We were the two youngest rookies, summer apprentices gathering life experiences at an architectural office.
Youngest is relative; Bobby was a generation older than me but we, the baby architects at the Leandro Locsin office, became fast friends.
Our tables were side by side at the back of the studio where we thought nobody would notice us and see how we were so excited but at the same time nervous to be there.
This was, after all, our first job, and all the other people in the room were pros, no longer the teachers and students we had been used to being surrounded with.
Those were the pre-computer days. Our work was very manual. For a while we erased drafting mistakes done by others. On huge sheets of tracing paper taped on even larger drafting boards, sometimes we erased a few lines, other times we erased whole sections of drafting.
We joked about being the eraser department, until one day we were promoted to other tasks.
He went up in the architectural world and got to do stairs. He had to draw every single nail, tread, riser and baluster that went into a stair. He worked on all kinds of stairs, straight, folded and curved. Wow, I thought.
I got to do bathrooms. With a pencil and a T-square, I had to draw and count every single tile on the floor and walls, position bathtubs, locate faucets, make sure everything was drained properly, draw towel rods and soap dishes.
Many years later, I admitted to him that I looked over my shoulder in envy, thinking his advanced knowledge in things architectural got him to do such an important thing as stairs.
His reply was that he kept looking at me doing bathrooms, envying what he perceived then as my skill.
Bobby was not one to be envied. He was one to be respected.
He championed the cause for Philippine architecture in the days when nobody believed there was such a thing, so enamored we were (and still are) of Western-influenced design.
Before anyone was doing it, he traveled the country looking at old churches, houses, urban districts and historic towns. He never stopped looking and writing about what he saw.
He went beyond seeing architecture for it’s own sake but situated architecture in the historic, social and economic milieu of its time, which gave architecture relevance.
An environmentalist before environmental consciousness became fashionable, Bobby went to the Cordillera, looked at traditional houses and villages, seeing how villages were positioned at the exact confluence where rice terraces met water source, rolling slopes and mountain valleys to protect the homes from the onslaught of nature.
He was interested in how Filipino dwellings responded to nature and how they reflected Filipino lifestyle.
He looked at the bahay-na-bato and informal settler housing; noticed how unlike they were from Western houses where each room is completely sealed off from the other. In the Filipino house, spaces were separated in a transparent manner, allowing one space to run into another.
By throwing open wide double doors, bahay-na-bato bedrooms opened out and became part of living rooms in the daytime. An enclosed balcony (volada) ran across the outer perimeter of the house. It functioned as a transition area between interior and exterior.
Interiors were transparent, spaces freely running into each other, allowing air and space to circulate freely. Walls were not enclosed all the way to the ceiling.
Just beneath the ceiling, a wide strip of carved wooden fretwork (calado) allowed air to circulate within the house. Like the baro’t saya, which allows layers of space created with overlays of gossamer piña clothing to permit air to circulate and cool the body.
Bobby produced the seminal work that examined informal-settler housing; the living patterns within each dwelling; the interconnected dwellings that made an informal neighborhood; and the invisible, transparent boundaries between families and their neighbors.
Bobby saw much more than the transparency intrinsic in the Filipino psyche.
He researched, experienced and learned what it was that made Filipino architecture so unique in the world, architecture appropriate to the Filipino culture, way of life and environment.
However, the best thing was how he selflessly communicated all his discoveries about Filipino houses and life in the Philippines. He gave lectures, organized exhibitions, wrote article and books on art and architecture, and was bestowed national awards for his work.
Bobby didn’t really teach, but despite never having done formal classroom lectures, he educated generations of architects. To them he is the respected icon that has made appreciating being Filipino the way to look to the future.
A Benedictine monk, Dom Bernardo Maria Perez, OSB, became rector of San Beda College. Everyone knew him as Fr. Bobby. Before the priesthood, he also was a journalist and writer for major Manila newspapers. He was once involved in the Bayanihan Dance Company.
He graduated from University of Santo Tomas with an architecture degree. He signed his voluminous articles and essays on architecture and art as “Rodrigo D Perez III.”
Last month, Bobby was in the hospital for a few weeks. As his nurse was packing and getting him ready to return to the Benedictine abbey, he told Bobby it was time for him to go home.