How Robbie Antonio Is Building The Home Of The Future
Fittingly, Robbie Antonio, the $1 billion construction start-up CEO, has not one but two extraordinary homes in Manila. The first is a biomorphic art-gallery-cum-private-residence dubbed Stealth in the Philippines’ capital’s most exclusive neighbourhood.
It’s as if a spaceship has landed among the grand villas, an otherworldly, matte black confection dreamt up by the iconic Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who was persuaded to take his first residential commission in 15 years by the strength of Antonio’s vision. That, and the fact the entrepreneur is as charming as he is persistent, and clearly has a passion for design. “I wanted the art to pop, and usually every gallery has white walls,” says Antonio by way of explanation of the unusually dark palette. “Everything here is matte black. It’s my favourite colour. In the bathroom, even the soap and the tissue paper is black.”
Robbie Antonio sits on furniture by Daniel Libeskind at the home he has dubbed Stealth
As the name suggests, Antonio’s home is an intensely private space (all the doors have biometric sensors) yet it has a gallery-like feel, thank to the cavernous, shadowy interior and the museum-quality commissions it houses. His astounding art collection is eclectic and colourful, with works by Damien Hirst, Francis Bacon and Paul McCarthy popping out of the gloom. There is nothing cosy or conventional about this house – there are few windows, for one thing; apertures in the ceiling pierce defined spaces with light – and there is something extraordinary to gaze at with every turn.
“I didn’t want it to look like this is a house,” says Antonio, “That was the point. I didn’t want to enter and see a sofa, a TV, a dining room. If I could, I wouldn’t even have chairs. I wanted it to be very distressed and Brutalist. I didn’t want an elegant mansion. That to me is so cliché. I just wanted the architecture to stand out and to make people think.”
The Armadillo Tea Pavilion by Ron Arad
Antonio is in the business of reimagining what a home can be, using the greatest design and architecture talents such as Zaha Hadid and Jean Nouvel to elevate the concept of pre-fabricated homes and turn it into something fabulous and desirable. The ethos behind his company Revolution Precrafted embodies democratic design at its best. It specialises in the construction of prefabricated, made-to-order homes that are constructed at a fraction of the cost of houses built using traditional construction methods.“The goal is to be prolific,” he says, “The mission statement is to the ultimate marketplace for designer, modular homes at an accessible price.”
The Volu Dining Pavilion by Zaha Hadid with Patrik Schumacher launched Revolution Precrafted at Design Miami in 2015
Dotted throughout his own cavernous home there are monolithic pieces that Antonio has commissioned from leading designers and architects, including Kengo Kuma, David Adjaye, Tadao Ando and Daniel Libeskind. Several of the works are pavilions which were created for the launch of Revolution Precrafted at Design Miami in December 2015.
Another novel feature is a rotating bar, which Koolhaas integrated into the house at Antonio’s request; it was a scaled-down version of a much bigger, unrealised ambition. “At one point, I wanted the entire house to rotate - imagine a different facade every week - but it proved to be impossible,” Antonio explains, “I wanted four sides that changed throughout the month.”
His ambitions for Revolution Precrafted won’t be scaled back and it is growing at a pace that has even taken him by surprise. “I always planned and hoped that it would be big, but now I think it’s going to be bigger than I could ever have imagined,” he says, “We launched not even three years ago and there are now over 600 people in the company.”
Robbie Antonio in his penthouse apartment at Trump Tower Manila
A year after Revolution Precrafted was founded, it had a Series B funding round which raised the company’s valuation to over $1bn, making it the first ‘unicorn’ start-up from the Philippines, and allowing the it to establish a footprint in a number of global markets, including Italy, Japan and the UAE.
To say that Antonio is a man of action would be an understatement; he gets ‘five or six hours of sleep a night’ and wakes up at around 5.30am, works at least six days a week, and signed deals in over 20 countries last year, with a projected gross market value of $9 billion. Sport helps him to manage stress. Antonio tries to work out twice a day, but rarely uses the swimming pool or the Yves Klein Blue squash court at Stealth. Instead, he prefers circuit training because ‘it is fast-paced but I can still take breaks to look at my phone and work’.
There’s also a whole room dedicated to a Marina Abramovic installation which impels visitors to stop and contemplate by lying on a bed. The door locks for 60 minutes. “I’ve never, ever used it,” says Antonio. It’s hard to imagine him staying still for that long. Our interview is entirely conducted during a walking tour of the house.“I can’t stay still for 60 seconds,” he quips. Just then, he pauses from our interview and steals a glance at his phone. “I’ve had 115 WhatsApps in the time we’ve been talking….I had visitors from Brazil on Thursday, yesterday from Germany, today from Dubai.”
The Ellipsicoon Retreat Pavilion by Ben Van Berkel of UNSTUDIO
Antonio travels to Dubai regularly himself. An office there is in the works, and Revolution Precrafted signed a $3.2bn deal with luxury developer Seven Tides to design, supply and install two-and three-bedroom condominium apartments and villas on Dubai’s The World islands. The challenge for Antonio and his team is to realise the designs at an affordable price; although the Dubai development will be more at the luxury end of the scale, others are eminently accessible and the likes of Jean Nouvel are not used to delivering complete buildings for as little as $20,000.
“It takes six months of value engineering these things and there’s a lot of back and forth with their teams,” he says. “One of the houses took a year to get right. It has to be viable. Some of our homes are super esoteric. I would live in them but very few people want to live in something that’s that far removed from the norm. But they’re like cool art pieces and I want them to be part of the vision. I love those super far-out designs because I think it really pushes you to live differently.”
Robbie Antonio photographed at Stealth, one of his Manila homes
That said, Antonio’s second Manila home is more conventional than Stealth. The plush penthouse apartment in the city’s Trump Tower overlooks the gleaming cityscape, much of which is his family legacy.
Century Properties, the real-estate company founded by his father, is responsible for developing much of Manila’s prime real estate including branded residences from the likes of Armani and Versace. But Antonio’s sights are set far beyond his hometown. He founded his first company in New York right after business school. “I wanted to do something on my own, completely independent of that,” he explains, “I’m not a ‘local’ person. I like global thinking. We’ve signed deals in 27 markets now, most of them this year. It’s intense, but we’re going after more.”