Forge Your Own Path with Crazy Aspirations

Buck Sia is known by his colleagues and close friends as a very passionate architect with firm convictions and unwavering values. These are the very qualities that will make you love or hate Buck. People who celebrate and close to Buck are very lucky because he is also very generous with his gifts and learnings. He is a life-long student which makes him a great mentor (very challenging, demanding and all that too). However, some people (sadly for them) interpret it as being hambog or arogante (arrogant).

People are truly entitled to their own opinions but often people who construed strong passion and convictions as arrogance are insecure, mediocre, and incompetent. It is a sad reality, but it is something I just could not ignore anymore. Time and time again, I see and prove how powerful the right convictions are as they always result in excellent and exceptional works. The power does not only lie in the recognition of the work, but excellence naturally brings everything to light including –and most especially –incompetence and mediocrity.

I crafted my questions for Buck for this interview to highlight Self-Mastery; Passion and Conviction; Leadership; Transformation all of which results to excellence. The first part of the interview ended with a simple conclusion of how one can achieve excellence. (Read it here.) In this interview Buck shared about his conviction on strong beliefs that made him the person and designer that he is today.

The Sia family owns a very established business in Cebu called ITrade a.k.a. Architectural & Interior Source (AIS). Buck –in his own words –was already ordained to be a boss, right there and then –a typical ‘tagapagmana‘ (heir) so to speak. But despite this very well laid out future for him and his parents’ protests he stubbornly forged his own path with a heart pounding with aspiration. Instead of claiming his given right and privileges to be a boss right after graduation he insisted on what he believed was extremely essential for his growth –to be trained by the right mentor.

His parents did not expect him to go all out in the design practice let alone as passionately and stubbornly. Typical loving and concerned parents they were, but still also very traditional business-oriented folks whose picture of their future architect son is to practice in a more traditional way. They could not grasp why on earth would their boy go through all the troubles of employment and working for another person and be “mentored”.

Spoiler alert: About a decade later after his own path forging to become the designer he aspired for Buck is now also managing the family business.

Story by: Nana Cabales
Photos courtesy of: Buck Sia and Zubu DA

I only had one question for this part and a very candid one:

Buck, why are you so stubborn with your beliefs?

Buck: Not only my parents but many people actually think –and this is the sad part—that after you graduate college or after you pass the board exam, you are already a good designer. Heck no! I have always known that it is not the case. I have always had this aspiration even before I graduated. I strongly felt that I can do something more that will inspire myself and other people –to do something more beyond what I could see. Simply, to challenge the status quo is like my life-long manifesto. I really felt that I could do it, so I started doing it.  

I do not really believe that there is a limitation for an aspiration like this. Whether it is race, status, gender, period or whatever because in all courses of history all the way back to the Roman Empire, Greeks, Bronze Ages, down to the Stone Age there was always that one guy who made fire. And each was capable. Naa gyud na’y usa permi nga musupak. / There will always be that one person who will challenge the status quo.

I only started with that aspiration. But I did not always know what to do right away, especially early on. I simply started nurturing the aspiration to make a difference and influence at least Cebu and raise the ladder a bit more, then I am good with that. I thought to myself then, “Ah, kaya ra guro ni!” / “Ah, this is perhaps achievable!”

At that moment when I started to really take this aspiration seriously and manifest it, there was no internet yet, there were no ArchDaily or Bluprint Magazines yet. I buried myself into books and studied all those notable foreign architects deeply. And I had that lingering thought and asked myself, “If they can do great things, why can’t we? Why can’t I?” Because I genuinely believe that we can, that I can. That aspiration is truly very ambitious. It did not stop me. But it humbled me. The more I sought after this aspiration the more I realized that I had to step down and admitted to myself, “Buck, banga-a nimo oy. Wa man gyud kaay talent, at 22, wa pa gyud kay nabaw’an!” / “Buck, you suck. You have no talent at all, and at 22 you really know nothing!”

Admitting to himself that he does not have any special talents early on just full of crazy aspiration was very crucial to Buck. The brutal honesty and the ugly truth are exactly what drove him to strive for excellence and to thrive in his craft.

Now, this is something that I just recently fully realized:

Excellence is my essence.

Cor Jesu Oratory Cebu 12th World Architecture Festival Shortlist for Religion – Completed Buildings Category

It all started with brutally honest self-evaluation. In the office for example, when there is a project and my team pitches their designs and say one design was disapproved, I do not allow them to just simply stop there and do something else. When your design is disapproved, always know why. Was it the lack of better management? Was it the way it was communicated? Was it the way it was drawn? It is very crucial to know where it failed or why it was rejected and go back. When you have an already good system going you still must make changes and make reinventions that is why knowing where you went wrong is crucial. Because often when you examine more, investigate your own process and look back on everything that you realize, “Ah, it was the lack of explanation. I was not able to say and clarify the idea. I should have said something else to better communicate the design.”

Self-evaluation does not only apply in failures because I even challenge my successful projects all the time. My dad always says that the brain is also a muscle that needs exercise. That became an integral part of me. As a brain exercise, I always ask myself, “What else could have I done better? How could I design it better?”

This process is what Buck calls “process dissecting”. Buck always challenges himself and his team to do better even when they have already done the best. He believes that if you have achieved to master an aspect of the process or of a task you try to ‘dissect’ it further and from there you will be able to do it better, faster, or smarter next time. For instance, when you are in a design ideation process, and it would usually take you two hours to analyze a part, the moment you mastered the 2-hour analysis you better start dissecting that part of the process and start adjusting. Until it enables you to analyze a similar aspect of the design for another project for only an hour or even faster.

This “process dissecting” is not limited to only reducing your work time but also to other aspects like efficiency and effectiveness in terms of expenditures and workload. Like me, Buck is a strong believer of working smarter than harder. And this together with constantly challenging the status quo drives him to always reinvent even his own ways that have been tried and tested. It is very special to not only see your external circumstances as the status quo. To break your own stability and comfort and consider it a personal status quo to be challenged and tested is a gift. With a proper mix of honesty and humility this will only take you to greater heights and depths as a person, as an entrepreneur, as designer, as an educator, as whoever you are aspiring to be!

See, Self-Mastery truly never ends. 

Slides 1-2: Bent House
Slides 3-4: Flow House
Slides 5-6: House JC

In part 3 we talked about start-ups and compromise. Find out next week if Buck Sia ever compromises. 

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