The Architect and Architecture that is Ourselves

[Address of Architect John Immanuel R. Palma to the ADDU College Honors Convocation, February 22, 2016]



When I received the letter coming from the office of the vice president inviting me to speak here today, I paced around my room thinking to myself, why me? Am I not too young to be giving speeches? Do I have enough knowledge and experience to share with everyone? The truth is: having to deliver it to everyone here frightened me a bit, no, a lot! But as a true Atenean, I would not let this opportunity pass. I committed myself, opened my laptop and got writing last night. Just as a true architecture student or an architect would do!

I feel blessed to be here with you to celebrate the achievements of the Ateneo de Davao University students, and the school’s commitment to academic, spiritual, professional and service endeavors. I am always amazed and astounded at students who excel in their studies considering the many challenges and obstacles that you may have faced along the way. In my search for the perfect message to convey this day, it seemed appropriate to focus my remarks on what I am passionate about: Architecture.

In doing so, I’d like to focus on two topics: first, on the awakening of our inner architect, second, on designing our own piece of architecture, ourselves.

In architecture school we are trained to develop the skill and art of planning, designing, and overseeing.  These along with other skills are what we use to create the structures in which we work, sleep, play and pray. Unconsciously all of us have been doing these things in our daily life. We have been planning, designing and envisioning our lives in order to attain a certain goal. Architects are considered to be at the very top of the design process, Similarly, we can be architects and be on top of our own lives.

The ancient Roman architect, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, wrote in his treatise, De Architectura, the qualifications of an architect:

An architect must have both a natural gift and also readiness to learn. For neither talent without instruction nor instructions without talent can produce the perfect craftsman. He should be a man of letters, a skilled draughtsman, a mathematician, familiar with historical studies, a diligent student of philosophy, acquainted with music and not ignorant of medicine.

Based on these criteria, I believe everyone here has the qualifications of an architect. And just because you are not gifted in design doesn’t mean that you can’t design your life.

As an architect, let me share with you three ways to awaken your inner architect.

Be a Visionary

In architecture the outcome of a project depends upon how the architect envisions it to be; this vision serves as the blueprint to the design. In life, your vision can literally serve as your blueprint for the future. As honor students, I consider your visioning skills to be highly developed. Why? Because being an honor student means that you did something exceptional. And anything exceptional you attempt is often birthed with a vision. It’s the vision that keeps you going even though you have a lot of things to do, it’s the vision that inspires hope when the struggle gets too hard and when failure becomes all too familiar. That is why you have to envision yourselves with a strong future, so that you can move forward confidently because you know where you are going.

Everyone has the ability to envision their future, but to be an architect requires you to be a visionary. To be a visionary dares you to see beyond present circumstances and innovations. It is when you turn your interest into a passionate goal and have a desire of change for the better. This ability to create a vision for your life is the force that renews your commitment to learn and look inward.

Always make sure to have a fresh pair of eyes and views as you look into your future. Remember, tired eyes rarely get to see a bright future. Learn to move on from your past but learn from it. By learning from the past you can better anticipate the future as history often repeats itself. Draw inspiration from your senses and awaken the visionary inside you. Doing these things will let you go beyond the typologies of your vision and give you a strong foundation to design an authentic path for your future.

Create Order

Another weapon that an architect has in its arsenal is the ability to create and restore order. An architect has to deal with the chaos of design considerations and factors, sorting them and analyzing them before coming out with a product of order: a design. By creating order, the architect can enhance productivity, decrease stress or improve the quality of life.

Order is created when you align your skills and abilities with your personality, dreams and passion. By knowing yourself and accepting your limitations, then you can pattern your life accordingly and align your actions with your heart.

When there is a factor for disorder, try restructuring your approach and see new challenges as a strength rather than a weakness. Create order by designing an environment where you can function best.

Oversee your development

After the architect has created the vision and developed the design, the next task is to oversee the execution of this vision and plan. This means recruiting the right talent, encouraging participation, increasing productivity and providing adequate resources and direction to bring the vision into life.

Similarly, as we are our own architects, we must oversee our own development. We must recognize our responsibility that we alone can act on our visions; otherwise they remain as unfulfilled ones. Often, we may require the assistance of others to help with our development. From our teachers, to our parents, and to our friends. Regardless of the steps you take, the accountability of the end product is yours. You alone have the power to design your life, but it is what you do with that power that is key.

Let’s look briefly at my second topic: designing our own piece of architecture, which is ourselves. As an architect, whenever I start to work on a design, I am guided by the three part rubric, “Firmitas, Utilitas et Venustas”, which was coined by Vitruvius. The three words translate to “Strength, Function and Delight”, and have come to be recognized as the cornerstone of building design for architects around the world.

On Strength

Like any building of sound structure, our own selves needs to have “Strength”—it has to be built to last. A building is made up of several components that is made of the right material and properly fit together to achieve structural stability. And like a building, we must select the right components to build ourselves and fit them together properly in order to last.

Find strength in the skills and knowledge equipped to you by your school, the Ateneo de Davao University, whose quest for excellent instruction and formation remain unchanged.

Find strength in your parents, siblings, relatives and friends, whose love and support for you will always be unfaltering.

Find strength from your experiences, learning from your mistakes and using them as a source of inspiration and knowledge.

And most importantly find strength from your Creator. Fortes in Fide

On Function

A standing, well-built building will have no value unless it has function. Similarly, use the gifts of knowledge and skills that you have to serve the purpose of the common good.   Use your gifts to give back to others in return for the support you have been given.

If you are not graduating this semester, use your talents to help lift up a fellow student you know is struggling at Ateneo.

If you will be graduating this April, I’d ask that you give back to others in your chosen profession or through community service.

Use your gifts to better the quality of life of everyone, to promote social justice and environmental protection. One highly contested issue now is the green spaces of Davao. Green spaces are essential in maintaining the quality of life here in Davao City. The benefits that these green spaces afford should be made accessible and readily available for all.

Ateneo has been true to its mission to engage in environmental protection by supporting the cause for the retention of green spaces and in behalf of the Green Davao Coalition we would like to express our gratitude for the support.

Use your gifts to start, engage and continue a dialogue on different issues. For it is through dialogue that we see transformative effects in all.

And lastly use your gifts to be men and women for others.

On Beauty

Delight represents the most difficult of the Vitruvian principles to define. It involves the aesthetics of a building, defined by its elegance and form. But allow me to express it in two elements: beauty and ornament.

I look to another early master of Architecture to define beauty. Leon Batista de Alberti, a fan of Vitruvius, said that beauty is found when all the parts are found in accordance and harmony with the whole to which they are bound. Beauty is something inherent, just like harmony in music, so that the whole work of architecture can breathe freely and harmoniously without discord. Beauty is not dependent on the richness of materials but on their harmonious use. More often the most common materials well used could be more harmonious than expensive materials used in a disordered manner.

If I were to place all of you in this criterion of beauty then I would have to say that I am in the presence of the most beautiful faces in Ateneo. For you have found ways to make everything work in harmony. Despite the obstacles and hardships you faced throughout the year, somehow you found how to make all of your parts work and create the beauty which we now see.

Ornament is a kind of complementary addition, an auxiliary to beauty. This convocation today is an ornament to your beauty. It is a testament and a representation of your hard work and skill, to make all things work and to excel in each of your own chosen courses.

Speaking of ornament, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the school and the architecture department for very good performance at the recent Licensure examination for architecture. Aside from the successful examinees, we are extremely proud of our two board placers, Architect Krysta Ledesma, our 9th placer, and Architect Neil John Bersabe, who topped the board exam.

But I challenge everyone here to find beauty and ornament in the most uncommon places.

Find beauty in the pursuit of knowledge. Be relentless in your curiosity and listen and learn. To those of you who will be leaving the school this year, learning cannot ever, ever be allowed to stop.

Find beauty in discipline, for in a world full of discord and distraction, discipline has never been more important.

Find beauty in generosity. Share your skills and talents for the benefit of the common good.

Find beauty when you embrace the discomforts in life and accept the ornament of failure for when you come out of it alive, stronger and wiser, it will give you a new perspective on life.

Adorn yourselves in ornaments of faith, hope and love.

Ornament yourselves by giving back to others.

Do not forget to adorn those who have been instrumental and helped make your achievement possible. Honor them as they share in your achievements.

Utilitas, Firmitas and Venustas. If, guided by a strong vision, you pursue these with all the determination you possess, one day before too long, without your knowing it, you shall have become one of the greatest architects of the future. And we need all of you to help shape a better future for all of us.

No pressure or anything, but we’re counting on you!

Friends, families, faculty, thank you for your time and congratulations again! Remember that in everything we do, we do all for the service of others and for the greater glory of God.

Mabuhay Ateneo, Mabuhay Davao, Mabuhay Pilipinas!











About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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