Harvard University Graduate School of Design and AECOM bring the Southeast Asia Design Studio to Manila, spotlighting future habitations. The program examines new approaches to endemic problems by inspiring new ideas for better design for 21st century resiliency, sustainability and livability.

Over 300 participants, including senior Philippines government officials, business, media, civic and community stakeholders, attended the “Manila: Future Habitations” Public Forum on 6 February 2018.

The Forum is a key agenda in the Manila program which is the final part of the three-year series on Southeast Asian megacities, following Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur. It is also the sixth year of collaboration between Harvard University Graduate School of Design and AECOM, aimed at providing some of the GSD’s top students with exposure to the urban design challenges and opportunities resulting from the hyper-growth across Asia’s cities.

The capacity-filled event kicked off with speeches delivered by Philippines Senator Sonny Angara, Senate of the Philippines; Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design, Harvard GSD; and Sean Chiao, APAC President, AECOM.

“We are truly moved by the passion that Manila residents have for their city; it will go far in carrying the Manila Studio 2018 over its six month journey. Asia is home to the world’s fastest urbanization and the world needs its future generations of design talent to understand this region’s global impact, as well as possibilities to make a meaningful difference. As the Studio offers top students with the real and complex challenge of researching and developing new design concepts for Manila, diverse stakeholders across the city are able to discover new ways of approaching old challenges through the fresh perspective of the students,” said Sean.

“This is the second time within a year that AECOM has had the opportunity to engage a diversity of stakeholders in Manila in imagining the city’s future, when in March 2017, Manila was the inaugural symposium of Imagine 2060: Delivering Tomorrow’s Cities Together, a new three year global conversation series launched by AECOM in collaboration with Asia Society.”

“Manila’s challenges may seem substantial, but the most critical building blocks of opportunity are present in the form of a strong economy which has been among the world’s highest performing for close to a decade; and the yearning that citizens share for a better quality of urban life. Our collaboration with Harvard Graduate School of Design to expose its top students and stakeholders in some of the region’s most dynamic cities to each other, is rooted in the belief that what we imagine together, we can deliver together,” said Sean.

An important research initiative in one of the most challenging urban environments in the world

“Contemporary Greater Metro Manila, with a population of more than 25 million, is by far the largest city in our three-year series on Southeast Asia, and arguably the most complex, with vast extremes of economic and social strata, and yet universal challenges for its citizens, such as mobility, improved ecology and connectivity,” said Mohsen Mostafavi.

“Manila’s fascinating history and unique characteristics have created an urban scenario among the most challenging, and yet promising, anywhere in the world. This makes for a truly fascinating and exciting study area.”

Panel speakers included Jose Ma. K. Lim, president and CEO of Metro Pacific Investments Corporation (MPIC); Art Corpuz, former chief planner for Ayala Land, a unit of Ayala Corporation; Avelino Tolentino III, Deputy Secretary General of the Philippines’ Cabinet-level Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council; Mario de los Reyes, Dean, University of the Philippines School of Urban and Regional Planning; and Henry Yap, General Manager, Robinsons Land Corporation.


The focus area for the Manila Studio 2018 includes the Central Manila Port Areas; the adjacent neighborhood of BASECO, which is one of the most economically disadvantaged; the disconnected mercantile communities of Binondo and Tondo on the north side of the Pasig River; and on the south side of the river, Manila’s ancient historic heart, the Spanish walled citadel of Intramuros. Taken together, the study areas possess unique conditions that represent in microcosm, the extreme conditions faced throughout Greater Metro Manila. The Intramuros Administration, the Philippine government agency tasked with administering the historic district, also partnered with the Harvard Graduate School of Design and AECOM to sponsor the public forum and the Manila Studio research project.

The GSD students will return to Manila again at around Sep/Oct 2018 to present their recommendations in a public exhibition and forum. Details will be provided at a later date.

More photos and videos of the event can be viewed on the event’s Facebook page.