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by Clarisse Lee
photographs by William Ong


popiIT’S ALL SMILES  and hellos when architect Popi Laudico greets you at the door.  Accompanied by her excitable black Labrador Una, she ushers you into her office and almost immediately engages her guests in friendly animated chatter.  You can’t help but like her already.

“This is my office but I don’t have a desk,”  Popi says laughing.  Her workplace is a typical of what one would expect from an architect’s  office, Open yet allowing for privacy with no solid dividers, the space is bathed in natural sunlight.  With its collection of paintings, pottery and sculptures, and use of unfinished solid wood planks as countertops and accents, Popi’s studio feels more like an intimate art gallery than an office.

Popi gravitates towards a wall with framed sketches done in pencil.  “I asked for these drawings when I helped Bantay Bata”, she says affectionately.  “These were done my Jesse Boy, the first child the organization rescued.”  The drawings are scratchy and detailed, with a depiction of depth that is uncommon in young artists.  “Excellent drawings,” Popi says,  “like Picasso.”

“There were no architects in my family,” Popi says.  “I really didn’t know what architecture was until college,” she admits.  Only after an almost equal score in both science and art in an aptitude test taken in high school brought out a teacher’s suggestion that she try architecture.

Growing up surrounded by artists, Popi realizes she showed early signs in her interest for the profession.  “When other children were drawing flowers in art class,”  she says,  “I was drawing kid versions of these houses na section…  I’d cut a house through and through, and show the stairs, bed, dog, lamp… in a section.  And I’d draw it over and over… until the art teacher had to ask me to draw something else!”


The Purple Oven


Purple Oven Restaurant. The design intent was to evoke a sense that the space was a part of an old existing house where food and treats have homemade freshness and quality.


She attributes her artistic skills to her mother, artist Yolanda Perez, and her scientific brain to her father, a surgeon.  “Architecture requires you to think very logically and scientifically, and at the same time express the aesthetic,”  Popi says.  Spending six months training in the United States in her first job fresh out of college exposed Popi to infinite possibilities in design.  “There, because of the work, the clients and my boss, anything was possible.  I was taught never to settle for anything less than what you think is the best solution… because that’s the right solution,”  she says emphatically.  “And anything that’s not right is just wrong.”

Each day is an atypical day for Popi.  Aside from the constants like yoga sessions and walking Una, her agenda can range from meetings to site visits, to weddings and writing classes, at any given time.  Keeping her practice at a comfortable level allows her the flexibility to keep on doing the things she loves.  Her individuality is reflected in how Popi presents herself.  “I hate suits,” Popi says,  “I want to be comfortable in jeans and a shirt any day.”  And her uniqueness directly translates to her work and her designs.

“I’ve been practicing for 12 years,” Popi says.  “And what I specialize in is not whether it’s residential or commercial.  I specialize in the design, where everything’s unique and no two places will even look the same.”  She continues,  “The two elements that will play a recurring role in my work are light and air.”

The combination of Popi’s  ability to interpret a three-dimentional space and allowing her imagination to fly gives her the advantage in bringing to life what is in her head.  “I’ve drawn things that I’ve had to explain to engineers and contractors because they couldn’t interpret it,”  she says.  She cites Johnson House as an example.  “I would not cut a tree,”  she says adamantly,  “so I designed the structure in such a way that the bundok would not have to be leveled, and the points of reference were the trees.

Imagination and investment


This kind of approach to her work is, in her words,  “a sense.”  The culmination of varied experiences and an incredible curiosity in all things mesh to become inspirations for Popi’s designs.   “A lot of the things I design don’t exist,”  she says,  “it’s  not like I can show them a picture, because it’s designed specifically for the client, the site and their needs.  Those three things are almost never repeated in the same combination anywhere else.”


Master toilet and bath.  A melding with artist and potter Rita Badilla-Gudino’s  ‘Binhi Series’  the organic and maternal shapes and forms provide the nurturing atmosphere to the space meant to provide rejuvenation and relaxation.

For Popi, there is nothing difficult about designing.  “I enjoy the challenge,”  she says.  She stresses the importance of extensive pre-design research in her work.  Aside from her clients being made to commit their wants and needs on paper,  “I spend weeks just gathering as much information by meeting with and observing my clients,”  she continues,  “and then… I hit the design in one shot,”  she finishes.  “My favorite projects are the ones where the work process between the client and myself is good,”  she says,  “I want the clients to be as invested in the project as I am.”

An avid scuba diver and photographer, Popi talks about these things that inspire her.  “Scuba is like an out of body experience,”  she says.  “Photography takes you places you normally wouldn’t go or do.”  Her influences also stem from people encounters.  She recalls her experience at a Smoky Mountain photography show at the Metropolitan Museum.  “I was listening to the way the subjects of these photographs were reacting to their own Photographs depicting their life, so it’s the things they say… I’m influenced more strongly by honest things like that.”

“When you ask about inspiration,”  Popi says,  “I end up with really good teachers.  For some strange reason, I find the mentors that can take weirdness… I’m lucky with that!”  Luck is seemingly in abundance for Popi.  “My staff is excellent, I don’t have to be in the office all the time.  I’m so lucky,”  she continues,  ‘for the amount of output we do, this set-up was only possible in the last 10 years.”



As she contemplates her future, the petite Popi says,  “I don’t ever want to be a big player.  I just want to keep on being me.”  She concludes happily,  “I don’t want to be big, I just want to be small… and still do what I like to do.”


Detail of the back wall of the Shui Urban Spa reception counter, Shanghai, China.  A blend of the graphic theme inspired by ‘shui,’  which means water, and the architectural design inspiration of  ‘white and light.’