I’ve gotten so engrossed in comics for the past 16 years that I’ve almost forgotten that I had a totally different career a long time ago. I graduated from UST with a degree in Architecture, and several weeks before graduation, I was already working as a construction supervisor.
I have a lot of stories from that time and one of the most hysterical moments came towards the end of my architecture career, just as I was beginning a new one with comics. I was working for Architect Jonathan Lim, with offices near Welcome Rotonda in Quezon City. My job there consisted of drafting, designing, and construction supervision.
It was early 1994, and I was right in the middle of dealing with a devastating break up. I had yet to even think of creating Wasted, and I was not right in the head in so many ways. I didn’t want to be in architecture anymore, and I was seriously considering leaving the office because I felt I was no longer able to work as well as I should.
The office was contracted to design and construct the interiors of a restaurant along C.M. Recto Avenue, near Morayta. Jonathan gave the job to me, and saw it as an opportunity to do something different. I had been in that office for a couple of years, and I knew the kinds of designs that they liked to do. I followed none of that. In fact, I came up with a design that was so crazy, fueled by an I-no-longer-care-anymore attitude, that I was sure that it would be rejected outright.
The area was around 5 meters wide and 18 meters deep. My idea was to line the long sides with classical columns, capped with Corinthian capitals. The entire ceiling is to be curved, and a Trompe-l’œil of a dramatic blue sky with windswept clouds would be painted on it. (Don’t ask me to pronounce Trompe-l’œil. I don’t know how! ha! ha!) Lights would be hidden, lighting the ceiling very brightly. The idea was this: when someone walks into the restaurant from the dirty, dusty and noisy C.M. Recto, they would suddenly enter an open atrium under a bright beautiful sky.
Thinking about it now, the design wasn’t really bad. It’s just that it was so completely different from anything the office has produced before. I was actually quite proud of it, but I was so sure that they would go for a more conventional (therefore boring) design.
Jonathan looked at the design and thought about it for a minute. “Do you really think this is good?”, he asked. Mustering my best poker face, I said, “Of course!”
Much to my surprise, Jonathan agreed to do it. I stood there incredulous and speechless. I thought, wow, they’re actually going to do it! Are they insane?
Supervising the construction a couple of weeks later, I stood there marveling at my design slowly taking shape. I honestly couldn’t believe that they actually went with it. The workers, bless them all, were at first stumped at the challenges this new type of design they were asked to build. They took it as a challenge, and they surprised even me with the enthusiasm they put into the work.
Rene, one of the other designers in the office, came to visit and told me there was a problem. None of the painters in our labor force seemed to know how to do the ceiling. They attempted it a couple of times, but with disappointing results. There really was no other choice. He said that I had to do it myself.
Now comes the hysterical part.
I did end up painting the ceiling myself using a spray gun and a heavy duty compressor. I went to work in my old pants, slippers and a throwaway shirt. I wrapped another old shirt on my head leaving only my eyes visible. At the end of a couple of days I was as dirty and paint flecked as the other workers. I went out to the sidewalk to take a break and Boyet, one of the engineers at the office stopped by for a visit and stood beside me watching the construction. Not having the energy to say anything I just nodded, and so did he.
After a minute, he took 10 pesos from his pocket, and gave it to me. Now why in the world was Boyet giving me 10 pesos?
“Can you buy me a couple sticks of cigarette?” He asked.
Underneath the shirt in my face, I smiled. Apparently, Boyet didn’t recognize me. And he wouldn’t, not with how I looked. He thought I was one of the other workers. It took all my effort to keep from laughing. I knew I just had to go with it. I nodded, took the 10 pesos, and went off to buy some cigarettes. On the way back, I took the off the shirt on my head that was hiding my face, and handed the cigarettes to Boyet. I tried not to smile and acted as nonchalantly as possible, all the while continuing to watch the construction.
From the corner of my eye, there’s an expression on Boyet’s face that I wish I could have captured on camera. He was speechless for a few moments, clearly shocked, then we both just laughed.
In the end, the restaurant turned out great! It worked as I planned that it would. Stepping into the restaurant really did feel like stepping out under a bright blue sky. I couldn’t believe it. My bluff worked! And credit has to go to Jonathan Lim for going with it. As far as architecture is concerned, I feel it’s one of the best things I did.
My one big regret is that I wasn’t able to take any proper photographs of the place. Unfortunately, the restaurant has since closed, and the design subsequently destroyed to make way for another commercial establishment.
In any case, it was one of the more memorable moments in my architecture career that I’m glad I experienced.