In Pursuit of Architectural Excellence: A Journey with Ar. Harvey Vasquez, Dean of the School of Environment and Design

In a recent interview, Ar. Harvey Vasquez, the Dean of the School of Environment and Design (SED), shared insights into his transformative networking and benchmarking trip. The journey aimed at aligning the School’s mission of delivering college education like no other, and priorities with the global architectural landscape, particularly through participation in the 18th International Architecture Exhibition (La Biennale di Venezia).

Vasquez described the meticulous planning behind the networking and benchmarking trip, emphasizing its strategic and goal-oriented nature. The intention was clear: to foster personal and institutional development within the international architectural community. “The exhibition has provided me with a unique global platform to gain insights into the latest trends, innovations, and challenges in architecture, fostering a broader understanding of the international architectural landscape. Engaging with architects and professionals from around the world enhances my professional network and creates opportunities for potential collaborations and partnerships that can elevate SED’s profile.” As the Dean, Vasquez emphasized the trip’s transformative nature, aligning with the institution’s commitment to excellence in architectural education and practice.

On his visit to the 18th International Architecture Exhibition (La Biennale di Venezia)

The visit to La Biennale di Venezia held profound relevance for Vasquez and SED. The exposure to global trends, innovations, and challenges in architecture provided valuable insights. Engaging with professionals worldwide expanded Vasquez’s network, creating opportunities for collaborations and partnerships to elevate the school’s profile. The exhibition’s cutting-edge designs and sustainable practices inspired enhancements to the curricula for Architecture, Fashion Design and Merchandising, Industrial Design, Interior Design, and Textile Design programs, ensuring students receive the latest knowledge. Participation in discussions with industry leaders offered strategic insights for decision-making and contributed to the institution’s vision.

The visit played a crucial role in advancing SED’s reputation on an international stage, fostering educational leadership in environment and design. Feedback collected during the trip contributes to a culture of continuous improvement, ensuring SED remains at the forefront of architectural education and practice.

Reflecting on his expectations of La Biennale di Venezia, Vasquez highlighted the exhibition’s focus on African and Diasporic architectural production. The shift in the culture of architectural production, as reflected in the exhibition, resonated with Vasquez’s own experiences and concerns, particularly regarding climate change.

He shared, “Our country being the most vulnerable to climate change, I see the potential solutions in the exhibitions. The messages of reducing wastage and adapting to the existing conditions and context we have constantly faced are now at the forefront of discussion on the most critical architectural platform.” He noted that the Austrian Pavilion’s social experiment on participation and European pavilions’ emphasis on resource consumption aligned with the global urgency for sustainable practices.

Vasquez emphasized that in the Exhibition, the definition of architecture’s medium, extends beyond the built environment to include moving images, art installations, and environmental art practice. The use of moving images as a medium for speculative fiction caught his attention, presenting new possibilities for collaboration with Benilde’s Animation program and Film program.

Exploring International Institutions for Collaboration

Vasquez also reflects on his visit to various institutions, including Casa Generaliza La Salle in Rome, Politecnico di Milano, Istituto Secoli, Istituto Marangoni, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), and Valldaura Labs. These visits aimed to strengthen partnerships and benchmark practices to enhance SED’s programs.

During the exploration of Casa Generaliza La Salle in Rome, Italy, Vasquez had the privilege of being guided by Br. Rey Mejias FSC, gaining insights into the facilities and surrounding grounds. The experience served to deepen his Lasallian spirit by immersing in the historical relics and spaces where significant decisions among the brothers transpire.

A subsequent visit to Politecnico di Milano aimed at forging potential partnerships for Benilde’s Fashion Design and Merchandising program and Benilde Architecture program. In this endeavor, Vasquez engaged with Cristiana Bolchini, the Rector’s Delegate for International Relationships for Southeast Asia. The focus was on fostering effective collaborations through mentor-led initiatives rather than relying on administrative mandates when exploring the possibility of institutional collaboration. Vasquez noted, Benilde’s design studios share similarities with those of Politecnico di Milano, including seminar-type classrooms and multiple exhibition spaces. Additionally, there is a dedicated studio space for visiting professors.

The existing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Istituto Secoli, extending until 2027, on the other hand, presented an opportunity for Vasquez to solidify the partnership through consistent engagement. Meeting with Matteo Secoli, the President of the Institut Secoli, discussions centered around potential collaborations, including hosting Benilde students for specialized summer training in July 2024. The proposal included options for summer workshops such as Patternmaking Masterclass and Menswear Shirt–Design to Manufacturing, The concept of a future double degree program was positively received, aligning with the finalization of academic licensing.

Vasquez mentioned that a meeting with Istituto Marangoni was also arranged as part of the trip preparations. There was no existing partnership with Istituto Marangoni yet, and potential collaborations were under consideration. During the meeting, Vasquez engaged with Sara Pagliardi, responsible for Orientation and Admission Processes at Istituto Marangoni. Pagliardi facilitated the benchmarking tour, presenting the facilities and discussing potential partnerships. Istituto Marangoni offers postgraduate studies, both online and in-person, which could be appealing to Benildean graduates. The possibility of acquiring a clay 3D printer for Benilde’s growing equipment inventory in the laboratories was also explored.

Vasquez engaged in discussions about a potential partnership with the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC). Meetings with Violeta Rivera, Admissions Manager, and Edouard Cabay, a senior faculty member, were conducted to explore collaboration possibilities. The discussions involved gaining insights into IAAC’s dynamic learning environment and considering the reintroduction of the Global Summer School. In addition, Benilde hosting a 3D Printing Architecture program in the Philippines was also brought up.

As part of the visit, Vasquez explored Valldaura Labs, IAAC’s satellite laboratory for the Master in Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities (MAEBB), gaining valuable insights into sustainable solutions that could serve as inspiration for potential emulation of the program in the Philippines.

Vasquez then visited La Salle Universitat Ramon Llull in Barcelona, accompanied by Enzo Belandres and Jiro Coronado. Belandres and Coronado were College part-time mentors sent to La Salle Barcelona for their postgraduate degree Master of Science In Integrated Architectural Design (MIAD). There, they encountered Nina Hofmann, the Head of the External Relations General Management office of La Salle Barcelona, who provided a brief presentation about the institution. Subsequently, the group toured the campus with Ricardo Devesa, the MIAD coordinator. During lunch, Jordi Mansilla, an architect and Vice Dean of La Salle School of Architecture in Barcelona (ETSALS), joined Hofmann and Vasquez to discuss potential collaborations. One initiative discussed was the offering of an Architecture Summer School, spanning two weeks tentatively set on July 8 to 19, 2024. This program presents a valuable opportunity for students to explore 19th-century Barcelona, covering design to construction through prominent buildings and landmarks. ETSALS extends a 20% discount for La Salle Partner Universities. Vasquez noted that the teaching methodology and student outcomes from Benilde’s Architecture program closely align with those of La Salle Barcelona, based on observations and interactions with mentor Belandres, who also serves as a teaching assistant for Devesa. The introduction of a visiting professorship from the industry is being considered for the Architecture program, with a focus on local architects initially. This approach aims to provide industry professionals an opportunity to teach for a term, with teaching assistants handling administrative tasks. The long-term vision includes extending this program to international architects, enhancing the profile of the Architecture program and offering students valuable industry insights.

Enhancing SED's Curriculum, Facilities, and Strategies

Vasquez’s vision for transdisciplinarity within SED gained validation throughout the trip. The projects observed at the Biennale showcased student outputs from various visited schools, highlighting direct collaborations with experts. The establishment of new networks during the journey is expected to fortify this collaborative direction. While there is still a recognized infrastructure gap in comparison, the overall setup of SED’s design studios aligns with those of the schools visited, affirming that SED is on the right track.

The benchmarking experience provided validation for several concepts already familiar to SED, particularly in its laboratories. The experience can contribute to refining existing practices, as well as the current facilities serve as a strong foundation for advancing SED. Vasquez emphasizes the need to prioritize diversifying laboratories to accommodate informal consultations. Drawing from the benchmarking trip, where laboratories doubled as classrooms, this approach enhances space efficiency and dynamism. Looking ahead, Vasquez envisions a new SED facility, where integrated laboratory environments can serve multiple functions, functioning as both lecture spaces and consultation rooms.

Vasquez envisions the creation of graduates who can become pioneers in their respective fields. Leveraging the College’s global networks, the goal is to provide Benildean graduates with expanded growth prospects, not only within the Philippines but also internationally. Emphasizing an openness to collaboration across diverse industries, the focus remains sharp on addressing critical issues such as food insecurity and climate change.

Concluding the productive trip, Vasquez observed a growing trend in architecture, moving beyond the conventional confines of the built environment. The Biennale showcased practices using architecture to convey narratives, embracing technology, networks, and complex systems. Architects are now challenged to envision beyond physical spaces, with speculative architecture playing a pivotal role in shaping future scenarios and culture. The experience also highlighted the potential of introducing a visiting professor concept from the architecture industry, involving a dedicated studio space managed by visiting professors and monitored by teaching assistants. This concept, if proven effective, could extend to other programs in SED. As the new Dean for SED, Vasquez sees the benchmarking trip as instrumental in establishing relationships with international architects, educators, and professionals, positioning SED for future collaborations and bringing back innovative ideas to enhance the institution.

Other stories you might like