Last thoughts on work before my Masters

Three days before my flight to Germany, I got to see this video of Gardens by the Bay in Vimeo. As I was watching the video, it occurred to me that I am getting nostalgic, not just for this intensely publicized landscape work but also about my journey of my landscape architecture practice. When I decided to take this course against its more well known brother of Architecture back when I was 15, I didn’t really know that I would love it the way that I do now. I just thought that I didn’t want to be an engineer and I wanted to design and I loved plants.

This profession has taken me to places professionally and at the same time, it has allowed me to appreciate art, architecture, the built environment and the natural world wherever I go. I walk in every city, may it be in Asia, Oceania or Europe seeing the craftsmanship of spaces. I find whimsy in pavement design and I appreciate the grandness of the avenue of Champs Elysees. There is something fun in colors of Gardens by the Bay and there is poetry in modernist landscapes in China. I have become attuned to the city and the land and I believe this is the greatest gift that my profession has given to me. I now appreciate more that definition that I wrote for the PALA website regarding the Landscape Architecture profession. I really feel connected to the land. I am a steward.

Cliveden at Grange

A residential project I did in Singapore

Now, I am moving on to understand another layer of this vast knowledge. My mind is adding another layer to design by putting heritage into the picture. I begin to ask myself the intrinsic value of places that surround us.  I am beginning to see the world with fresh eyes, understanding not just the spaces of the city but also its people, its culture and its history. Every piece of stone has a story to tell, every monument – big or small has brought meaning to someone’s life. I want to see how my work can become more meaningful to more people and not just create things because of beautiful form or its functional requirement. I want to create and preserve the value of places and I want to extend a place’s story. I am unsure what the two years will shift my perspective, how the new city will craft my mind, how my classmates will influence me to do something else however, I know that it will all be for the better.

In the next few days I will open my eyes to a new reality. May it be an exciting journey. Deep breaths, small steps, arms out wide – THIS IS IT!


Getting News from Germany


Yesterday, I left the office early to get away from the noise of the construction that was happening in our office. The drilling and hammering has broken the usual serenity of our 6-person post and I simply had to get away from it. Walking in the usual path that I take in Duxton Hill, I passed by a hawker centre that I always go to to relax and look at this amazing Ficus tree that is probably a hundred years old. I got my IPad, flipped through some apps for a bit then decided to check my email. I had the surprise of my life reading my only new email. BTU Cottbus has replied to my application after painfully waiting for the last three months when I discovered that Germany’s system is not as sound as I thought it would be. I have waited for this email for a month now and I have almost given up hope that I will get any form of response similar to my Erasmus Mundus application three years ago.

This is the email that I have received:

Dear Gabriel,

After many discussions and intense convincing work with our Office for International Admissions, I am glad to inform you that BTU Cottbus will grant you admission to the World Heritage Studies programme. Your letter of acceptance will be issued next week and mailed to the contact address you indicated in your Uni-Assist application. I will send you a scanned copy by email, just to confirm that the document has been sent.

Congratulations on your admission! I will get back to you next week.

Best wishes,

My jaw dropped after reading this email. I mean, come on, the system was against me. Its this K-12 thing that has held me for the last month and I have already made peace with myself that I will be going to Vietnam and then go to Cottbus in the summer. I was happy with that. Now, my head is painfully confused again. Its like  being in a confused relationship where you don’t know what the other person is feeling and then you have already decided to move and and suddenly the person says, “Actually, I have feelings for you. Deep ones even. I just had to resolve some issues with myself first and now I want you.”

Last night, I slept so late like I had drank a liter of coffee. Went to bed at 1:30am thinking that I have tired myself enough for me to sleep soundly without Jose around. I have been mistaken so badly. I don’t think I slept at all. I just closed my eyes trying to sleep, had to surf the net twice – 3:30am and 5am, tried having some relaxing music but that didn’t work, tried counting slowly from 1-100 and that helped a bit and I slept for a bit dreaming of James Bond’s death scene and his very Hollywood rise from the dead. By the time that it was 7:30am, which is my usual waking time, well, my body simply had to wake up. That is how much this news confused my system! I am like a zombie/hopelessly romantic masters degree student wannabee.

What will I do next? Strangely enough I felt stressed and excited more with this untimely acceptance as compared to the spot on Vietnam confirmation. That probably is a sign. I have a very narrow time frame to do everything but hopefully, Simona will be kind enough to help me out with all the next few tasks to be done. She really was very helpful for the last few months.

Feelings: Confused but excited.

Time left: three and a half months.

Questions and Time


A few days ago, I have received news of my much awaited masters degree application. I got accepted to this program that is a tie up between Vietnam and Germany that offers a program in Sustainable Urban Development. At the same time when I applied for this course, I also submitted for another program also in Germany that tackles a similar but more specialized masters in World Heritage Studies. Both are programs that I like and would happily take and I believe they are crucial steps for me in creating my niche practice of landscape architecture. I strongly believe in the sustainable approach in design – not just its physical translation like using water plants and  water recycling but producing works that are intrinsically sustainable and connects with its surroundings, the people who will use it and the culture of the place. I want to pioneer such work in the Philippines and hopefully in the bigger South East Asia where  there is a need for balance between aesthetics, forward thinking, environmental sensitivity and cultural significance.

It is surprising to me that as the days in Singapore become numbered, the more that I feel scared of what lies beyond. The way that I see it is that I have always moved in a certain natural progression where I choose or life chooses for me the next steps ahead. School – University – First Job – Better Job – and then what is next? Going back to school and taking those savings that I have kept with the hope of saving for the future and this inevitable actuality but I feel like flinching? its like I wanna say, “I’ve taken this crazy idea to its limits but this is as far as I would go.” But this is not the goal, this is just the beginning.

Why am I becoming uneasy with this?

I feel like this is one of those crucial decisions of my life. The world stops for a moment and my mind wants to go back to its comfortable state where everything was where it should be and I am comfortably doing what I do best. Designing, talking to contractors, resolving issues and meeting other people to improve our design. I know that this is going to be an amazing opportunity. I know that once the program concludes (wherever I choose to go) it will open my eyes to a new world but I can’t seem to stop being afraid. Hmm… afraid may not be the word, uneasy perhaps. I am letting go of a project that is internationally significant, probably the most significant project in my career, remove myself from my wonderful life with my partner and our dogs, and bracing myself to the world of educational pursuits and knowledge.

Questions: unanswered.

Time left: four months.

A Landscape to be excited about

Around two months ago, I went to see Martha Schwartz in the URA Centre where she lectured about her landscape architecture practice and design experience. She mentioned her entry to the Chicago Navy Pier project with Atalier Dreisetl and at that time, they were hoping that they would be able to get the project. It is unfortunate for her but James Corner Field Operations got the project. Continue reading

The Importance of Memories and Places

A few days ago, Singapore bid farewell to one of its most favorite Mcdonald’s branches situated in East Coast Park. I first read about this in Remember Singapore, another blog in wordpress which documents old places of historical value in Singapore. Having been to this branch a couple of times in my five years in the red dot, I can’t help but sympathize with many of its patrons for the loss of such an institution. It is sad to see that because we live in such a dense city where every bit of square meter of land is prime, the country has to loose some to gain some. Singapore is a young country of 57 years and I believe that as time goes by, more and more people will become more conscious of what is being lost to move forward.

Memories have powerful meaning in our lives, places like these, mundane and seemingly insignificant become part of our psyche as users. This fastfood joint although it does not belong to Singapore’s colonial past, not a place of worship nor a significant venue of commerce it is a part of a contemporary cultural landscape that binds generations of Singaporeans.

I do hope that the Natonal Parks Board remembers this, seeing the value of Mcdonalds’  significance and integrate it to its planning for the future use of the space. Its architecture can be remodeled but keeping its low key but familiar atmosphere.