I am an architect in Hong Kong with a travel and design blog I founded six years ago, and run in my spare time. I am completely immersed in this city’s culture, having lived here for 11 years now. However, I am still rooted strongly in my Filipino identity.
I was born in Manila, and I lived there until I was eight. This was in the mid-1980s, which was a politically turbulent period in the Philippines that ended with the People Power Revolution ousting former president Ferdinand Marcos. Many families decided to emigrate at this time, and my family ended up in America. My mother wanted stability and a rock-solid education for her children, so we soon found ourselves in Texas.
After I earned my Master of Science degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University in 2005, I decided to live in Asia and reconnect with my roots. That was three years before the Beijing Olympics, and I felt that there would be many opportunities waiting for me throughout China.
I ended up living in Hong Kong, where you can meet so many different people from all walks of life. However, it’s also so transitory and things moves so fast here that years and friends go by in a blink of an eye. The energy in Hong Kong ebbs and flows – it’s never constant, but that’s how I like it.
I spent my first 10 years here working for various corporate architecture firms. My life was contained in glass towers, elevators and steel – it was ironic being an architect and having a somewhat detached relationship with the city.
I soon realized that when you are designing for a city, you should be a part of it – that way, you gain a deeper and more intimate understanding of the environment. That’s why, since I let go of the corporate world early last year to set up my own consultancy – which I named JJA/Bespoke Architecture – I’ve been spending less time in the office so I can go and be a part of the city, designing while I’m in coffee shops and drawing inspiration from the outdoors. People, sunlight, textures, patterns, sound, music – I capture these with my camera or phone and then blog about them on Wanderlister+.
I am fortunate that a culture of hot-desking means I can work from anywhere. My clients are in Hong Kong and Manila, and by not having a fixed desk, this allows me the perk of regularly traveling to, and designing for, two dynamic cities. Even though I haven’t lived in Manila for some time, it’s still a very familiar city. Everything is the same in a spiritual and a sensory way, though architecturally a lot has changed due to modernization.
On the other hand, Hong Kong is still the glitziest city in Asia. It’s also very creative – we have festivals like Clockenflap and Art Basel, and with the Tai Kwun Centre for heritage and art, and with the M+ museum for visual culture set to open soon, there are even more reasons for culture lovers to visit.
I start my day with a cup of coffee and avocado on toast at Elephant Grounds Coffee (8 Wing Fung St, Wan Chai) in the Star Street Precinct, which I designed. It’s airy and relaxed, so it’s a great place to catch up on the news, read a book, do a few sketches or meet up with friends before a morning walk.
I continue my morning with a one-hour walk along the Peak Circle Walk (Victoria Peak) – Hong Kong Island’s highest point, with 360-degree views of the city. It’s a great place for meditation. I like to take long pauses at a bench overlooking the city’s green landscapes and modern architecture, and getting a greater and higher perspective – literally! If I’m in a hurry, I take the speedy Peak Tram (Victoria Peak) back down.
I like to get a haircut and shave on Saturday mornings at The Mandarin Barber (5 Connaught Rd Central, Central). These old guys may not give you the edgiest and fanciest of looks, but they do a great classic haircut at a low price, and with unbelievably fantastic service.