By JESSICA PAG-IWAYAN
With global population continuously rising, various environmental problems are also emerging. From advocating for healthier diets to an overhaul of people’s lifestyles, today’s generation is clamoring for a more sustainable way of life.
This strong awareness became the inspiration for a pair of young Filipino entrepreneurs to come up with an award-winning business idea that promotes an affordable, eco-friendly housing project. They call it Cubo, a low-cost, modular bamboo home concept that can be built in less than five hours.
In an exclusive interview, business partners Earl Patrick Forlales and Zahra Halabisaz Zanjani share with The Philippine Panorama their journey toward bagging international recognition for Cubo.
Earl, who took up material science engineering at the Ateneo de Manila University, says that Cubo is a product of joining an international online construction competition. “I just saw this competition online, the Cities for the Future Challenge, which is based in the UK,” he says. “It was by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), a group of construction professionals all over the world. They set this challenge to young professionals saying, ‘We have a lot of problems, maybe you have some ideas how to solve it.’”
Earl created a design concept using one of the most prominent building materials in the Philippines, the same wood used in building a bahay kubo—the bamboo. “The first-ever proposal that I sent was a very brief outline of what I wanted to create, a modern bahay kubo,” the 23-year-old entrepreneur says. “There was cash prize of £50,000, which was around P3.2 million. What I did was I already outlined [in the concept] how I’d use the cash prize to execute the idea. And I think that’s one of the very strong points of the first proposal.”
His idea made it to the final stage of the competition. “The second submission had more construction details and sketches,” Earl says. “Then the last submission, which was for the global finals, already included a business model along with the technical details.”
Turning Cubo to a reality
His clear, concise, and concrete concept paved the way for Cubo to bring home the grand prize. True to the plan he submitted to Rics, Earl together with his real-life partner Zahra used the prize money to turn Cubo into an actual kubo.
“That’s why I think they gave us the prize because we outlined how we will use the fund,” he says. “We’ve been moving as fast as we can to move the idea from concept to prototype, from a project to a business.”
Cubo’s concept grabbed the attention not only of local media but even international ones. Earl and Zahra were included in this year’s Forbes’ “30 under 30,” which gave them a wider platform for people to recognize their business. According to Earl, there were a lot of people who reached out to them, showing interest to work with them and to invest in their business.
We believe that we should look ahead, our eyes to the future, and not stick to just traditional building materials. We have to be creative.
“Everything has been a learning experience,” he says. “The people we’ve worked with so far, they picked up our story from BBC or CNN or The Guardian. They sent us emails, messaged us on Facebook, saying they wanted to help. And, of course, we want all the help that we can get.”
But the partners admit that not everyone who reached out to them had good intentions, especially for Zahra who experienced discrimination for being a woman.
“Not everyone we’ve encountered was ideal,” she says. “There were instances when—I’m a girl in the construction industry—there were some offers that obviously wanted to take advantage of the situation and gain an upper hand.”
Pushing for greener infrastructure
Originally planned to cater to city housing needs, Earl admits that the situation and availability of spaces in the Metro did not fit Cubo’s concept. From a business perspective, it became clear that they have a bigger market in rural areas, where there are more people looking for sustainable housing concepts.
“There are multiple factors,” Zahra says. “In the city, the growing demand is for vertical buildings. It’s not like in the provinces where everyone has land. I guess even if we planned for it originally to be in the city, the market demand speaks for itself.”
As builders, Earl and Zahra are hoping to influence more construction companies to answer the call for building more sustainable homes and infrastructure today and for the next generations to come.
“Why can’t we go sustainable in the construction industry? We’re building all these infrastructure, monuments, townships, but how come we haven’t tried to focus on something that is long term and integrate it with development?” Zahra asks. “We believe that we should look ahead, our eyes to the future, and not stick to just traditional building materials. We have to be creative.”