On Global Filipinos: Architect Emmanuel Canlas: A towering success in KL

An architect by accident.

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

I was in Kuala Lumpur in December for the Asia Pacific Leaders program hosted by the Obama Foundation to train some 200 young, “emerging leaders” from 33 countries in the region.

While in Malaysia, I met one of very few prominent Filipinos in the country: Architect Emmanuel Canlas. He was introduced to me through the kindness of Philippine Ambassador Charles Jose.

Manny Canlas was born in Manila on March 26, 1956 to Carlos Cordova Canlas, an accountant, and Aurora Oliveros, a dressmaker. His father considers Pampanga his hometown, and his mother is from Bataan.  He is the eldest of two boys and four girls. 

Manny grew up in Manila, but went to high school in Plaridel, Bulacan.

“It was an awesome self-realization of basic life without the sophistication and stress (of city living),” he observed about being educated in the province. “I’m glad my Mom took me to the province to grow up and see nature at its best: clean swim-able rivers, carabaos, birds, rice fields, nights without electricity…”

For college, he went to the University of Santo Tomas in Manila to study Architecture.

Choosing Architecture as his career was by happenstance, an “accidental choice.”

He recalled how his father accompanied him to Manila to enroll. “I was good at drawing, so I went to the UST College of Fine Arts. I noticed a long line of 20-30 people at two of the window counters. So, I went to the one with the shortest line and asked for the form to fill up for Fine Arts. The lady said I was in the wrong line and pointed at the longest lines. Being determined to come home with a mission accomplished report to my parents, I filled up the form and only then I realized that I enrolled in Architecture. The rest is history.” 

While still studying, he had his apprenticeship at his grandfather’s firm Simoun T. Soriano Architects and Partners.  After graduation, he worked as a draftsman for less than a year with Asia Land Development Corp. to gain experience. Good fortune came his way when he joined Leandro V. Locsin and Partners in 1980 on the recommendation of a friend.

He passed the board exams in 1981 and at the same year was promoted to group leader and sent to Brunei to oversee the construction of the residential Palace of the Sultan of Brunei. It took three years to complete. 

A huge sprawling complex of buildings (including underground floors) and 1,788 rooms, with a banquet hall for 5,000 guests and a mosque for 1,500 worshipers,  Istana Nurul Iman (The Light of Faith Palace) is considered by the Guinness World Records as the “world’s largest residential palace” with 2,152,782 square feet of floor space. 

The completed Istana Nurul Iman, the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei. It is said to be the world’s largest residential palace.

It was in one of the social gatherings by the Ayala Group in Brunei that Manny’s life turned towards Malaysia. He met a Malaysian businesswoman, Kristine Wong, who became his best friend. When the Palace project was at its near completion stage, Manny left Brunei and followed the love of his life to Malaysia in 1983. They got married in January 1, 1986 in Manila. His mother made Kristine’s wedding dress.  

Since then, Manny has been connected with some prominent architectural practice and involved with the following landmark projects in Malaysia:

1) Hajeedar and Associates 

-Restoration of Heritage buildings,

-Cherating Holiday Villa Resort Hotel

-Bank Pembangunan Office Tower

2) Kumpulan Senireka Sdn Bhd

-224 units high-rise condominium

-235 units high-rise condominium

-300 units high-rise condominium

3) RSP Architects Sdn Bhd

-Platinum Park Office Tower

-Seri Hening high-rise condominium

-Master-planning for Queens Bay

4) Emmanuel Canlas Design

-June Lew residence

-Yeo Boon Leong residence

-Dr. Mario Borja residence

From 1999 to 2001, Manny maintained an office in Makati, Metro Manila.  During that time, their only child, Nicholas, now 28 years old, studied in Lourdes School in Mandaluyong. 

Father’s Day dinner with wife Kristine and son Nicholas.

His son followed in his footsteps and became an architect himself, graduating  from Taylor’s  University School of Architecture and Building Design. Manny, at 63, considers himself semi-retired and was inspired by his son to teach at the same university he graduated from. A very rewarding career of sharing his work experience with budding future architects. He is also the founding president of the United Architects of the Philippines Kuala Lumpur chapter founded in 2015.  

Son Nicholas finished his Master’s Degree in Dessau, Germany. He is now working with the design team of the prominent firm, RSP Architects Sdn Bhd.  Manny is very proud of his son, who is comfortable both as a Filipino and as a Malaysian.  

I asked Manny what his basic philosophy is. “Just be yourself and not copy somebody else,” he replied.

He learned from the National Artist Leandro V. Locsin, fondly  called “Tatay” by his employees, to “always do your best and try to be the best in whatever you do. But remain humble.”

© The FilAm 2020

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