Cathy Saldaña on Having More Women in Design and Construction: 'We Need to Strip Ourselves of the Bias and Niches' - LA Lives

The managing director and CEO of PDP Architects hopes that more young girls will see themselves shining in highly technical fields.

Architect Cathy Saldaña is of note in her field not just for the path she paved in a male-dominated profession for girls much like her childhood self.

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More than just being a role model to look up to, she has become a mentor who asks fellow women to walk with her in leading the way to a better tomorrow.

Address of progress

“We need more women in the difficult and more technical areas of design and construction. As I enter a meeting, say for Transport Planning, all heads around me are male. Yet you find so many ladies in Interiors, in fine jewelry design, and furniture detailing. We need to strip ourselves of the bias and niches,” Saldaña tells Lifestyle Asia.

The architect hopes that more young girls will see themselves shining in highly technical fields, whether it’s ensuring water desalination plants for a high-end resort project, or drumming up more sustainable points for an island-and-bridge development.

It’s possible. It’s part of the reason why she found her firm, PDP Architects, as its managing director and chief executive officer.

The name has since grown into a respectable brand set to celebrate its third decade since its founding in 1992.

“We mark it with honor and humility, even as we never closed the design firm through political turmoil, personal circumstances, and economic challenges through the decades. Our work experiences and rich portfolio allow us to take on different design projects in many sectors,” Saldaña says of her firm’s 30th anniversary this year.

Through the years, she’s chosen to pivot in terms of partnerships and adapt to new methodologies in design delivery. What stayed the same was her fidelity to what she says is the key resource in any creative studio: the people.

Such focus on people—including the end-user, the designer, and the builders—allows for a keen appreciation of behavioral patterns in how the designed spaces will evolve with the client’s needs.

Internally, the firm develops its designers through training, discipline, and skills-building. In the process, they’ve produced board-exam top notchers and team leaders. All of this progress has kept women in mind and in hand.

“We are almost women-led, except for two respectable male associates and a host of other male team members. We are open and inclusive and encourage self-expression, especially through styling,” Saldaña reveals.

Sacrament in environment

But more than just the people, the leader has preserved the sanctity of mother earth through each project they take on. Development is possible without subtracting from nature. And that’s how it can be value-adding work, PDP Architects has proven.

“Our deep respect for places is embodied in site experiences, almost speaking with the land on which we build, as we conform to the orientation, location, existing light surrounding it, paying homage to its topography, intrinsic landscape, and potential. It is never about disrespect for the natural land and marine environment nor producing a city-structure for a rural setting, leaving a pristine community in future disarray,” Saldaña commits.

Part of this responsibility means communicating the message of sustainability with clients. The firm shows them how green practices ultimately generate more yield for themselves as well as the environment in the long run.
In times where an agreement cannot be reached, no problem.

“We have had to let go of project clients whose tastes and visions were radically so different from ours and it was impossible to align each other’s expectations,” Saldaña recalls.

Addition to tradition

Although demands and circumstances change, PDP Architects can say that it has always stuck with its principles. They continue to resist the temptation of trends in favor of adhering to their uniquely Filipino calling.

“We don’t ride the wave of the fads, especially in patterns and materiality. We go for contemporary classics, eschew the current quick video rage, and stick to our work by not branding ourselves as celebrities. We put the spotlight where it should be—on our clients. We focus instead on being better every day and not engage in fad ideation or
professing predictions and trends,” Saldaña explains.

To maintain their voice, they’ve had to balance the difficult combination of materials to be authentically Filipino while still contemporary. Yet they’ve always managed to find materials that maintain and age well, on top of a distinct character to boot.

Saldaña and her team, in and out of architecture, have always been about setting trends, not simply following them.
This is why based on her track record alone, her portfolio toward progress is shaping out to be as good as ever.

“I initially had to battle being female in a big competitive world of male counterparts, but we have forged on by helping lead a female pack of design stalwarts and fellow architects,” she says.

This story was first published in the April 2022 issue of Lifestyle Asia.

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