SINCE 1988, architect James Jao has been based in Cebu. Before that, the Sorsogon-native finished his college education in the University of Santo Tomas in Metro Manila, passed the architecture board examination, and immediately worked on a commissioned one-bedroom guest house.
In 2004, he locked up his house and flew to London to pursue a Master of Science degree in City Design and Social Science (Urban Planning) at the London School of Economics and Political Science. It was a choice, he said, of buying a new car or building a new house for himself, or upgrading his knowledge of his chosen lifework. As he believes in education, he chose to learn some more, even if it meant having no income and living on his savings for a year in a foreign land.
For this degree, his final presentation was to make sustainable a London borough, Haringey. It was this that led him to show a prototype eco-house at a construction show in 2008, an eco-house he later on built in his home province which, he revealed, has withstood several typhoons, including the recent one, Tisoy.
“It is my vision,” he emphasized, “to build eco-houses/buildings all over the Philippines. In 10 years, I have managed to do that. I have built eco-schools like the Holy Spirit School in Tagbilaran, Bohol and the College of the Holy Spirit in Tarlac City. The main component of an eco-house is therma walling, an insulated wall that keeps the heat off the house and is perfect for a tropical site.“
“Last year,“ he continues, “I built my first disaster-resilient eco-house which can withstand winds of up to 320 kilometers per hour and magnitude 9 earthquakes. I call it the ‘Queen Bee’ house because it is in a bee farm. For this, I studied the Kalinga house, which is octagonal in shape. The roofing slopes down not on the usual two sides but on four. I researched on this, went back to history and learned that it is a matter of aerodynamics, how the wind blows around the house.” He hopes that in the future, all Filipinos will have houses of their own, disaster-proof and eco-friendly.
He shares his knowledge in CPD (continuing professional development) seminars for the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP). He has also been invited to speak in other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries. Recently, he was in Nanning, China for the 3rd China Asean International Design Leaders Summit. He was also recently in Jakarta, Indonesia to be one of four judges in the Youth Interior Design Award.
Now 52, James reveals he has more projects in the coming year, not just eco-houses or buildings but leisurely developments like hotels and resorts which, “will always have sustainable details and their own unique character.”
James is deputy president of the Asia Pacific Space Designers Association and immediate past president and chairman of the Philippine Institute of Interior Design.
James, the architect, has really gone a long way and, as he puts it, “I came to Cebu with only a bag of clothes.”
“I had nothing. I was a nobody. I am immensely grateful of making that change in May 8, 1988. Little did I know that it would be one of my life’s most important turning points. After I launched the first eco-house in September 2008, it was my vision to make every Filipino learn what an eco-house is all about; And to be a trailblazer and send waves across the archipelago.”