“È pazzo (He’s crazy)!”
That’s exactly what friends of Romolo Valentino Nati said of him nearly 11 years ago when he decided to leave a promising architectural practice in Rome and settle in Manila. Today, he heads Italpinas Development Corporation (IDC) as Chairman and CEO, while fulfilling his dream to build “green buildings” that suit a balmy and tropical climate and are not astronomically expensive to build.
Nati’s goal is for more Filipinos to have access to environmentally dynamic homes spiced with cutting-edge design.
“I would not have been able to do this without the right partners,” Nati tells Boardroom Watch. It was a chance meeting in 2008 with businessman-public servant Joey Leviste that led to the realization of an ambition to create sustainable projects. “He understood my ideas, and he introduced me to his son Jojo, a lawyer, who shared my interests and advocacy.”
“I was really lucky to have met the Levistes, and to have come to the Philippines, which is a dynamic and forward-thinking country, where my ideas can resonate.”
In 2009, Nati and Jojo Leviste established Italpinas Development Corporation (IDC)–Italpinas, a portmanteau of “Italy” where Nati was born and “Pilipinas” where the developments take place. According to the company profile, “IDC is committed to environmental sustainability through elegant architectural solutions and trademark contemporary Italian aesthetic.”
Nati staunchly believes in working with materials available in the local site. He explains: “For a building to be green, it doesn’t need expensive technology or materials. However, software, together with the designer’s insight, can be used to address the unique conditions present in a particular location.” He cites significant details such the angle of sunlight during different times of the day, the wind factor, rainfall and possible efficiencies in water collection as well as a host of other elements.
Architects who consider these factors, Nati says, can more deftly apply techniques like cross ventilation, which acts as a natural fanning system, and shading features in the building facade to protect from the sun’s intense rays. What results is a building that passively performs to improve comfort and lower costs without consuming extra energy on its own.
These design philosophies are showcased in Italpinas’ first visible presence in the Philippines—the award-winning Primavera Residences and Primavera City in Cagayan de Oro. Primavera Residences bagged the Best Mixed-Use Development in the Philippines in the 2014-2015 Asia Pacific Property Awards, the Leadership in Sustainability Design & Performance Award in the Philippine Green Building Council Awards 2016 and a certification by EDGE (the IFC/World Bank green building-accrediting body).
Primavera City has also received EDGE accreditation, and has been awarded as the Best Mixed Use Building in the Philippines by the Asian Property Awards in 2017. The latest feather on IDC’s cappello (hat) arrived in November 2018 with its Miramonti Green Residences winning Best Innovation Project of 2018 from Lamudi, the prestigious online real estate platform.
But the greatest fulfillment for Nati remains being approached by OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) or balikbayan (returning Filipinos), who have invested in units in Primavera Residences. He gushes: “They are very appreciative that such a building, which they feel could be in New York or Miami, is now in their own city. ‘Thank you, Mr. Architect,’ they say!”
Earlier, Nati toyed with becoming a car designer—he even won honorable mention in two competitions, the first, “Proposals for a New Concept Car with Forecasting Solutions,” sponsored by Mitsubishi Tokyo in 1999, and the second, “The Key to Future Mobility,” sponsored by BMW Milan in 2000. Architecture, however, won out. He graduated summa cum laude in architecture from Rome’s esteemed La Sapienza University in Rome, having always been keen on contemporary design. “I liked the idea of sustainable buildings, structures that would reduce the impact on the environment and reduce pollution.”
After completing an Advanced Course in Urban Landscape and Layers from the University of Talinn in Estonia, he and some partners entered and won First Prize at the 2006 International Architectural Competition there for A Concept Plan of the Parnu Riverside Center for an innovative and sustainable design of a Multifunctional Commercial Complex.
Seeking professional advancement as well as the chance to hone his English skills, Nati headed for Washington, D.C., in 2005 where he made fast and firm friends with Filipinos, who enticed him to visit the Philippines. He came for a one-month visit in 2007, falling irrevocably in love with the archipelago, which he managed to criss-cross. Seeing ripe opportunities for his concepts, he set up several meetings with local businessmen, all of which fell through until he met Joey Leviste in 2008.
IDC has intentionally focused on developing away from Metro Manila, “in hyper-prospective emerging cities and next-wave locations,” says Nati, who adds: “The Philippines is becoming a multi-polar country. It’s just a matter of time.”
In addition, the confluence of overseas remittances, growth of Business Process Outsourcing, increasing buoyancy in the manufacturing sector and other factors are creating a new middle class with rising purchasing power and consumer spending. The ascendancy of this middle-class population has led to an inevitable backlog in housing, especially in the middle-income market and new emerging urban centers. All in all, a great opportunity that IDC has been quick to respond to.
IDC’s reason for expanding is summed up further in its investor brochure: “Secondary cities are expanding their economy thanks to private and public investments.
“These locations have begun to express demand for quality and good design. Rather than compete with existing developers in well-served areas, IDC targets cities with significant growth prospects and robust demographic profiles. Within the target communities, IDC also chooses locations that are safer and more secure from geo-hazards, and emphasizes safety from major calamities in its designs. The company is also investing in underdeveloped natural areas with the goal to design well-integrated buildings and create a network of eco-tourist structures and services.”
The Miramonti Green Residences in Santo Tomas, Batangas, adjacent to the LISP3 Industrial Estate and Star Tollway, is a fine example of the direction IDC is taking. While due to be completed in 2021, it already has gained notice from the industry with its recent nod from real estate veteran Lamudi.
As a transplant, Nati has thrived despite skepticism from friends and colleagues. He confesses he has always wanted to live in the East, perhaps a throwback from his father Giuseppe being assigned by Italy’s national flag carrier Alitalia to Hong Kong and later, the Maldives as Manager. “When I arrived in the Philippines, things just clicked,” he recalls.
Being a foreigner–an Italian at that–does have its advantages in a culture that is instantly welcoming to outsiders, Nati observes. “It’s an advantage–if you don’t ruin it.” By that, he means exerting patience when things don’t go as planned or keeping it together when promises are not kept despite people saying they would deliver. “Filipinos take to training easily. But here, it’s important to get people to like you and for you to get along with them. If not, forget it. Nothing will happen.
“It’s also a matter of consistent following up and encouraging people.”
The IDC team now is made up of 50 employees, two of whom are Italians like Nati, one, an engineer and the other, an architect.
Husband to Janice Anzures and father to Mia, Nati is an animal-rights advocate, who can’t resist picking up stray cats, bringing them home to nourish and groom, until he can find them “forever homes.” Just recently, he completed his cherished ambition to complete an Executive Masters in Business Administration from the Asian Institute of Management. For sure, his father back in Rome, who had been nagging his son to complete that one last educational trophy, was most relieved, if not overjoyed.
What do Nati’s friends now think of his fantastic decision to uproot from the comfort zone and seek his fortune in the Third World?
He says: “They wonder at how I’ve really changed my life around. It’s like they think I’ve won the lottery. But they don’t see the effort and sacrifice it took in between to get here.”
But Nati knows that at the end of the day, he’s won. He followed his passion to spectacular results.
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A different direction
Instead of launching in Metro Manila as other developers have done, Italpinas has seen its future take place away from it. Here’s why.
• The Philippines is developing into a multi-hub country. It’s just a matter of time before development explodes in different parts of the archipelago.
• The blend of Overseas remittances, BPO growth and a vibrant manufacturing sector is creating a new middle class with rising purchasing ability. This has created a backlog in housing, especially in the middle-class sector.
• Secondary cities are experiencing increasing economies due to private and public sector investments.
PHOTOS BY AMANDA A.S. GANA