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Updated: February 19, 2016

Conversations: Jun Palafox on being and doing more

Almost 45 years into his profession, Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr. is far from done exceeding expectations.

Jun Palafox, Felino Palafox, architecture, urban planning, Philippine real estate

Palafox Associates founder Felino “Jun” Palafox Jr. wears many hats: principal architect, urban planner, speaker/lecturer, educator, husband, and father. And as if those weren’t enough, he’s also added another one to his rack with his earth-conscious efforts: green advocate. His eco-friendly initiatives are gaining recognition not just here but the world over, and he’s not pulling the brakes anytime soon.

MyProperty.ph had a one-on-one with the jack-of-all-trades himself (who is also a former seminarian) to find out how and why he chooses to go the extra mile.

With Palafox Associates now a world-renowned name in real estate and urban planning, what have you been up to lately?
For the past 3 weeks, I was in six countries. Since 1972, when I became a registered architect, and as an environment and urban planner in 1974, and when I founded Palafox Associates in 1989, I have been to 66 countries, observed and visited more than 2,000 cities, done architecture and urban planning projects in 38 countries, and have been a guest speaker in 18 countries. Last year alone, I went to Russia four times.

And you’ve passed on your knowledge to your Palafox Associates family?
I like to believe that the most talented architects, planners, designers, and engineers are with Palafox. Many of our alumni are all over the world already. There are about 800 Filipino architects in Singapore, 56 of them trained with Palafox. About the same number in Dubai, and 20 in Hong Kong, 12 in New York, about the same number in Chicago and Australia.

Speaking of family, it seems that your children have taken after you in terms of the desire to succeed. Karima, in particular, is deeply involved in your real estate activities. How is she handling herself?
She’s an urban planner, has two master’s degrees, and the first Filipino to become a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute of the United Kingdom, and she won an international award last year in the Urban Land Institute’s “Urban Land 40 Under 40.”

Palafox and Associates, architecture, urban planning, Philippine real estate
The Palafox and Associates Makati office

What is something many people may not know about Jun Palafox?
I teach. Not many people know that I am an adjunct professor of hotel design in Enderun Colleges. I have guest-lectured in 18 countries, including in the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1997.

I’m a former seminarian. My first vocation was to be a priest. So, the first thing in the morning, and before I go to bed at night, I work with God. I’m not exactly a saint, but I’m a very prayerful person.

Aside from architecture and urban planning, you’re also an advocate for the people and the environment.
What I learned in the seminary is that, when you see something wrong, and you don’t speak out, that’s a sin of omission. I call that patriotic architecture, or architecture for humanity. And this is the only country we have.

We [Palafox Associates] practice what my professors from the Harvard School of Design call “architectural activism”: architecture for humanity, democratic architecture, and architecture for the urban poor.

I may have failed to become a missionary priest, so my passion for architecture and urban planning is directed toward advocating for the urban poor and for the environment, and for good governance. Sometime ago, I was named one of the 48 heroes of philanthropy in Asia in Forbes Asia magazine—one of only of four named in the Philippines. They inquired about our architectural philanthropy, and they quantified it. That’s why we don’t have a building until now (laughs).

In 2009, I gave up $1 million in architect’s fees to save 366 trees in Subic. We had a client who instructed us to destroy 366 70-year-old trees for a 6-star hotel. I returned the $1 million. For me, a 50-year-old mature tree’s replacement value is Php9 million. That’s how I got known by the international media, as the crazy architect who would give up millions to save a few trees (laughs).

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