Office envy: The Public School Manila in Escolta

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The Public School Manila office at the First United Building in Escolta. The brand agency has worked for a range of clients, mostly government agencies and NGOs such as Intramuros Administration, Department of Transportation, Nayong Pilipino, and the Lopez Museum. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — For the folks at the brand agency The Public School Manila, having an office was an escape from the constant need of having to finish their projects at a coffee shop. Freelancers are familiar with this routine: secure a seat with an outlet to charge your laptop, buy a drink, and then get the wifi-password. “Working at coffee shops can get tiring and most of the time frustrating,” says The Public School Manila co-founder Vince Africa. “Especially at times when we’re really pressed to finish a project and every coffee shop nearby turns out to be full.”

They’ve decided they’d had enough. So they started looking for places to hold office. “There was nothing specific in our mind, really,” recalls Africa. “Just a space where we can regularly work. Until I remembered this space that I first saw a couple of years ago for a short video project I did for Team Manila. I was in awe. I was like, ‘It would be cool to see this space come alive with a design studio, or a co-working space.’”

They eventually leased the room at the fifth floor of the First United Building in Escolta (which is quickly becoming home to some of Manila’s emerging creatives) — a spacious 43-square-meter area with a pillar standing as some sort of a divider, wide windows letting in natural light, and a view of the neo-classical and art deco architecture of the nearby buildings. The place can be nondescript, given how bare it was when it was first leased, and begged a utilitarian approach in terms of use.

The Public School Manila The minimalist approach in the office is twofold. "When we started, we wanted to have that New York loft/studio kind of [vibe], but with a mix of [Japanese minimalism]," shares The Public School Manila co-founder Vince Africa. "Plus we plan to eventually get interns and designers, so I think keeping the space flexible and open for expansion is a must for us." Photo by JL JAVIER

The Public School Manila On display at the office are materials used in some commissioned work — like a bust of Elpidio Quirino and a scale replica of the Manila City Hall clock tower — as well as figurines from the travels of the brand agency's two founders. Photo by JL JAVIER

The Public School Manila Part of the design system made by The Public School Manila for the Intramuros Administration. Photo by JL JAVIER

For the first few months, the office only had ceiling lamps, a six-seater table, chairs, and a fan (since there were only two of them working in the first place). They also kept the space mostly undisturbed: the red tiles on the floor still bear the wear of ages, the raised area on the window acts as an informal sitting area and storage, and the lone pillar a unifying structure in the middle of things.

“The whole place is an amalgam of things from the countless Booksale visits, secondhand furniture-house window shopping, our travels, and daydreaming inside designer furniture shops,” says co-founder Reymart Cerin. “It’s more of an ongoing process, one that does not end.”

The Public School Manila, as its name reflects, mostly works, as of now, with government agencies and non-government organizations to help them in their design systems. Some of its clients include the Intramuros Administration, COMELEC, the Lopez Museum, Nayong Pilipino, and the Quirino Foundation.

The agency has been around for a few years already but their office makes room for growth expected for a startup. “We try not to put too much because it clutters you visually,” says Cerin. “A mantra we always try to imbibe both in our work and our space is ‘It should only be there if it serves a purpose.’”

The Public School Manila The Public School Manila founders Vince Africa and Reymart Cerin at their office in Escolta. Photo by JL JAVIER

The Public School Manila The brand agency also hosts a few events in their office, such as a portfolio review for creatives and a pop-up shop during the Escolta Block Party last year. Photo by JL JAVIER

The Public School Manila "Most of the objects you will see inside our studio have a story and are personal items that mostly came from our travels together," says co-founder Reymart Cerin. "I’d like to think of it as our own take on [the Filipino] 'halo-halo culture,' where we mix the beautiful things we love together." Photo by JL JAVIER

“Our workspace is straightforward,” adds Africa. “Just the things we need to get things done.” This is true for each element in The Public School Manila’s office: storage boxes for materials are stowed on top of shelves, magazines and reading materials serve as inspiration, and little trinkets from their travel provide a pop of color. “We might install a daybed soon, though,” says Africa, laughing. “I guess that’s how we are as a brand, too.”

“I’d like to think of it as our own take on [the Filipino] ‘halo-halo culture,’ where we mix the beautiful things we love together,” shares Cerin. “From the furniture, books and magazines, down to our stapler, you will actually have an idea how our brand transcends design to our advocacies for functionality, art, heritage and cultural work, and public service.”

The Public School Manila Materials used for the cover that The Public School Manila did for "The Practicing Misis Cookbook" by Rosan Katlea Reodica. Photo by JL JAVIER

The Public School Manila The space mostly undisturbed: the red tiles on the floor still bear the wear of ages, the raised area on the window acts as an informal sitting area and storage, and the lone pillar a unifying structure in the middle of things. Photo by JL JAVIER