World-renowned architect Zaha Hadid once said, “Architecture is no longer a man’s world. This idea that women can’t think three dimensionally is ridiculous.” As the first woman to receive the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, an award that recognizes achievement in architecture, the late architect has inspired many women not just to pursue a career in architecture and design, but to have confidence in what they can contribute to the field as well.
In the Philippines, while it’s hard to get specific data on the number of women in the field, you can’t deny that female design professionals are taking up space and making a difference. Whether it’s by helping homeowners achieve their dream homes or mentoring young designers to become the best at what they do—these design professionals are without a doubt making a mark in the industry.
To celebrate Women’s Month, Realliving.com.ph turns the spotlight on four talented women who are contributing to Philippine architecture and interior design. These ladies prove, in more ways than one, that women can and, will always, do it.
Ar. Jillianne Gomez: Fulfilling a Childhood Dream
Ever since she was a kid, Jilli has always been drawn to activities that involved drawing, painting, and building. “At the young age of seven, I knew I wanted to design homes when I grow up,” she shares.
Growing up in a family of business people, dentists, and doctors, Jilli had no one to discuss the intricacies of becoming an architect with. In college, she took up what she considered as a practical course, going for Management Economics at Ateneo. However, as the saying goes, “what’s meant for you will always find its way to you.” A required viewing for her English class led her back to the path of architecture. “My professor made us watch ‘Sketches of Frank Gehry’ and I immediately felt an old familiar flame burning inside my chest,” recalls the architect.
Jilli went on to pursue architecture as a second degree at the University of the Philippines and she is now one of the design professionals behind Ikoniq Design Studio, a design firm that offers architecture, interior design, interior decorating, and construction services. Ikoniq has been building a mix of commercial and residential projects since 2015, including the revamped living, dining, and kitchen areas of Jim and Saab Bacarro which we featured on the website.
Working on various projects not only honed Jilli’s skills, it has also fueled her desire to make her mark in the field. She believes that while the world we live in has changed significantly when it comes to gender-oriented activities, it’s still easy to feel disheartened. “It takes a long time to achieve ‘success’ and to have a consistent stream of projects. It’s possible that it won’t pay as much as having your own business or having a corporate job, it’s time-consuming, and there will be more nos than yeses,” explains Jilli.
“Your success in this field, in the end, will rely on how trustworthy you are and that means delivering on your promise.”
Building a network of clients helps according to the architect. In addition to knowing who to tap, Jilli highlights the importance of knowing how to communicate your ideas and marketing your skills. “While it’s so easy for architecture to take over your life, know that without clients, you will be designing for no one,” she muses.
Expanding one’s circle is one of Jilli’s pieces of advice to girls who want to become architects, too. She says, “your success in this field, in the end, will rely on how trustworthy you are and that means delivering on your promise. You also need to be okay with rejection and know in your heart that what is for you will be for you and what isn’t won’t be.”
What’s in store for Jilli and Ikoniq? They are currently working on the family home of Drew and Iya Arellano. “It will be constructed this year in the most beautiful site I know I’ll have the privilege of designing,” she shares.
IDr. Iris Taguinod: Building a Legacy
It’s no secret that choosing a course in college can be daunting. Would you be able to commit to a four-year course without thinking if a different path is a much better fit for you? While her mother wanted her to become a dentist, IDr. Iris Taguinod knew that it wasn’t for her. After looking up the courses offered at Mapua Institute of Technology, Iris knew she had to study B.S. Interior Design.
She was a hundred percent committed to becoming an interior designer that even before she graduated, she told herself she’ll have her own design firm someday. After learning the necessary skills and gaining experience from some of the country’s top interior design firms after graduating, Iris started taking on freelance projects as an extra challenge before the pandemic. Just like how COVID-19 upended many plans, the interior designer found herself worrying about the future of her practice.
“What I love most about my job is when a design becomes a reality. It’s not just a design anymore – it’s a space and it exists. My design can be experienced and that is amazing.”
Headstrong and highly motivated, Iris started coming up with ideas for an interior design firm with a former colleague, interior designer Roy Javier. “Mod & Noble started as a furniture design service before evolving into a full-time interior design studio. The path wasn’t easy but we both want our designs out there like a legacy that we can be proud of. We want our art inside people’s homes or commercial spaces,” Iris explains.
As the chief executive officer and design director of Mod & Noble, Iris balances both the business and interior design sides of the studio. It helps that she has a clear vision of what their designs should achieve. “Interior design deals with human behavior and lifestyle. The challenge is making sure that you meet what your clients want and what they need. What I love most about it is when a design becomes a reality. It’s not just a design anymore – it’s a space and it exists. My design can be experienced and that is amazing,” the designer happily shares.
Circling back to the idea of creating a legacy of functional yet striking designs, Mod & Noble also works with young designers who make up the team. Not only do Iris and Roy encourage the young ones to design and pitch to clients, they also regularly hold activities that aim to improve their skills.
“Their minds are fresh and the majority of them are risk-takers in designing spaces which we really support. We see ourselves in them, especially with how ambitious and motivated they are,” Iris says. As a teaching firm, Mod & Noble is also a place where ideas, tips, and the ins and outs of the industry are shared. Iris, together with Roy, want the younger generation to always see the bigger picture, especially if they want to put up their own business in the future.
In achieving success, the interior designer values the people she surrounds herself with. By turning to people and colleagues who want to see her succeed, Iris’s dream legacy is slowly taking shape. After all, with an eye for design and a heart for sharing knowledge, triumph is within her reach.
Ar. IDr. Isabelle Zuniga - Ong Sitco: Balancing Architecture and Interior Design
It’s not every day that you get to meet a licensed architect who is also a licensed interior designer. While an architect can have an eye for styling and an interior designer can be knowledgeable about structures, a double threat is a rare gem, to say the least. When do you bring your architect hat and when is it time to put on the interior designer cap?
For Ar. IDr. Isabelle Ong Sitco, bringing both hats to all projects is the secret to meeting the expectations of clients. “By being equipped with the knowledge and experience in both fields, I’m able to produce specific creative design solutions. I get to see both sides of the industry in every project – exterior and interior,” she explains.
Since her father is an architect, Isabelle grew up exposed to the field of architecture. Seeing the plans and the drawing instruments piqued her interest and not long after, she started drawing their house. As years passed by, Isabelle also got interested in interior design which inspired her to take up the course in college.
“Never be afraid to follow your dreams. Find your passion and always strive to be better. Have that hunger for learning and remember that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, when you work hard, and when you pray for it.”
“My father told me to take up architecture first then later study interior design. He told me that I will have an edge if I’m an architect and an interior design as well. I’ll be able to understand and read technical plans. I knew it will be a long road of studying, but my mind was set on the idea,” the design professional recalls.
You know what they say, parents know best. After passing both licensure examinations, Isabelle now heads Iztilo Interiors, a professional interior design service. Just like how her Dad explained, being both an architect and an interior designer helps in managing the projects that come her way.
“I understand the technical aspects in every drawing or plan then I bring the interior design hat in terms of interior finishing, furnishing, and styling. I can design exterior architecture and interior design as well. Space planning, design, and the technical aspects all go hand-in-hand,” Isabelle explains.
Her aptitude for space planning shines through in the projects she has worked on, some of which are featured on Real Living. From condo units to compact homes, Isabelle knows how to make every inch of space count – making sure the owners have everything they need in the space. For her, each home is a collaboration between the client and the design professional. “Value your design as you value your clients. There are no small or big projects as all are treated equally,” she muses.
Her tip to women who want to tread a similar path? “Never be afraid to follow your dreams. Find your passion and always strive to be better. Have that hunger for learning and remember that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, when you work hard, and when you pray for it.”
Ar. Christel Olmoguez-Lim: Born to Build
Similar to Isabelle, architect Christel Olmoguez-Lim was born into a family who has ties with the construction industry. Her father is an engineer and it made sense that the eldest child would become an architect. “I was doubtful that I would do well but I believe in obeying my parents. The rest, as they say, is history,” says Christel.
In the school where she studied, Christel noted that there were more men taking up architecture. “Women were not far behind. When I started out in my career as an architect doing construction work, I thought I had to act like a man to be competitive in the field. I eventually learned to embrace my attributes as a female builder and I have become a better leader from doing so,” she adds.
The challenge for the architect builder was gaining the trust of her clients, construction workers, and other allied partners in the industry. To rise above, Christel learned how to handle different situations and people to get the job done.
Through her practice in Davao, the architect has worked on a variety of projects, most of which are home design and construction-related. Over the years, Christel has noted the varying tastes of homeowners – some prefer going for the modern look while others stick to Filipino. There are also a few who prefer the Mediterranean style. “I am glad that Davaoeños are slowly realizing the need for architects and other design professionals in the field of construction. Much more than designing structures, architects have a greater task and we are positioned to help improve the life of not just private individuals but also of the community,” Christel relates.
“Women who want to pursue a career in a male-dominated industry must be confident enough and learn to recognize their strengths such as attention to detail and being empathetic.”
Creating impact is at the core of the architect’s practice to say the least. She considers her work as a way of blessing many lives – from giving construction workers a source of income to delivering a home that its owners will enjoy. As Christel puts it, “I love helping people build their dream homes. Seeing the smiles on the team members’ faces and the client’s joy are priceless.”
While her father had a hand in the career she pursued, Christel is determined to make leave her mark in her own terms. By being truthful and gracious, she wants to lead her team in achieving more goals. If there’s one thing she learned about working in the construction industry, it’s that one must strive to find a niche – whether it’s as a designer, as a contractor, or as a project manager.
‘Women who want to pursue a career in a male-dominated industry must be confident enough and learn to recognize their strengths such as attention to detail and being empathetic. Be optimistic, work smart, and learn everything you can about the industry. Never be afraid to ask questions when you’re not familiar with something and don’t shy away from asking for help when needed,” Christel advises.
In a world where one’s gender no longer defines the career path he or she can take, it’s inspiring to see empowered women thrive in the fields they have chosen. With these ladies as role models, it won’t be surprising if more girls would want to work in the home and design industry. Wouldn’t that be exciting to see?
Special thanks to architect Jilli Gomez, IDr. Iris Taguinod, Ar. IDr. Isabelle Zuniga - Ong Sitco, and architect Christel Olmoguez-Lim.