“We need a bigger space,” Sonny Sunga, principal architect of Jagnus Design Studio. The firm found its beginnings in Sunga’s home after he and his co-principal architect, Arnold Austria, decided to leave their jobs in construction and pursue their passion: design.

Jagnus Design has since made a name for itself where out-of-the-box modern architecture is concerned, taking on everything from high-rise residential buildings and retailers to furniture and larger-than-life decor. Now located in San Juan’s Ronac Art Center (one of the studio’s first major design projects), its team has grown with a little over a dozen other young architects, hence the need for a larger space.

When they started, shares Sunga, “the architecture scene was less vibrant compared to now. Contemporary architecture during those days was stuck in Postmodernism.” The pair were convinced they could contribute and shake things up, so they decided to put up their own studio. Asked what they’re currently busy with, he says, “Different types of spaces and scales.” They are, however, keeping mum about it for the time being. “If we do a good job, we’re sure you will hear about it.”

Over email, Sunga talked to The Edition about his and Austria’s approaches to design, their process, and the future of Philippine architecture.

As co-principal architect to Arnold Austria, would you say that your approaches to design and architecture are similar or different in any way? How does this affect the way the studio is run?
We are individuals so naturally there are similarities and differences. Because our partnership began in architecture school, we already know how to deal with our differences and even use it to our studio’s advantage when it comes to managing our firm and designing our projects. Contrast is our fundamental to our balance.
How does a typical work day go at the studio? Do you have a particular process when it comes to tackling projects?
Lately we’ve been discussing our projects in our cars while stuck in traffic on our way to the studio. It’s a good way to zone out of the gridlock. He he! If you observe us while tackling a new project, we would seem like we’re procrastinating. There will be a lot of staring into space, walking around aimlessly, sketching, playing with boxes, browsing the net, joking with staff, exploring ideas with staff. It’s weird but in our heads, we are processing a problem and finding inspiration.

What sorts of projects do you find most interesting and compelling?
It’s exciting to work on projects whose patrons are intelligent, open minded and a little crazy.

How would you describe the state of Philippine architecture?
We are optimistic that it’s getting better. Filipinos are rediscovering the value of well designed spaces. A lot of gifted new architects are getting good commissions. Architectural education is improving with progressive schools. That said, there are still a lot of work to be done to be on par with our Asian neighbors.
What measures do you take to make sure your work keeps you going and is fresh and innovative?
Lately we’ve been traveling a lot to see architectural exhibitions like the Venice Biennale, attending talks like the Business of Design week in Hong Kong, Art Fair and that sort of events. Most of all, it’s important to stay curious, to be observant and be critical and not accept things as they are right away. It’s also good to try new experiences that you think you hate. Lastly, accept the fact that there’s no secret ingredient to staying fresh. Everything gets old eventually. —Fiel Estrella

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