It’s hard to pin globetrotting art collector Robbie Antonio down, but somehow I manage to steal twenty minutes of his time during this year’s Art Basel Hong Kong to have a quick chat about his latest enterprise.
In town for Art Basel after a whirlwind tour of Design Days in Dubai the previous week, Antonio had just come from speaking on the subject of temporary architecture as part of a series of talks organized by Hong Kong property giant Swire Properties, together with super curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, Thai architect Kulapat Yantrasast, and Marisa Yiu of Hong Kong design firm ESKYIU.
As Managing Director and Head of International Brand Collaborations for his family business Century Properties, Antonio is known for conceptualizing a string of luxury residential developments in his native Manila whose interiors are all branded collaborations with some of the world’s top fashion and design houses, such as the Trump Tower at Century City, Century Spire (Armani/Casa), and Milano Residences (Versace Home) in Makati, and the Acqua Livingstone Residences (MissoniHome) in Mandaluyong.
Most recently, however, Antonio has turned his attention to a somewhat different architectural form — the prefabricated residence, or “pre-crafted property,” as he prefers to call it. Designed by over 30 of the world’s most celebrated architects, Revolution is a series of homes and pavilions that deftly combines cost-efficient technologies and painstakingly conceived designs that are shipped off to the client’s location as if it were a high-spec installation or artwork.
While these prefab homes and pavilions (“collectible properties”) are constructed with the utmost care and crafted to high standards, they aren’t completely customizable. On the flip side, the price tag isn’t astronomical, either.
“I want to make Revolution accessible,” Antonio tells me. “The average price for one of these homes or pavilions is US$300,000, which I think is very compelling, because not everyone has access to these architects. And even if you did, you would have to spend three or four million dollars on a house designed by them.”
“But my price point is a tenth of that. And it’s about half the price you’d pay for a prefab home in America,” he adds. “Sure, Revolution doesn’t actually produce custom-made homes. But this is a price that’s considerably cheaper than some of the paintings hanging around us right now,” Antonio points out, gesturing towards some of the fabulously expensive, blazingly lit artworks that the world’s top dealers have brought to Hong Kong. “Basically, that’s the value proposition that I’m offering.”
Revolution’s inspirations include some fairly obvious ones. “My key references are Jean Prouvé, who originally built his pavilions and structures for blue collar workers, and the Serpentine Pavilion in London,” says Antonio.
But Prouvé’s avant-garde, socially conscious agenda of extending the benefits of intelligent design to the French working class are — somewhat obviously — less evident in Revolution. Drawing on a developer’s canny instincts for a great marketing hook, Antonio is effectively applying the aura of top starchitects and globally endorsed designers to the domain of prefab architecture — a sector of the market that has, up until now, remained fairly unsexy.
“I was thinking that if I could do all these mixed-use and residential towers with Century Properties in Manila, then I could also transport these brands — and I consider artists and architects to be brands — to more and more countries,” Antonio explains. “And I realized that the only way I could do this was by making prefab houses. In a way, Revolution was a very logical extension of what I’ve previously done.”
The list of architects who are on board at the moment is an illustrious one by any standard. Marcel Wanders, Zaha Hadid, Kravitz Design and Marmol Radziner, Tom Dixon, David Salle and AA Studio, and Fernando Romero among others have been roped in to design Revolution’s residential projects.
It’s the outdoor pavilions, however, that showcase some of the more experimental and exciting designs, such as the Volu Dining Pavilion by Zaha Hadid with Patrik Schumacher, a sleek, open-plan “ReCreation” pavilion by Daniel Libeskind, an “aluminum cloud” pavilion by Kengo Kuma, an “Armadillo” tea pavilion by Ron Arad, a minimal bamboo structure by the Campana Brothers, and an “Eros Senses Pavilion” by former Tadao Ando protégé Kulapat Yantrasast.
If there’s a distinct sense of a social mission at Revolution, it would be Antonio’s desire to support local artisans around the world who can give the structures the consummate level of craftsmanship that he’s aiming for. “With Revolution, I want to involve artisans, architects, and all the trades that surround these fields: the best glass, steel, and aluminum people, for instance,” he says.
But Antonio is no rosy-eyed romanticist when it comes to the vanishing race of craftspeople that he’s looking to collaborate with. “I want the end user to derive all the benefits that come from working with the world’s top artisans. But for that to happen, I also need the best economics, as well the best production and quality,” he notes.
From his background in real estate, Antonio already has a global network of trusted associates and business contacts. “I’d say that I know quite a bit about materiality because I’m a builder. I talk to people in the trades a lot, as well as a whole range of contractors and craftsmen.”
Ultimately, however, the goal is to create entire communities of Revolution residences and pavilions, augmented by large-scale art installations, all set against stunning natural landscapes. “I want to create the next Naoshima or Inhotim of the world,” he declares, referring to Japanese billionaire Soichiro Fukutake’s art-scattered archipelago in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, and mining magnate Bernardo Paz’s contemporary art center and botanical garden in Brumadinho, Brazil.
As an existing model to learn from, Antonio also mentions Château La Coste, the French winery and modern sculpture park outside Aix-en-Provence that contains glass and concrete pavilions designed by Frank Gehry and Tadao Ando.
“The final goal with Revolution is to take a bunch of these pavilions and some art, and then create a living community around them,” says Antonio. Although the locations of these exclusive art and architectural retreats are still up in the air, Antonio is currently discussing possibilities with more than 80 landowners in upwards of 30 countries.
Poised to create new environments that lie somewhere between gated communities of achingly high design for the fabulously wealthy, and idyllic havens surrounded by both untouched nature and spectacular art, Revolution is Antonio’s attempt to “go for the next wave, and to create the new references.”
“Instead of just having a hotel or resort, why can’t you have a weekend place with your own home there? With a timeshare system, maybe, or some derivative thereof,” he muses. “We can be creative in real estate — that’s what I do for a living.”