Jar Concengco believes that good design will save the world

‘Design Will Save The World’ is a YouTube channel that explores the potential of good design to uplift lives, communities, and the world at large. 

The coastal city of Ishinomaki in Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture was one of the municipalities most devastated by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Waves reaching up to ten meters flooded the city, destroying neighborhoods and reducing them to rubble. 

To help the city and the local community recover from the disaster, architect Keiji Ashizawa created the furniture brand Ishinomaki Laboratory in the same year. Founded as a public workshop for DIY furniture made using donated wood and other readily available materials then, the brand spearheaded the restoration and renovation of local shops and spaces within Ishinomaki. To this day, Ishinomaki Laboratory works with various artists and suppliers to conceptualize DIY furniture ideas, bring them to life, and share these concepts and pieces worldwide. 

“In that scene of devastation, design was there to help rebuild the city,” says Manila-based photographer and writer Jar Concengco, who shot and featured Ishinomaki Laboratory. Concengco launched the channel on March 11, 2023—exactly 12 years after the devastation of the Tōhuku region. “I thought that debuting with the moving story of Ishinomaki Laboratory was the best way to encapsulate the meaning of ‘Design Will Save The World.’” 

Concengco shares that the name of his YouTube channel came from a quote by German typographer and designer  Erik Spiekerman: “Design will save the world. Just after Rock&Roll does.” 

“My friend, Spruce Gallery co-founder Ric Gindap, gifted me with this framed quote, signed by Spiekerman himself,” shares Concengco (fittingly, Spruce Gallery—a magazine shop and gallery—is also featured on his YouTube Channel). “The frame hangs in my family hall at home, and whenever I edit photos for work, I look at it. So, when I was thinking of a name for my YouTube channel, it occurred to me that what I was looking for was literally staring me in the face.”

Photography + design

Featuring homes, buildings, public spaces, other design projects, and the people behind these developments, Design Will Save The World revolves around the positive effects of good design: how it can solve problems and uplift people. 

“I’ve been a photographer for two decades now, and I’ve shot a lot of architecture and interior design projects. This has given me the opportunity to talk to several professionals who have given me a broad perspective on design. I guess this allowed me to hone my eye for design, identify what moves me, and think about what could move others as well,” he shares.

Concengco’s photography career also gave him some insights into what good designers have in common. “Most of them want what’s best not only for the end user, but also for their environment and community. They’re conscious not only about the benefits of their work, but also the possible consequences.”

As such, Design Will Save The World has a curated selection of diverse subjects, informed by Concengco’s network and interests. 

There’s the Hill House, a hilltop home built amid a verdant property, designed by esteemed architect Jason Buensalido for landscaper Bobby Gopiao. To date, the episode has garnered over 1.2 million views, which somehow proves Concengco’s point about how good design can resonate with people. 

“Whenever I look at that episode, I don’t assume that it got a million views because of me. I think it was the eloquence of the architect—Jason articulates so well how architects and designers should listen to nature,” says Concengco. 

In the video, Buensalido narrates how, instead of blowing up a huge boulder that was in the way of the proposed foundation of the Hill House, they moved it a few meters away instead, incorporating the boulder into the landscaping plans in front of the house. 

“I think that move to preserve as many natural elements as possible spoke to so many people, and that’s why a lot of people enjoy rewatching the video,” Concengco surmises. “People still leave comments on the video and remark about how important it is to listen to nature when you’re designing something. The video sends a message that goes beyond aesthetics and construction—it resonates with a broader concern.”

Spaces that heal

Then there’s Jetro Rafael and his humble yet wildly creative 55-square meter home and restaurant, Van Gogh is Bipolar. Located along Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, the healing space has helped Rafael, who is clinically diagnosed with bipolar condition, through his darkest days. Inside, Van Gogh is Bipolar is chock-full of decorations, intricate design, and artwork. It also features dishes and beverages, all developed by Rafael, made with ingredients that are known to heal and treat a variety of moods.

“I worked with Jetro on a project before, and when I thought about his space and his story, I knew that he would fit so well in my channel,” Concengco notes, calling his interview with Rafael one of the most moving episodes that he has filmed. 

“Van Gogh is Bipolar saved him—Jetro created its unique design to fit his personality and heal him from his struggles. So again, the name of my channel comes up: design will save the world, and for Jetro, his ‘world’ was his life, and that small space was what saved him.”

Concengo has also put the spotlight on projects for the common good, such as the Pasig River rehabilitation and the construction of a walkable esplanade along its banks. 

“The Pasig River episode shows that good design can also start with the government. They can come up with solutions by working with the experts and designers,” he notes, referring to the Philippine government’s enlistment of Paulo Alcazaren, principal architect of PGAA Creative Design, and William Ti, principal architect of WTA Architecture and Design Studio, for the esplanade project. 

“It’s admirable that the government has tapped them as consultants. Paulo, most especially, is such a fierce advocate of green and open spaces for everybody.”

Comments on the episode have been primarily positive, with users praising the efforts to conserve a crucial backbone of Manila’s culture, heritage, and economy. Others have also lauded the project’s positive impact on transport, mobility, and the environment. 

“That episode shows there are ways for the private and public sector to work together in democratizing good and functional design to uplift people’s lives. It also drives home the point that everybody deserves good design. You don’t need to be extremely wealthy, you don’t need to own a multi-million peso home to say that you’re enjoying something well-designed,” he says.

Stories like Ishinomaki Laboratory, the Hill House, Van Gogh is Bipolar, and the Pasig River esplanade have garnered Design Will Save The World much praise and a considerable following. And while growth is understandably part of Concengco’s goals for the channel, he isn’t too strict about any strategies to achieve that. 

“Right now, the only ‘strategy’ that I can think about is to put out well-made episodes on good design that can speak to others,” he says. “Through videos like mine, I hope that people can start paying attention to good design and understand how it can uplift lives and, ultimately, save the world.”

The new lifestyle.