This accomplished and self-made lady Architect has managed to build an enterprise by dint of hard work, careful attention to details and following the principle that quality service to clients is of prime importance. As the Founder and CEO, Principal Architect and Planner of SNG Design Enterprise, together with the team, she envisions a venue where art and science merge, creating a built-up environment responsive not only to the basic needs of human dignity but also to uplift the quality of living. The firm aims to foster social responsiveness, meeting the needs and demands of the client through a service-oriented commitment and the responsible exercise of the profession.
Beneath her smile and simple demeanor is hidden a strong and determined woman who has been the recipient of several awards: Most Outstanding Alumna in the Field of Architecture by her Alma Mater St. Joseph’s College of Quezon City during its Diamond Jubilee, the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) National Presidential Award of Merit in 2017; the Women Icons Asia Award during its March 2018 Summit in Singapore; Outstanding Filipino Achiever in the Golden Globe Annual Business Awards also in March of 2018; and the Presidential Award for Outstanding Leadership and Service for handling both Committees of the Emergency Architects and on Liturgical Architecture and Sacred Spaces in June of 2018.
No wonder she has reached a position where she enjoys a certain level of prestige among her colleagues, as she considers working with others a source of joy, an occasion to meet new friends, and an opportunity to help others, with team work being a source of strength and synergy. She is now a Senior Fellow of the Royal Institution of Architects (based in Singapore); a Fellow of the United Architects of the Philippines, where she served as the Chairman of the Emergency Architects, as Founding Chairperson of the Committee on Liturgical Architecture and Sacred Spaces, as well as of the Guild of Liturgical Designers. She also served as the Chairperson of the Private Practice Committee and is now the incoming Executive Director of the Commission on Professional Practice. Apart from those, she has been appointed by the Professional Regulations Commission as an Evaluator for Continuing Professional Development Programs in Architecture.
Tell us about your early life and educational background. (About the Founder)
- As a young girl, way before I even considered being an aspirant to this profession, I had always been fascinated with how we as human beings can create space, observing how structures would be built, starting from a design concept, translated into a two-dimensional document, a blueprint of our design ideas (the floor plan layout from which follows the elevations, sections, reflected ceiling plan and other drawings) then gradually transformed into a 3-dimensional reality, from a scale model, whether virtually represented on the computer screen or into a physical model for the visual appreciation of our Clients. Every time I would pass by a construction site, there seemed to be a magnet pulling me in, making me wonder how, brick by brick, block by block, by dint of little things, with constancy and patience, the workers would end up forming a massive building, curious about the force that holds everything in place, able to withstand natural disasters, the Philippines being host to various calamities, being in the Pacific Ring of Fire. This inquisitive mind has led me to explore the possibility of taking up Architecture, which met with the approval of my parents (both chemists), with no one in the family venturing into a similar field, although my mother would tell me she thought I was more inclined to Interior Design. The prospect of providing shelter to the homeless, a roof over their heads, an enclosure to keep them safe, a structure that could accommodate hundreds and thousands of people whether horizontally or vertically, always hounded me.
- I was aware that Architecture was a man’s world, and being a female practitioner would really to be challenging especially at the start, where we usually have to prove ourselves worthy of the title based on merits and recognition of our capabilities, working side by side with male Engineers, Contractors, Developers and Business Entrepreneurs. I knew it wasn’t easy but I embraced the challenge and so far have not in the least bit regretted it.
- I studied Architecture at the premier state University of the Philippines Diliman College of Architecture, with a ladderized program of obtaining the Certificate in Architectural Drafting after the second year, the Diploma in Building Technology after the third year, and finally the Bachelor of Science in Architecture after finishing all the academic requirements. When I look back at all those sleepless nights working on the design plates, while hurdling exams in Physics, Calculus and Engineering Sciences, I am filled with gratitude towards my professors who have been my early mentors and guides for honing my skills and molding me into what I have become now.
- After graduation and after fulfilling the required apprenticeship prior to taking the Licensure Board Exam, I was fortunate to have received a scholarship from a German Foundation for a 3-year Post-graduate Course on Interdisciplinary Studies at the Centro Internazionale di Studi in Rome, Italy, where aside from the intense training on academic studies and research, in my second year I was also tasked to teach several courses to students from English-speaking countries (from Asia, America, Africa and Europe), since the medium of instruction was mainly in Spanish and Italian.
- My 3-year stay in Rome gave me the immense privilege of meeting up close and being blessed by Pope St. John Paul II on 3 occasions. I got exposed to Classical Architecture from the Early Christian Style to Romanesque, Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque styles of churches and cathedrals. This had a profound influence in my career as a liturgical architect and opened a host of possibilities years later.
- Having finished that course and having returned to Manila 3 years later, I went back to professional practice for 2 decades until decided to take up a degree in Master of Architecture, at the same university where I took my undergraduate studies. Thereafter, I took a diploma course at the UP School of Urban and Regional Planning and received the Dean’s Medallion for Academic Excellence (with a General Weighted Average of 1.17). Back in my early education, I always took my academic studies seriously and graduated as Class Valedictorian in both elementary and secondary levels. I am currently a PhD Candidate in Urban and Regional Planning, major in Estate Development, minor in Environmental Management. I am a Licensed Architect, Licensed Environmental Planner (my registration number coinciding with the number 911, corresponding to emergency and disaster response), Licensed Real Estate Broker, a Registered APEC Architect conferred by APEC Monitoring Council with Specialization on Disaster Resiliency/Emergency Architecture for Schools/ Universities and Sacred Space Design, and also a Registered ASEAN Architect, as approved by PRC and ASEAN Architects Council with Specialization on Liturgical Architecture.
- I am a Senior Fellow at the Royal Institution of Architects (based in Singapore); and a Fellow of the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP); where I served as the Former Chairman of the UAP Emergency Architects, as Founding Chairperson of the UAP Committee on Liturgical Architecture and Sacred Spaces (UAP-CLASS), as well as of the Guild of Liturgical Designers (GOLD). I also serve as the outgoing Chairperson of the UAP Committee on Private Practice and incoming Executive Director of the UAP Commission on Professional Practice. I have been appointed by the Professional Regulations Commission as an Evaluator for Continuing Professional Development Programs in Architecture.
- With service at the top of my priorities, although I do it wholeheartedly, passionately and for love of the profession, my hard work did not go unnoticed, and unexpectedly, as if by pleasant surprise, I have been the recipient of several awards: as Most Outstanding Alumna in the Field of Architecture by my Alma Mater St. Joseph’s College of Quezon City during its Diamond Jubilee, the UAP National President Award of Merit in 2017; the Women Icons Asia Award during its March 2018 Summit in Singapore; the recognition as an Outstanding Filipino Achiever in the Golden Globe Annual Business Awards also in March of 2018; and the Presidential Award for Outstanding Leadership and Service for handling both Committees of the Emergency Architects and on Liturgical Architecture and Sacred Spaces in June of 2018.
- With regard to our professional practice firm, I hold the position of being the Founder + CEO, and Principal Architect + Planner of SNG Design Enterprise since the year of its establishment in 2012. This year, we are celebrating 10 years of dynamic service in the industry, with various projects all over the country and even abroad.
The inception story of SNG Design Enterprise
My first job after I graduated from Architecture was the renovation of a Bank’s Head Office, under a prominent architect doing vast commercial buildings and malls, Ar. William V. Coscolluela, under the supervision of Ar. Edwin Gumila. After that, I trained under another well-known icon in Philippine Architecture, Ar. Rogelio G. Villarosa, who together with his son, Ar. Roy A. Villarosa, got me involved in several of their iconic projects, the Shangrila Hotel and EDSA Plaza in Mandaluyong being one of them, as part of my apprenticeship program.
After taking the Board Exam, I left for Italy where I developed my fondness for the Renaissance and classical architecture during my 3-year stay where I literally infused, as much as I could, the richness of architectural details in the numerous monuments and decorative buildings there were to be found in the Eternal City, and other parts of Europe. This came in handy when I started designing sacred spaces, and this soon turned out to be one of my areas of specialization: Liturgical Architecture.
Upon returning to the Philippines, having learned of my successful passing of the Architecture Licensure Examination a month after I arrived in Italy, I fulfilled my goal of becoming a registered and licensed architect. I went back to work for R.G.Villarosa Architects and became a consultant for various non-government organizations (NGOs)—helping them with schematic design concepts, coordinating with the key players of the projects, doing project management up to completion. Soon after, I served as Senior Partner at Pinnacle Design Professionals (PDP Architects) and worked on notable commercial, as well as mixed use development projects.
After two decades of solid professional practice on architectural projects, working side by side with mentors and colleagues in the profession, I decided to place my initials in my own design firm, SNG (Stephanie Naval Gilles) Design Enterprise, having registered it under the Department of Trade and Industry as a sole proprietorship.
Our design firm is a dynamic and service-oriented, compact but growing team that places a premium on quality of design and workmanship. Our scope of services includes architecture and allied services such as engineering design, master planning, architectural interiors, and project management. This variety of services finds SNG Design Enterprise involved in diverse projects ranging from the commercial, institutional, religious, to the residential building types. The company has been working on projects ranging from schools, campus towns, mixed-use commercial and residential buildings, offices and clinics, university libraries, churches, chapels, columbaries, memorial parks, vacation houses and resorts.
SNG Design Enterprise’s journey to date
SNG Design Enterprise continues to strengthen its core competencies on service-oriented commitment towards its clients (we value having happy and satisfied clients more than the financial returns we get from each project, because the latter will only be a consequence of the former), the company’s social responsiveness to the demands of the community (we listen well to what the constituents or end-users need or want to happen), the responsible exercise of the architecture profession (followed the Standards of Professional Practice) with careful attention to detail from the macro to micro planning, honesty and integrity in our working relationships and professional ethics exercised at all levels of engagement.
We have truly been fortunate to have survived the economic challenges posed by the pandemic, even purchasing our own office spaces in the midst of it, by maintaining a lean but highly efficient staff, working from home intermittently while doing site inspections to ongoing construction projects. We invest heavily on partnerships on a per project basis to minimize overhead costs and ensure sustainability of each project, working closely with consultants as needed for each set of requirements. We are privileged to have been awarded some international projects, wherein we bidded against competitors who have had strong multi-national presence, based on the merits of our technical competence and competitive professional fees.
Which design themes do you enjoy the most to work?
My fond curiosity and interest in the richness of classical architectural details in the numerous monuments and decorative buildings of Rome and other parts of Europe greatly contributed and eventually led to one of my areas of specialization: Liturgical Architecture. To date, I have designed dozens of these liturgical structures, ranging from churches to chapels to memorial parks and columbaries.
Nevertheless, I have developed my own style of modern design, both in commercial as well as sacred space projects, some of them incorporating vernacular elements, blending with the local culture of the place where they are built.
Tell us about your project that was a big challenge for you.
One of the greatest challenges we encountered was the design of The Sanctuary in Heaven’s Garden in Loakan, Baguio (the summer capital of the Philippines, known for its mountainous terrain). It consists of five buildings atop a plateau, cascading down the mountainside, with a total floor area of 3,500sqm, sited on a six-hectare memorial garden. It has a mortuary, crematory, main chapel, prayer room, an administration office building, and a columbary building with several viewing chapels.
The style is modern vernacular that is meant to blend with its environs, while rustic with the use of natural stone for the walls and columns, of curved roofs following the slopes of the hillside and as a terraced structure with six levels, mimicking the rice terraces so typical of the Cordillera Region.
After preparing and revising the design schemes for this Columbary Complex for several iterations, we finally broke ground. A few months later, after the bidding process, we started construction operations in the most challenging of circumstances: the uncooperative weather, the steep slopes of the mountainside, the valley where water constantly passes, the backfilled soil that had to be remedied with engineering interventions (bored piling works, reinforcement, retaining walls, careful excavation to avoid landslides) so as not to compromise the structural integrity of the entire development.
The design took two years of serious deliberation. The first phase (Main Chapel with Columbarium, Prayer Room & Administration building) was completed in March 2018, blessed by Bishop Victor Bendico after a special Mass. The second phase (Columbary Building and 3 Viewing Chapels) was completed in Nov. 2020 despite the pandemic.
We designed this place to be a haven where people go not only to commemorate the passing of a loved one, but to celebrate life and its passage to the next: a compendium of all the memories and experiences of those who shall pass through the walls of this sacred space. Our vision is that for generations to come, the Sanctuary continually tells the story of the community and its members, offering timeless yet vibrant personal testimonies towards the paramount foundations of building and constantly enriching relationships with God, our family and our community.
What are your views on sustainable designs?
Company capabilities of SNG Design Enterprise primarily include architectural + engineering design, planning, project management, master planning and interior design. From the planning perspective, since we also work on Feasibility Studies, Highest and Best Use, Comprehensive Land Use and Comprehensive Development Plans, we are no stranger to the features, strategies and long-term benefits of sustainable designs.
Sustainable design means a careful and deliberate consideration of what nature has to offer, deeply respecting its characteristics (e.g. solar orientation, wind direction), harnessing natural lighting and ventilation with green building technologies such as renewable energy (use of photovoltaic panels, green walls, wind turbines, rainwater harvesting). This ensures longevity and permanence, while designing for disaster resilience given the vulnerability assessment of the locality in which the structures are to be put up. It is a must for it to be part of our design parameters since we envision a sustainable setup where we merge art, science and technology to uplift the quality of living of our clients and the society as part of our vision to foster social and environmental responsiveness.
One of our current engagements which advocates for sustainable design is this iconic project that gives top priority to utilizing green building technologies within a Planned Unit Development located south of Manila. It consists of three buildings: Innovation Technology Hub, Center for Sports Management, and a Hotel/ Restaurant Training Center. The site is a triangular-shaped lot on a gradual sloping terrain, and part of the design challenge is to complement its features and highlight views from different vantage points.
As seen on the facade, the enveloping strand-like pattern mimics the fluidity of the river at the rear of the site; this also renders the cohesiveness of the three buildings into one continuous composition.
It is envisioned to be a modern green building complex that features sustainable solutions applied in both the macro and micro scale. The development is geared towards pedestrianization within the complex, which aims to minimize the dependency on vehicles which are provided for with basement parking, which also diminishes the carbon footprint of the users. Located at the center of the three buildings is the Plaza: a functional open space that serves as the connection between the buildings, apart from the bridges that facilitates movement and accessibility among the higher floors of these structures.
On a micro scale, green walls and kinetic windows along the façade serve as sun shading devices to protect the building from excessive heat, especially along the east-west corridor, regulating the temperature and lessening the load for mechanical cooling. The hotel windows are angled such that they also act as sun barriers. Harvesting the natural sources of energy was also greatly considered in the design: photovoltaic panels are strategically placed along the south-west angle to maximize absorption of solar energy; wind tunnels are directed to the interior as a passive cooling device. Rainwater harvesting is utilized for the maintenance of plants and gardens. Lastly, the project also caters to urban farming on the roof decks using hydroponics and vertical gardens, advocating the farm-to-table setup (herbs, vegetables and plants to be served by the hotel and restaurants to their guests and customers) among the viable sustainable strategies.
Tell us about SNG Design Enterprise’s USP.
With my solid professional experience and credentials hard-earned all these years to achieve, I can confidently say that the unique selling point of SNG Design Enterprise is that we are able to build bridges on career opportunities and connections in the field, bringing in diversified projects, strengthening the synergy among technical professionals (architects, engineers, real estate developers, landscape architects, interior designers, etc.), by being open to collaboration on common platforms and building on what unites us with each other, working together as a team to achieve our goals. These years have witnessed how we have welcomed clients mostly from recommendations and referrals from greatly satisfied previous clients and credible acquaintances. Being active in the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) and holding numerous distinguished positions have also helped broaden our contacts base. We have been able to nurture healthy relationships with like-minded professionals who help introduce us to potential clients, often times in need of design and/or consulting services on varied projects.
How would you describe your team’s contribution to your success?
Aligned with one of our company’s vision, ‘a venue where art and science merge, creating a built-up environment responsive not only to the basic needs of human dignity but also to uplift the quality of living;’ our team, composed of talented professionals, continually endeavours to deliver quality and dynamic service to answer the needs of our growing client base and of the changing demands of society.
Despite the recent challenges of the pandemic situation which commenced in the first quarter of the year 2020, our team remained dedicated and committed. With each individual’s willingness to multi-task in a flexible work-from-home arrangements, the steady flow of new projects, consistent monitoring and unique project management during hard lockdowns did not deter our innate competitiveness and zeal for excellence. We persevered and endured by becoming more sensitive, understanding and cared for each and every one during remote staff coordination meetings, much like the concerned dealings within a family. Any company or organization is only as good as the work produced from an effective collaboration within a good core group relationship that finds joy & meaning in what is done
How are you planning to expand your operations in the upcoming period?
From the macro perspective, while we endeavor to continue accepting master planning projects each time bigger and more comprehensive in scope, we never forget about the micro perspective of careful attention to details in our design of both exteriors and interiors of buildings. Due to the increasing scope of projects, we are expanding into a corporation of allied professional consultants and partnering with construction outfits for integrated project delivery.
When it comes to branding, we adhere to the principle that Architects don’t advertise, they publish and create branding based on professional expertise. Aside from establishing a company website and page features on social media platforms we aim to catch on with the strategy of today’s trends among firms by telling life stories and the narratives of the buildings we design and build; focusing on how our efforts to provide design quality spaces have touched the lives of the people who live, work and play in their completed homes, commercial establishments, institutional buildings, sacred spaces, and other projects. Needless to say, we will continue to thrive on referrals from satisfied clients as a benchmark of effective expansion in our contacts database.
What will be your piece of advice to the young & aspiring generation who are about to enter this market?
Taking Architecture had been a workshop on virtues: patience, diligence, industriousness, teamwork, sacrifice and caring for others. With the passing of years, when I would look back, I only have happiness and contentment in my heart for having followed my path in life that God intended for me. Being an architect comes with the responsibility of equipping yourself with experiences and be immersed on an infinite learning process that comes with the profession; it is not at all that easy. But the uphill climb is there to strengthen us in the path towards maturity, so that we are able to face life’s challenges with the right principles of integrity coupled with our zeal towards excellence. I have always advocated for an Architecture that is both human and divine. Many consider this career as a “path less travelled by” for it is laden with difficulties, problems, and challenges; but with the grace of God, and a grateful heart for all the goodness bestowed upon me, nothing, really nothing, is impossible with Him who strengthens me.
|Year of Founding:||2012|
|Founding Members:||Ar. Marie Stephanie Magdalena N. Gilles|
|Office Locations:||Unit 18-EF Future Point Plaza 3, No. 111 Panay Avenue, South Triangle, Quezon City 1103, Metro Manila|
|Company Strength:||A dynamic and service-oriented, compact but growing company that places a premium on quality of design and workmanship with highly capable professionals that aims to come up with environments that are livable yet dignified; elegant and uplifting human standards, in the fields of architecture, engineering, planning, project management and architectural interiors”.|