despite his international studies, Arch. Ian sees foreign inspiration to be a hindrance at times. “We’re very colonially inspired,” he said, “to the point that we mimic a lot.” Foreign architectural techniques may work for their country of origin, but not for the Philippines’ wind patterns, climate idiosyncrasies, and temperature fluctuations. Arch. Ian suggested the revival of larger ceiling volumes, water management, transoms, and espejo: simple and elegant techniques. “These are things we forgot because we’re following a certain standard.”
He noticed an invisible wall in the architecture field, preventing architects and designers from reaching artistic heights. “We’re not in the frontlines of building components, thereby we adapt to what’s available in the market,” he says. He trusts that the current and coming generations of architects will have a little bit more imagination and design flexibility to formulate better and more creative solutions. Progress relies on reinvention, and while it’s not wrong to stand on the shoulders of greats, we should eventually step off and plant our feet on the ground ourselves. “We just need to get a more adventurous client to go with that,” he laughs.
But where should we start? Arch. Ian thinks the Philippines should have its own “place of identity”. Paris has its Eiffel Tower, a wrought iron lattice tower honoring the French revolution and demonstrating Parisian innovation. Singapore has its Merlion, the stone sea monster decorating the Marina Bay, a symbol of once-humble beginnings and current global impact. The Philippines has no such symbol. Arch. Ian even considers that it needn’t be a building. “It should have to be a sense of arrival.” Here is a man who understands the significance of symbol, and the power they hold to rally and unite peoples. “It should be an icon, an emblem on stationery and books.” Furthermore, he possesses a sincere trust in the ability of our local architects to discover this “sense of arrival” if they’re given the opportunity to break out of our influences. “We need a building that’s truly ours. Something that can rival the Guggenheim or the Burj Khalifa. Something that can garner the world’s approval.”
The Red Sterling
The generous open layout invites natural ventilation all year long. A unique roof line character effectively for harvesting torrential rainwater for emergency water supply, fire fighting, and disaster. Made to reflect on the tropical climate, the design observes solar orientation fostering the wash of light as well as to catch the running shade.
Location: Laguna, Philippines
Type: Commercial Industrial
Up, Up, and Away
Arch. Ian’s appreciation for technology is possibly unrivaled by any other architect in the local scene. “I want to be established for using technology as an art tool to come up with new designs and levels of expression for architecture.” He does not want to go down in history as unoriginal—current trends in architecture rely too much on mimicry. Arch. Ian challenges his team of architects and designers to come up with their own of interpreting. “Through that exercise—much like art making—you will stumble on your own style and identity that can rival some international designs.”
Speaking like an experienced art teacher, he strips down this thought exercise to its barest essentials. “If the form is clear and the intention is present, it needn’t be complex. There is an elegance in simplicity.” Arch. Ian’s garrulous passion for art and architecture attracts professionals much like him. Arch. Ian boasts of his stable of employees. These are people who don’t just view architecture as just another job, just another paycheck. These are people who still care, who still wish to make a difference, who have some bright idea that may challenge preconceived notions. If any hopefuls wish to join Arch. Ian’s team, he shares that they should be open-minded and humble enough to learn.
Passion is key—the passion to try putting things together. Arch. Ian’s requirements never strayed into technique and prestige—he focused on forward-thought and flexibility. “They must have a fascination with technology. At the very least, they should understand the principles of managing and transforming data into functional creations.” Here, Arch. Ian forges his second amalgam: architecture and technology. Programming and coding, to him, are essentially permutations of architecture and vice versa. “In IT, they call system information design ‘information architecture’ and in architecture, there’s a process called ‘architectural programming’ where we try to program spaces.”
One of Arch. Ian’s artistic heroes is Arturo Luz. Much like Luz, Arch. Ian’s design philosophy stems from careful projection and strong intent. There is a deliberation and measurement in a Luz, a “strong thinking process” unique to the era. Arch. Ian confesses he has an endearment towards planned things, towards products and objects that required contemplation rather than fortune and inspiration. “When I see a Luz, I can see the thought process behind it. There’s a sensing of grounding with the composition and choice of color. It’s not instant.” Arch. Ian is arguably quite similar.
He is a man of reservation and bouts of passion recall the interplay of artistry and calculation in Luz’s iconic works. On the architecture front, Arch. Ian is a firm proponent of National Artist Leandro Locsin. He admires how the late master could create something so simple and yet so grand and beautiful without relying on cosmetics. Across international waters, Arch. Ian admires the subtleties of Frank Lloyd Wright. A visionary whose designs attempted to co-exist with the surrounding environment, Frank Lloyd Wright has undoubtedly influenced Arch. Ian’s move towards sustainable design.
A play on color lines brings forth the spice needed in establishing identities to the entryways as well as creating visual interest to the facade. The design employed an experimental take on thermal winds, which leverages on the use of dark color themed envelope in an attempt to induce airflow with the exchange of cooler air on temperature differences with the shaded pockets.
Location: Laguna, Philippines
Type: Commercial Offices
A Single Bound
An LEED accredited professional, Arch. Ian still believes that sustainability should be essential to the design. “It’s about lowering your carbon footprint. It should be as basic as plumbing,” he shared. The long-term costs of running a building becomes much more expensive than its initial construction costs, so “we have to be systems-thinking.” He desires that both architect and client should always take into consideration the design’s environmental impact—from the creation of a project, how it runs through its life cycle, until its natural end.
When pressed to specify strategies to minimize a building’s impact, his answer was wonderfully obvious. “Trees,” he said. “Look higher. The environment is just recycling inside.” The key to kickstarting this natural self-correction is plants. “Bring back plants. Bring back open spaces. There should be more effort in creating green areas.” Arch. Ian recalls the halcyon days of young Manila’s city planning, when the city was slated to rival the French boulevards. “The doctrine was simple: city beautiful.” Fulgar Architects recently joined a design competition wherein they had to reconceptualize the Supreme Court.
Residing in one of UP Manila’s buildings, the Supreme Court is a sentinel of truth and virtue, standing tall and stalwart with Greco-Roman pillars and mullions. The challenge posed to the Fulgar Architects was to humble this paragon of justice. No longer should the Supreme Court be looked up to as gods. “They wanted us to come up with a design where they could come down to and be with the people.” Arch. Ian and his team approached the challenge with an unyielding inquisitiveness and love for improvement. His casual passion and honesty are some of the most endearing aspects of his character. “It was a fun competition.” he smiled, “We learned a lot.”
The Golden Age
Fulgar’s prediction for his future is as measured and realistic as they come, but upon talking with him, I can’t help but feel that he’s simply being true to hinself. “I wish to do what I’m good at. In my heart, I’m a tinker. I just want to create stuff. Whether there’s a client or not, I’d probably be busy with a new idea. Exhausting myself while doing something new.” His wish is to share what he learns, to inspire the next generations of architects as a teacher, reminding young firebrands of their fundamentals and where they came from.
Arch. Ian Fulgar has a wealth of experience and technological knowledge both practical and esoteric, but he still shows unrelenting wonder at the novel, interesting, and important. According to him, one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century was the Internet. “There are no more borders. Conversations are instant. Information is archived. All minds coming together to share. That’s really amazing, isn’t it?” He views the once-coined “Information Superhighway” as an empowering force not just in the architectural discipline, but also in advancing civilization. Technology should always be used to help people, to facilitate collaboration, cooperation—ideas that define our society and make it great.
Arch. Ian Fulgar is a man of paradoxes. He’s a skilled architect, a formally trained artist, and a canny proponent of technology. While one may desire a convenient label that can combine all three into one, it seems this fusion could diminish the magnitude each of the title holds. Arch. Ian is not one-third architect, one-third artist, and one-third technologist—he is all of these things, all at the same time. An architectural doctrine may be used in a sculpture. The subject’s dimensions in an oil painting could be repurposed in a design feature. A technological innovation can influence the direction of art creation or blueprint drafting. Arch. Ian deftly navigates labels and definitions, coming out the other side like a man of tomorrow taking a stroll through the present day. D+C
Building Industry Center
A distinct form having arrays of solar fins guarding the building envelope from excessive tropical sun exposure, the proposed project sits at the South Science and Technology Park of the University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City maximized for vegetation to promote bio-diversity with water feature on the west side as a way to provide for cooler air exchange.
Location: Quezon City, Philippines
Type: Research Facility
Imagine a building that breathes. Designed with multiple vertical air shafts to take advantage of naturally induced air circulations, light tropical breeze constantly weaves through the apartment units, corridors and common areas. Each unit provides good opportunities for views and light as well as access to balcony spaces.
Location: Mandaue City, Philippines
Type: Apartment Building
ICDC Concept elevates tropical design of Philippine office and commercial buildings by introducing an innovative surface envelope called ventilation graters that scrapes off moving air to create distributed breezes within the open corridors and pathways as well as provide particle filtration systems to promote for cleaner air.
Mars Ravelo Komik Museum
Inspired by the versatility of paper, the structures are fragmented into several core units each comprising unique characteristics of folded planes and flipping sheets of insulated structural panels. With a cool climate and luscious landscape, the complex is designed to cultivate for a variety of daytime and nighttime activities.
Location: Tagaytay City, Philippines
Type: Museum Complex
One East Commercial Center
One East Commercial Center is a well-researched architectural product formulated to increase the real property investment value of an idle land by developing a rental business center for retail, service, and food shops catering to the community demographics of Marikina City.
Thymotecture is the accumulation of spirited technologies enabling developments in architecture for empathic skyscrapers of tomorrow, capable of monitoring and measuring anthropogenic and environmental interference using techno-organic surface appliances as building materials.
Location: Manila Philippines
Type: High-rise Building
Essentially the idea is about buildings exchanging data and communicating with each other around the globe to measure and react to urban information. Building parts can then start to act as appliances communicating with other building parts in as much as one whole building interacting with its surrounding site or even with an entire city and then reacting to these simulations with built-in actuators from filtration to alternative energy
WORDS: John Ravino Duanan
IMAGE: Fulgar Architects