A world-class innovation center in Beijing, a skyscraper in Azerbaijan, and a luxury condominium in Makati. What do these buildings have in common? They were all conceived and designed by homegrown Filipino architecture firm Aidea. This week, we hear from Aidea president and CEO Architect Abelardo “Jojo” Tolentino Jr. on building a global architecture firm from the Philippines, and the importance of continuous innovation and collaboration to consistently stay ahead of the curve.
What many don’t know about Tolentino is his early inclination toward technology. “My first choice in college was really Computer Engineering, but back then, it was not available locally.” He took up architecture as a close “second choice” but always kept a pulse on the latest innovations in the industry. This love and appreciation for technology is why Aidea leans so strongly on combining design, architecture technology in its projects around the world.
But how did Aidea make its way beyond Philippine shores? It arose from the economic circumstances of the late ‘90s. Tolentino started his career in Hong Kong, then was later hired by British architecture firm RMJM to run its Philippine operations.
“I returned to the Philippines during the Asian Financial Crisis,” said Tolentino. “As you can imagine, times were slow so we had to rebuild the company through projects we could get overseas, but in the process, we also created our own local market base.”
In 2003, Tolentino and his partners acquired RMJM and renamed it Aidea. The company was formed with three key objectives: to be a Filipino company delivering quality projects overseas, to be a top local company and one of the biggest firms in the country and region, and perhaps most importantly, to be a company that leverages technology to provide the best quality of service to its clients and to build truly innovative buildings.
This inclination toward technology has been a key enabler for Aidea to successfully execute some of its best known projects around the world. This includes Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) Beijing Technical Center, a multi-hectare research facility that partners with Chinese universities to provide the best-of-class in research.
“It’s where P&G develops their new products,” shared Tolentino. “We took charge of this project from beginning to end, and hired experts on laboratory design under us.” This was the culmination of a long standing partnership between Aidea and P&G that has seen the firm design over 40 projects for the consumer goods manufacturer across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
Other hallmark projects include the Socar Tower in Baku, Azerbaijan, which was a joint venture with Korean firm Heerim, as well as the 40-story Museum Park Tower II in Chicago, a collaboration with American firm Papageorge Haymes. In these projects, Aidea leveraged its experience in Virtual Design Construction (VDC), and Building Information Modelling (BIM) to apply it to skyscraper construction.
“VDC and BIM were already mature in our company when we took on these projects, but not yet in those markets,” said Tolentino. So Aidea was hired to apply the technology and enhance the expertise of their global partners.
From its humble beginnings during the Asian Financial Crisis to the global firm that it is today, Aidea strives to be an example to Filipino architects and designers. Tolentino is a firm believer in the quality of local talent. “We have empathy. Our design has a lot of understanding toward the client and their needs. We see it as a service. We also have a knack for technology. I believe we have all the ingredients to succeed. We just have to believe in ourselves.”
Aidea’s success and global reach makes Tolentino all the more confident that other Filipino companies can do the same. “If we play in a bigger arena, we might not win it all, but it encourages others to do the same. We want a future that is borderless and I believe the Philippines has what it takes to do this,” Tolentino concluded with enthusiasm.
This vision of delivering architecture and design as a technological service is a shining example of what a Filipino enterprise can do. For Aidea, global recognition for Filipino design and architecture is not impossible, it is only one new piece of software away.