Serial Entrepreneur Fights Climate Change With Bottle and Bamboo Buildings

MIT urban planning graduate Illac Angelo Diaz talks about taking the Philippines by storm with low-cost climate change-resistant designs.

Illac Angelo Diaz


Illac Angelo Diaz is a former model, corporate executive, and VJ from the Philippines who is now leading the largest fight against climate change the country has ever seen–by becoming a serial entrepreneur. The MIT urban planning graduate and Harvard Kennedy School Mason Fellow talked to Fast Company about his latest innovations, and the climate threat to the 7,000-island country of the Philippines.

Diaz started out as the founder of the Pier One Dormitories–a transit home for the Philippines’ massive work force of migrant seafarer workers who earn less than $1 per day–and the MyShelter Foundation, an alternative architecture non-profit utilizing materials such as bamboo and plastic bottles for schools, clinics, and other at-risk and climate change-affected structures.

Now, Diaz says, his focus is on “leapfrogging, which we are trying to do when it comes to climate adaptation and through the use of international competitions as a way to leverage the build-up of ideas and applications of designs on the ground, rather than long innovation chains of trial and error.”

The international competition is Design Against the Elements, launched in partnership with the government of the Philippines, with entrants from all over the world. The winning design/architecture team will get to build their proposed “eco-village,” in the Philippines, with support from the MyShelter Foundation and partners, including National Geographic, ArcAsia, and others.

The Philippines is home to some of the world’s poorest residents, and it is those residents that are hardest hit by the typhoons and floods of climate change. Last year, 80% of Manila was under water after tropical storm Ketsana.


“MyShelter Foundation’s basic premise is more on mapping out the future in a climate-challenged world–more specifically, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like the Philippines, which will be harmed by increasing tropical typhoons like El Nino and droughts like La Nina. Such natural disasters will create a cycle of destruction and reconstruction and simply force many people to live in difficulty if not lose their homes,” says Diaz.

“The country must refocus its efforts not only to look at the low carbon model–mitigation–but create a new “zero climate casualty” model: adaptation.”

Diaz has been most concerned with classrooms. His bamboo school, earthen school, and bottle school (which broke ground last week) are all exemplary of the kind of thinking and action he hopes the country will adopt as it faces the devastating, inevitable consequences of climate change. MyShelter has already built 20 schools since its founding in 2008. See more of MyShelter’s groundbreaking work in our Fast Company slideshow.

“How will the poorest sectors fare when flooding becomes a yearly occurrence?” Diaz asks. “When a conventional block building sinks, utilities stop, including water, electricity, and food access. How can “green” be a survival design guide by providing natural lighting, rain water from the roof as an alternative supply, food generation? This will be the seed manual for ideas on how to design for developing countries that should not always react post-disaster.”

Brain drain is an ever-present problem in Asia, so it’s encouraging to see U.S.-educated entrepreneurs like Diaz come home to utilize their degrees. In the U.S. a small startup may take years to grow and have impact, in places like the Philippines, Nepal, or Cambodia, that impact is immediate and magnified, because so few other ventures are being built with innovative thinking. So props to Diaz for making that leap–and keep your eye on him as a future President of the Philippines.


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About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.