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Female Forward

4 Women Trailblazers in the Field of Architecture

You might have already heard of Leandro Locsin, Francisco Manosa, Juan F. Nakpil, Pablo Antonio. These are the familiar names of some of our country’s best-known architects, along with their iconic concrete-and-steel creations—are all in our recent memories.

But have you heard of Architect Nina Bailon-Arce who designed the Bangko Sentral branches in

Roxas and Tacloban? Or trailblazers such as Cathy Carunungan who is constantly building future-ready health facilities during this time of pandemic? It isn’t surprising if you haven’t. The role that women have played in architecture and design often go under the radar.

In the Marvel’s comic book Fantastic 4, each of the powers (as well as their personalities) of the Fantastic Four correspond to the four basic elements: earth (Thing), wind (Invisible Woman), fire (Human Torch), and water (Mister Fantastic). This is our version of these acclaimed heroes - the Philippine Architecture Industry’s Femmetastic 4, all working to promise us a good built environment. These women trailblazers are heroes in their field, superwomen in real life.

1. EARTH (Ar. Maria Nina Bailon-Arce)

“The Thing” possesses superhuman strength, endurance, and durability. But it also represents being grounded and constant, like the Earth. And so is Architect Nina Bailon-Arce.

A female architect with a humble beginning and an artistic turn of mind, Bailon-Arce’s career journey has been nothing short of exciting. Raised by public school teachers, she knows the value of hard work and perseverance, and that didn’t go unnoticed by her peers and mentors. The late UST dean Augusto Concio invested in her talent during her early student years. Mr. and Mrs. Felipe F. Cruz of F.F.Cruz & Company, Inc. honed her creative chops. Architect Mariano Arce, Jr. snagged more than a beaute and got himself a life and business partner. The rest, as some would say, is herstory. Their firm’s projects, mostly government institutions, commercial, educational, transport and sports facilities, have been blurring comfortably boundaries between fine art and design since 1987. Known to work closely with government institutions, Arce- Bailon-Arce’s designs pepper the metro and beyond - but some noteworthy designs include several Bangko Sentral Branches in Roxas, Tacloban, and Palawan, South Luzon Toll Plazas and Supervision Buildings in the South, Office of the Ombudsman Building in Mindanao, Supreme Court Manila Hall of Justice, and cultural centers like BSP Museum and BSP Trade Exhibit Hall at the PICC Complex.

She has also been serving in the Girl Scout of the Philippines Real Properties & Buildings Committee for almost 20 years (with 3 years spent as its chairwoman), continually giving suggestions on the improvement and development of its training centers nationwide. I’ve got the chance to interview this true epitome of a Girl Scout, and I couldn’t be more proud of being a girl.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Museum, PICC Complex, Pasay City

How did you know that you wanted to be an Architect?

I initially wanted to take up Fine Arts in Advertising. My father convinced me to pursue this career as I was good in drawing and had won several drawing contests. My parents, who were public school teachers at that time, thought they would not be able to finance my college education. So they wrote to the deans of UST & UP where I passed the entrance exams in 1976 to ask for a scholarship. Dean Augusto Concio of UST took me in as a Grant-In-Aid Scholar and had me work one hour a day at the Office of the Dean at the College of Architecture & Fine Arts. Seeing my many qualifications, he told me to take up Architecture instead.

What were your starting years like as an architect?

I am sure it is an industry where the majority of your seniors are men. Some would find it hard to penetrate the still male-dominated profession at work. I believe otherwise, as I was given priority as a woman. However, I took no shortcuts in getting here. I worked my way up through real hard work and commitment to the craft, and I knew even before that I’m equally as worthy as the male architects working next to me.

During my early practice, I was allowed and ushered to the male dominated construction setting. F.F.Cruz & Company, Inc., where my classmates were employed, hired me in 1982 and that’s where I spent my two years of apprenticeship, pre-board. The President, Mr. Felipe F. Cruz, was impressed by my handwriting in the application form, and never let me go since then. Though this is a construction company focused mainly on roads and bridges, I was kept busy designing temporary facilities for their construction projects. Moreover, the whole Cruz family trusted me with other family projects. Their eldest daughter Josie Cruz Natori, renowned Filipino-American fashion designer who ventured into production of delicate lingerie, robe, and ready-to-wear sold in upscale department stores in New York

and in at least 15 countries worldwide, trusted me with the design of the factory in Antigua, Central America. I also got to design and supervise the buildings of the Natori Garments Factory in Pasig. Mr. Cruz’ wife, Mrs. Angelita Cruz tagged me along while doing her charity work in schools, offices for Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in Fort Santiago, Collegio De Sta Monica in Angat, and the

likes. The most significant of which is the renovation of the Apostolic Nunciature (the official residence of Vatican here in Manila) for the coming of Pope John Paul II in 1995 and Pope Francis in 2015. A year or so before Pope Francis’ arrival, we designed pro-bono the “Pope Francis Center for the Orphans and Elderly Victims of Typhoon Yolanda'' in Palo, Leyte, which he blessed during his visit to Tacloban.

How did family life change the way you practice architecture?

I must say it was quite a feat to focus on my budding profession and being a wife and mother to a then growing family, at the same time. While I was never the type to count the number of hours I had to work, I finished work ahead of time to go home to my 3 little kids. I almost wanted to give up work to focus on bringing up my kids, but I was offered a good deal by Mr. Cruz. As I have worked with the family for quite long already, I became the Chief Architect and was allowed to have flexible working hours. I enjoyed the same for seven (7) more years until the recession in 1997.

Aside from looking after the children, I have to assist my husband, Architect Mariano Arce, Jr., when we

were starting Arce-Bailon-Arce in 1987. I have to handle the paperwork and documentation and work until the wee hours in the morning to finish the renderings which were still manually done at that time. We have to put up drafting tables at our apartment unit to start-up our consultancy services. During weekends, we will do the site inspection of the projects we were doing, bringing our 3 boys with us. So

even though we were going to a birthday party, they would go around the house as if doing site inspections. One good thing that happened though is that two (2) of them also took up architecture and followed our footsteps. The 3rd studied Journalism and helps us now in the preparation of documents for biddings.

Being married to another Architect is not a bed of roses. It was a struggle most of the time, but this made us work harder, not just for our projects but more importantly for our relationship. Now, I can say, we have both found our own niche in designing and managing our company. We complement and complete each other. We have grown as a couple and a partner at work.

Christ The King Parish Church, Filinvest II, Quezon City

Office of the Ombudsman-Mindanao, Davao City

I’m sure you are versatile and you took on a lot of projects. But what is your expertise/specialization?

The company is in the general practice of Architecture, Building Design and Consultancy Services for private and government entities. We do mostly Government Institutions, Commercial, Educational, Religious, Transport, and Sports Facilities.

Sustainable Architecture, Green Building Design, on the other hand is a requirement nowadays which can be applied in all or any of our designs. Every architect should be knowledgeable in basic concepts of green building and sustainability like orientation, natural lighting and ventilation. Green Building Code is a referral code of the National Building Code especially if the building area exceeds 10,000 sq.m, so Green Building Design may be an expertise but may not be a specialization per se. However, the PRC is carefully studying this at the moment to really define specializations in the Field of Architecture.

Who are your role models?

First and foremost, I would like to pay tribute to the late Architect & Town Planner, Dean Augusto Concio for trusting and believing in me, an underprivileged student. I thank him for his encouragement and support, for pushing me to perform in school competitions, for making me aspire to go beyond

what I can do. I thank him for helping me make many of my dreams come true and be faithful to the profession he has chosen for me.

I am also grateful to my former employers, Mr. & Mrs. FF Cruz, for instilling in me early on the value of rendering assistance to the church and society. Because of their modeling, it became very easy for me to pay the goodness forward by mentoring newly graduates during their apprenticeship. The Girl Scouts of the Philippines has also played a significant role into who I am today (I served with the GSP Real Properties & Buildings Committee with Architect Manuel Mañosa, Jr. as my co-member and adviser). I had been serving in the GSP RPBC for almost 20 years (with 3 years as Chairwoman) giving suggestions on the improvement and development of their training centers nationwide. I’ve spent almost 9 years in the Central Board and 3 years with their EXECOM.

How do you see post pandemic architecture?

As humanity will be hyper-focused on hygiene, architecture design will be greatly improved and will move into a different direction. Several non-negotiables in space planning will and should be considered such as: decongesting offices, putting tall partitions, lowering room density by designing enclosed spaces for specific use/s, adding shower facilities for workers who commute, installing directional cues to remind people to maintain social distancing, and the likes. Use of motion sensing technology to minimize physical contact with shared surfaces will be a necessity. Homes will be planned and improved to cater to study or work-from-home scenarios.


Philippine Tropical Forest Science Center (PhilTROP), University of the Philippines Los Baños

What can women architects like you contribute to post pandemic architecture?

As a woman architect in the post pandemic world, the practice of the profession should reflect the values seen in the home.

We as architects, born as women who are naturally nurturing and protective of the family residing in the house that we manage, should have stricter policies implemented in planning. The non-negotiables in the home should also be thought of when designing any project we are given.

Women become caring mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters. We know their very nature and how our homes become more comfortable and caring.

The Magna Carta of Women (Republic Act No. 9710) defines Gender and Development Program (GAD) as the development perspective and process that is participatory and empowering, equitable, sustainable, free from violence, respectful of human rights, supportive of self-determination and actualization of human potentials. It seeks to achieve gender equality as a fundamental value that should be reflected in development choices and contends that women are active agents of development, not just passive recipients of development.

GAD focuses on Gender Mainstreaming or a strategy for:

• Making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of policies, programs and projects in all social, political, civil, and economic spheres so that women and men benefit equally.

• Assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs in all areas and at all levels


(1) Executive Order No. 273 – Approving and Adopting the Philippine Plan for Gender-Responsive Development (PPGD) 1995-2025 Executive Order (EO) 273, issued on September 9, 1995 and signed by President Fidel V. Ramos, adopted the Philippine Plan for Gender Responsive Development IPPGD) 1995-2025. The PPGD 1995-2025 is a 30 year perspective plan that outlines the policies, strategies, programs and projects that the government must adopt to enable women to participate in and benefit from national development while EO 273 directs all government agencies, departments, bureaus, offices and instrumentalities, including government owned and controlled corporations, at the national level, subnational and local levels…

I would like to specially mention the above Magna Carta of Women. Women architects are enjoined to adopt this program into their designs. Women are the ones knowledgeable of these needs to make the experience of gender equality possible. Personally speaking, I have worked with institutions actively implementing GAD and have provided spaces for mother’s lactation room, baby feeding, nursery rooms in lobbies and public spaces of our projects. It is the woman’s unique personal experience at home, in the workplace, and in social places that will give light to certain requirements in design to make “equality of experience for everyone” achievable.

Moreover, mothers know more how to take care of kids and family in such a loving and caring way, and how to keep the home safe and maintain a healthy environment. Aside from implementing this in our designs, we women can be more active in disseminating this through:

• Writing articles in our organization’s magazine to keep everyone informed.

• Just as Green & Sustainable Architecture has been pushed into law, there should also be Health & Wellness which should be pushed into law.

• Being part of other active organizations such as Girl Scouts of the Philippines and helping educate girls to succeed in life. But most importantly, women architects must find ways to innovate and never stop learning. Just as a mother adjusts and hones her skill to match her growing child’s needs, we need to evolve to cater to the needs of the times.

As the world evolves and pandemics are here to stay, architecture is not just to provide space and shelter or to house people’s needs, but also to keep humanity safe and protected from unseen maladies.

GSIS Quezon City Branch, Elliptical Road

Manila Hall of Justice - Supreme Court, City of Manila


a) APEC Architect No. 41 conferred in June 22, 2015

b) ASEAN Architect, one of the First 40 Filipino Architects emplaced in the ASEAN Registry, Reg. No. AA/PH027, July 4, 2014

c) National Executive Vice President (FY 2016-2017) of the United Architects of the Philippines

d) Secretary General (FY 2015-2016) of the United Architects of the Philippines

e) Elevated to the College of Fellows for ARCHITECTURAL PRACTICE During the 39th UAP National Convention, April 18, 2013 SMX Convention Center

f) Fifth Placer: Philippine Regulation Commission Architecture Board Exams PRC Reg.# 6970, March 2, 2013

g) Magna Cum Laude, First in 50 years for the College of Architecture & Fine Arts, UST, April 1981

h) 5th Place: Consejos Superior De Los Coleges De Arquitetos, España Perez Pinero Award, 1981 U.I.A. XIVth International Congress, Warsaw Poland Design Competition Theme: “Rehabilitation of a Small Unit in a Degraded Urban Environment”

i) Third Prize: National Competition for Students of Architecture “Eco- Independence” 1980

j) National Council Convention Awardee (one of the 3) Triennium 2012-2015 Girl Scouts of the Philippines, May 29, 2015

k) "Young Achiever’s Award” for distinction in the Field of Technology For excelling in her chosen field of Architecture During the Golden Jubilee Awards Ceremony, May 25, 1990, on the occasion of the 50 years of the Girl

Scouts of the Philippines (1940-1990)

l) Juliette Low Scholar, Representative to the International Girl Scout Conference “Earth ‘N Us II”, Philadelpia, USA, June -July 1975 Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, June 25 - July 4, 1975

m) Partner at Arce-Bailon Arce Architects the Designer of the following notable buildings in the country:

• Bangko