Don’t break the streak!

| Written by Andre DP Encarnacion

In both sports and politics the goal of the “clean sweep” is one that competitors continually aspire to. Victory by an overwhelming margin, or a series of triumphs without a loss reflects excellence and superiority.

Since 2009, UP Mindanao’s BS Architecture program has been performing clean sweeps of its own. Through a combination of rigor, scholarship, and a sensitivity to regional needs, the program has maintained a record 100 percent passing rate among its graduates in the Architecture licensure exams up to the present year.

This achievement has also seen seven topnotchers from the ranks of its alumni. This is highly impressive for the College and the Humanities and Social Sciences-based unit that rose past a troubled start to embody the saying that success does indeed speak for itself.

What makes this young program the emerging powerhouse that it is today? We sat down with faculty members of the BS Architecture program to talk about who they are, what makes them unique, and their plans to strengthen the discipline in the future.

Silencing doubts

For a program that has brought such pride to the region, it is somewhat surprising that it barely made it through its first few years intact. The BS Architecture program was implemented in 1999, with a pioneer batch of only 12 students. From the beginning, says Dr. Isidoro Malaque III, who handled the first thesis batch in 2003, the program was beset with “birth pains,” resulting from early calls for its abolition.

Dr. Isidoro Malaque III of the UPMin Department of Architecture (Photo by Bong Arboleda, UP MPRO)

One reason, he indicated, was the unique circumstances of UP Mindanao’s creation. This CU was mostly the brainchild of Congress, rather than the UP Board of Regents. Beyond politics, however, the constant question that was being leveled at the program members, given that UP Diliman already had an Architecture program, was “Why are you here?”

This annual call to justify their existence lit a fire under the members of the young program, which also saw the entry of long-time chairperson and now College Dean Jean Marie Juanga into the ranks at around that time. “Our faculty wanted to prove that Mindanao needed the program because Mindanao has its own built environment and planning issues,” Malaque says. “Eventually the faculty also inspired the students to do well.”

It was in 2007 that the program’s first licensure exam takers tested themselves and attained their first 100% exam results. These successes in both the exams and in research and extension would continue until, by 2012, not a single question about the program remained.

A research culture

The current faculty members, which now includes architects Ryan Songcayauon, Kristin Faye Olalo, Alexis Ken Cartajenas, Dan Jezreel Orendain, Mark Ndsy Puso, Angelo Felix Regalado and the current chairperson, Myrafe Sebastian-Ylagan, do agree that one major aspect of the program sets it and its graduates apart—a strong research culture.

 UPMin Architecture department faculty members (from left) Alexis Ken Cartajenas, Dan Jezreel Orendain, and Mark Ndsy Puso (Photo by Bong Arboleda, UP MPRO)
UPMin Architecture department faculty members (from left) Alexis Ken Cartajenas, Dan Jezreel Orendain, and Mark Ndsy Puso (Photo by Bong Arboleda, UP MPRO)

As opposed to the majority of schools in the country, the members of the program view their students not only as future professionals, but also as researchers. Unlike most other programs, UP Mindanao requires its graduates to complete a thesis project. It is a process that requires two semesters—the first being solely devoted to a scholarly treatment of the relevant building issues before the final building proposal is made.

The treatment is highly scientific, while also being unique to each student. For example, in the design of a nursing home, Malaque suggests that instead of merely abiding by existing Department of Health Standards, a student might study things like the end-of-life process, both conceptually and empirically. “Those who are about to die, how do you make it happier for them and their families?”

These and other considerations are then integrated into the final design. “We then look at those,” he continues, “of course via the pertinent standards. But over and above that, each project has uniqueness because of the preceding research phase”.

Independent thinkers

The members of the department believe that this process, while already highly appealing, does make a significant difference in the way their graduates take the licensure exam and think as professional architects.

Malaque says that a strong research culture helps create independent thinkers who think beyond cookie-cutter solutions and can be lifelong learners. “As a teacher, I cannot guarantee that what we will teach will come out in the exam or in practice,” he says. “But the research culture we inculcated in you will make you more versatile thinkers. You don’t need to depend [that much] on your reviewers.”

A faculty member and former board exam topnotcher, Alexis Cartajenas, echoes that assessment, especially with the current board exams’ emphasis on comprehension over mechanical drafting skill.

“It helps build a problem-solving perspective,” Alexis says. “For example, you’ll be asked what kind of roof you will use for a beach rest house? Asphalt shingles, polycarbonate, or clay? If you look deeper, natural clay roofing is the best. It retards heat and it is heavy. If you look at the structural code, wind forces are stronger near large bodies of water,” he adds. “But if you have weak comprehension and fact-finding, what you usually see or what you find aesthetic is what you would choose. You would not ask questions why.”

(from left) Dan Jezreel Orendain, Isidoro Malaque, Kristin Faye Olalo, Alexis Ken Cartajenas, Myrafe Sebastian-Ylagan (chair), Jean Marie Juanga (dean), Angelo Felix Regalado, Ryan Songcayauon, and Mark Ndsy Puso (Photo by Bong Arboleda, UP MPRO)

The last GI killed

With the department’s consistent string of successes, its members believe that the days of justifying their existence are long over. “The last time we had a send-off for our graduates,” Alexis says, “the [UP Mindanao] community was cheering for them to ‘go for 100 percent.’ Don’t break [the streak]!”

“So the drive of our newer graduates is more of not to break the streak. Failing is not really a bad thing, but of course you don’t want to be the one who gets singled out. If it were World War II, it’s more like: ‘Try not to be the last GI killed.’ ”

In response, the faculty has very tangible plans to build on these successes. According to Dan Orendain, the program is set to receive its first materials development and testing facility, which will allow faculty and students to conduct more scientific tests like compression tests, in addition to being a possible income-generating center for the University.

“The next step is revise the curriculum,” says Dan. “We will be incorporating more environmental planning and more indigenous Mindanao issues.” These curriculum changes, they hope, will also get the program accredited by the Canberra Accord and make it consistent with ASEAN borderless practices—steps that would take it from being one of the nation’s best to becoming a truly competitive global program.

“We want our courses to be more hands-on like construction,” Orendain continued. “Like if you talk about plumbing, our students won’t just draw. They will go on site, they will know how to assemble things without asking. They will not be clueless.”