After impressing a host of renowned judges and besting a slew of worthy competitors with his contemporary take on the kitchen, architect Ed Calma once again emerged as the winner of the prestigious Sub-Zero/Wolf Design contest for the second year in a row. This victory is met with little or no surprise by those that have followed his remarkably groundbreaking career over his many worthwhile years in the industry but for the uninitiated, it seems that a review of his fascinating life and work is in order.

Ed earned his Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from the Pratt Institute of New York (whose long list of notable alumni proudly includes other celebrated architects like Malcolm Holzman and Peter Zumthor). It was during his stay in this private art college that he willingly participated in a student exchange program which gave him the opportunity to study at the famed University of Rome for a year. The exposure to the rich culture, meaningful traditions and grand structures of the beautiful Italian capital left Ed with a deeper appreciation in the field of design and inspired him even more to pursue a master’s degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University.

Although Ed has been extensively and almost exclusively educated abroad, he is quick to clarify that he does not have a special preference for foreign institutes. He believes that it is the teachers that can greatly define what the school can offer you. “I can only tell you from my firsthand experiences as a student that I had the honor and privilege of having great teachers at the institutions that I attended.” More than just being teachers, they are also design theorists that have a remarkable passion for the arts. Ed adds that, “If you keep your mind open and ready to gain from the interaction and even the critiques that they give you, the knowledge that they have earned from their years of practice can be passed on to you.”

Aside from his teachers, Ed cites Swiss-French architect and designer Le Corbusier and another great figure of 20th-century architecture, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as his design inspirations. He says that these two people influenced the new generation of modernism by “cutting off the umbilical cord from the past and starting completely from scratch”. To further emphasize his point, he talks about the Barcelona Pavilion designed by Mies van der Rohe for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona, Spain. “If you see the pictures of the building from when it was first opened to the public, you notice that the people around it were still dressed in an old fashioned way. It served as a stark contrast against the structure that seemed to come straight out of the future. You then begin to appreciate how ahead Mies van der Rohe was in his thinking.”

Upon examining Ed’s body of work, it seems that he has the rare ability to produce forward-looking buildings as well. However, he claims that it is difficult for him to pin down his design philosophy on a singular idea. “I approach every single project that I work on without any preconceptions of what I am going to do. I look at a site and let it inspire me to create something that is unique and identifiable to that space alone.” For him, it is impossible to recreate something that has already been constructed in the past, even if it was your own work. “You can’t take a certain building that you have already done and just duplicate it in another location”, he asserts.

Ed puts this design principle to good use in the Ayala Mind Museum, one of his latest and admittedly most memorable projects. “The people behind this endeavor have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish but they have given me the creative freedom to come up with ideas on how to carry the plan out. It’s always a pleasure to work with people that are open to new possibilities in the pursuit of building something that would have a positive impact on people, especially children.” The impact that Ed is referring to will be realized by introducing children to the concept of actively interacting with interesting exhibits, instead of just looking at displays. He hopes that this will prove to be a step towards using art as a medium to explain science in a manner that children can identify with and relate to so that they will no longer be intimidated of the latter.

This aspiration is a clear and accurate reflection of his principles as an architect. Ultimately, Ed is concerned about designing according to your era. He says that as a designer, your work should always consistently be informed and influenced by what goes on around you. “Learn from the past but do not imitate it. Copying a historical structure would be impractical because the resources that we have and the things that we need now are drastically different from before”, he shares. According to Ed, the existence of an excellent building greatly depends on how we understand the current human condition and eventually utilize the technological advancements that have been made available to us.

Written by Therese Dehesa

Photographed by Ron Mendoza

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