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As a society, we have made great progress in proving that women can be wherever they want to be–at the top of a corporate ladder, commanding the boardroom; on a political seat before a panel of the nation’s policy-makers; or sometimes, back in the kitchen, not cooking up delicious meals, but drawing up a blueprint for the architecture and design of the space, swapping aprons for hard hats.
Cathy Saldaña, Ivy Almario, and Van Acuña Solaña are living proofs of that. Cathy, one of the most prominent female architects in the country, heads PDP Architects. Ivy, a renowned interior designer, founded the trusted firm Atelier Almario. Van, another interior designer, is a constant presence in top design magazines in the country. Respected in their field, the three women’s career portfolios prove that “she can.”
Soaring to Greater Heights as a Woman
Cathy’s projects go beyond residential spaces. She traveled to different parts of the world, designing all kinds of buildings, from hotels and resorts to hospitals, schools, and even theme parks. No matter where she goes, at the heart of her practice is inclusive architecture: design for the people.
It’s no surprise that what she considers her best quality as a woman has something to do with relationships. “I mentor others. I nurture with knowledge. I am generous [with] my time and resources.” At the same time, she’s firm in saying that she’s confident, a trait that catapulted her career into the global stage and made her more credible in the eyes of the people she meets.
Meanwhile, Ivy’s design talent is one that turned heads in the United States, with top hotel chains scrambling for her renderings. Despite that, she decided to go back to the country and help develop resorts, hotels, and luxury residences. Back in the Philippines, she did not only make herself busy with buildings that serve the upscale market, but instead dedicated her talent to GKonomics, a social enterprise development initiative that works with underprivileged communities to create a sustainable livelihood for Filipinos.
Ivy did a lot, to say the least. She wasn’t held back by anything, even by society’s archaic standards on women. “I never thought I was less than a man, when tasking up to get a job done,” she noted.
Van, on the other hand, had previously worked for various firms, and eventually ventured into her own. Despite her go-getter attitude, there’s a calm resoluteness in her that she recognizes as one of her best traits as a woman.
She said, “In general, I do believe that women are the more patient sex. I can last longer in traffic. I can deal with indecision better and I am more flexible to changes.”
Despite being successful in their fields, these women were quick to reveal their female inspirations. Cathy looks up to the late Zabela Hadid, also a well-respected architect, and the renowned international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.
Ivy, meanwhile, has her lady hero closer to heart: her mom, Pacita Syquia Almario. “She is strong, glamorous, intelligent, and has integrity,” she shared.
For Van, their longtime house help, Aling Lou, is her inspiration. She shared, “Aling Lou was a formidable woman. She provided for all her nephews and nieces. She could break down all her palengke expenses right down to the centavo.”
She added, “To this day, everyone in my family set the cooking standard to hers. I grew up discerning of food and love cooking myself because of this woman.”
Looking back at their journey, Cathy and Ivy share that there were some things they wished someone told them so they could have weathered struggles better.
“In my youth, I was encouraged by my parents to be strong, to achieve as much as my talents could yield, and to accomplish what I could. I, however, wish someone told me then not to mind people’s criticisms and their opinions of me,” Cathy mused.
Drowning out other people’s voices is one of the hardest obstacles women had to overcome because for so long, they’ve been taught to think, speak, act, and dress a certain way. But fortunately, today, women are slowly but fiercely reclaiming their voice and finding assurance in themselves. In Cathy’s case, the moment came as she grew to maturity.
“I learned later on in life to be more confident, to focus, to have courage and continue my goals with kindness and perseverance without letting other people bring me down.”
Van mused about her wanting to be more involved in extracurricular activities, “I wish I […] joined clubs or picked up more hobbies back in my teens. I think doing so early builds character. I’m a late bloomer.” With more opportunities for women today, the possibilities of becoming anything are endless.
Ivy, meanwhile, has a piece of advice:
“We should tell all our teenagers that they are more than enough.”
This is something ladies today should hear every so often. Even with make-up, achievements, or relationships removed, women should feel that they’re important, valid, and worthy of love. Even without striving, they should be comfortable in themselves.
Adding a piece of wise counsel to women struggling in their chosen fields, Ivy shared, “Invest [your] time only in pursuit of [your] passion, so that [you] can bear all the pain, suffering, and long hours it takes to be on top of [the] game.” She reiterates the famous line, “If you do what you love every day, you never worked a day in your life.” It will be pure pleasure, she said.
As for Cathy, it’s simple:
“Focus. Find your niche. Specialize.”
Meanwhile, Van shares, “Struggling is part of the journey. Failure is inevitable and necessary for your growth.”
Women are no longer boxed at home: they’re out there in different fields conquering the world. For Cathy, Ivy, and Van, they’re doing it one blueprint at a time.