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Benchmarking Philippine Architecture

By: Paulo G. Alcazaren


The first year of the new millennium was a year of trauma, reflection and reorientation for the Philippines and Philippine architecture. Little came by way of
actual buildings completed, and those in progress were still mostly foreigndesigned or influenced, contributing little to the development of Filipino
architecture. In fact, the biggest news in the architectural world was the
demolition of landmark buildings and damage caused to heritage structures and
sites. Much like the political and social structure of our country, the integrity of our
built heritage and emerging architecture was and is being shaken to its very
foundations.
Philippine architecture, both product and profession, faces the danger of
deterioration of quality and depth wrought by the economic events of the last two
years and the continuing lack of intellectual discourse related to pedagogy and
practice. The effects of the Asian financial crisis have taken its toll on the country
and consequently on the business of real estate development, the fountainhead
of architectural production in the boom years of the mid-1990s. What little activity
apparent in the skyline of our cities are the tail-ends of those few projects that
have found enough capital for completion.
Towers of Power
Most of these building projects, of larger scale and scope, are products of foreign
architectural firms with the token creative participation of local architects-ofrecord. Construction billboards, up and down Ayala Avenue and other business
and commercial districts in Metro Manila (and even other urban centers like Cebu
City), proudly proclaim the names of overseas architectural design consultants.
A listing of these forms a veritable whos who in the universe of western design.
The likes of I. M. Pei, KPF (Kohn, Pendersen and Fox), SOM (Skidmore Owings
and Merill), HOK, Gensler, Arquitectonica and even Michael Graves have been
used to brand local projects.
All this further commodities architecture in the Philippines as symbols of elitist
power and prestige or bottom-line profits driven by the local market perception
that foreign is better. These structures are also signifiers of continuing cultural
hegemony by the West. Our building in this framed aesthetic has the effect of
further orientalizing ourselves in occidental towers rising physically and
ideologically above the surrounding unequal social landscape.
On the functional level clients or developers justify the commissioning of outside
consultants by pointing out that skyscraper projects in the 30- to 50-story range
involves realms of expertise unavailable locally. Many local professionals would

beg to differ, however, given that a good number of Filipino architects, engineers
and project specialists have more than adequate competence in high-rise glass,
steel and cladding construction.
This collective competence has been accumulated from experience working
abroad, a result of the diaspora of Filipino professionals in the previous two
decades. The problem again seems to be that of the lower regard by Filipino
developers for Filipino professionals. (In the current economic setting, however,
clients have reluctantly tuned back to the more reasonably priced services of
locals.)
The new-modernist or retro-modernist towers that have sprung up have mostly
been permutations of previous designs by these foreign architects. A cursory
review of any coffee table book on contemporary architecture would prove this
point. Very few have taken any more effort, at contextual or original design, than
just going through the motions of adapting elevator capacities, parking-bay
requirements or superficial adaptations to climactic conditions.
The same may be said, however, for the few towers designed by local architects.
In the defense of the local designers though, it must be stated that little
opportunity is given them to express any more than compliance to utilitarian
briefs for maximum leasable space in a building. Pressure from clients also force
Filipino architects towards copycat faadism; to adopting a fashionable (foreignlooking) style to ensure marketability but with less budget and consultantcy fees.
Noteworthy, too, in these new buildings of steel, glass and aluminum is the lack
of Filipino art. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, the art of Filipino sculptors, painters, and
craftsmen embellished the spaces, walls and facades of our modern architecture.
A case in point is the original Philamlife building on United Nations Avenue. Its
architect, Carlos Arguelles, made sure that the building accommodated works by
the likes of Vicente Manansala and Galo Ocampo. The new Philamlife building
on Paseo de Roxas is devoid of artwork. Other new towers prefer minimalist
interior treatments rather than any investment on or celebration of Filipino
borloloy that had been a definition of both our vernacular and adapted
architecture.
Typologically, the tower or tower-on-a-podium is the formula of choice in the
speculative commercial towers that make the bulk of current work. Little
contribution is made by these examples of plunkitecture (buildings that may just
as well be from New York or London and plunked in Makati or Ortigas) to the
urban design of city streets. This is because of their predisposition to leasing out
ground level space to banks and similar institutions that produce little visual or
social interface with the pedestrian. The rhythm of the street is also regularly
disrupted by driveways, ramps and palisades of utility poles in older districts of
Manila and poorly planned centers like Cubao and Ortigas.

Hopefully some mixed-use redevelopment projects, like those currently ongoing


in Ayala/Makatis commercial center and Greenbelt areas, will correct this and
strive for more pedestrian-friendly environments. The same pedestrianfriendliness is promised in newer districts like Fort Bonifacio, the Rockwell Urban
Center and even a new Ayala project in Cebu City, though little of this is evident
in the built-up portions of these districts. Not surprisingly, almost all of these
projects were planned by foreign consultants.
Aside from high-rise towers, the rest of architectural (and related design)
production this year focused mainly on residential work, renovations or interiors.
Large residential (bordering on the palatial) mansions made for a niche market
by a number of architects. But despite this shift in source of projects, even the
larger or more successful of local design firms that survived to the turn of the
century cut back even further in staff and operations. Managing to carry on with
work were the practices or offices of the likes of Bobby Maosa, Bong Recio and
Meloy Casas, Philip Recto, Jun Palafox, Coscolluela, Lor and Ed Calma, and
Andy Locsin.
Defending our Architectural Heritage
The little activity in current construction was overshadowed by the more
controversial event this yearthe demolition of the Jai Alai building on Taft
Avenue. The Jai Alai building had been a landmark in the city since its
construction in 1940. Designed by the American architect Welton Becket in the
art deco variant of the streamline-moderne, it was a symbol of the optimistic
Commonwealth period of our nations history as well as of the vibrant social life
of the city in the post-war years.
Plans for the buildings demolition were made known by Mayor Lito Atienza as
early as 1999. The city courts needed a new building to house the overflowing
salas of the judges. Concerned citizens, led by the Heritage Conservation
Society (HCS), made representations with the mayor and managed to get a
promise from him to reconsider these plans and to look instead at adaptive reuse. All this came to naught as the city woke up one morning in February to the
sound of jackhammers gnawing away at the 60-year old edifice.
The controversy made the front pages of the national dailies. It was also picked
up by television. The HCS, desperate after finding no response to normal
channels of opposition, mounted demonstrations and a vigil. An e-mail barrage
was also launched to try to get the mayor to reverse his decision. Some
members, led by Architect Dom Galicia, took a more direct approach by
physically putting themselves between the demolition machines and the building.
The drama went on for over a month as the debate continued in editorial pages
and letters to the editor. Schools of architecture and the two architectural
associations, the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) and the Philippine

Institute of Architects (PIA), sent letters of support and expressed alarm. At this
point the issue went regional as both Asiaweek and Newsweek picked up the
story.
But despite the publicity, public pressure and the valiant efforts of the HCS, the
building came down. Politics and governments lack of awareness of and concern
for cultural heritage won the day. Despite this, the cause of the HCS and other
groups from civil society was given a boost. The sacrifice of the Jai Alai building
helped fuel efforts for conservation and gather support for other endangered
buildings and sites.
To date the rubble-filled site of the demolished Jai Alai building stands empty. The
construction of the new courts building may have to wait for a new local
government or even a new national dispensation to become a reality.
Parallel Controversies
Two other controversies in Manila ran parallel to the Jai Alai issue. Nearby, the
walls of Intramuros were being desecrated while by the waterfront a new
complex started construction, endangering the historic fabric of the Luneta.
Charges were filed against Intramuros Administrator Dominador Ferrer for
causing irreparable damage to the Intramuros walls. The HCS again led the
struggle through the efforts of its president, Bambi Harper, and its executive
director, Attorney Trixie Cruz-Angeles.
The desecration of the walls also started two years ago when a license was
given to a private company to build restaurants on top. The restaurants turned
out to be cheap, inelegant lean-tos meant to serve the large student population of
Intramuros. Guidelines set by the Intramuros Administration (IA) for proper
construction were violated. After the media and the public were alerted, the IA
backed off only to resurrect the project in another form.
A lease was granted to a private company to re-use the Baluarte de San
Angeles, Puerta Isabel II Chambers, Sta. Lucia barracks, American barracks and
portions of the Asean Garden. The HCS discovered that the establishments
which subleased these from the main company again did not follow IA guidelines
and did not have any permits. The walls and interiors have been damaged by the
renovation work.
A related issue, raised by both Harper and Augusto Villalon in their respective
newspaper columns, was the inappropriateness of locating music lounges and
restaurants within the walls themselves when there were several other areas
within Intramuros that could be redeveloped for these uses. All these issues
highlighted the general problem of finding a viable approach to managing the
conservation of the historic district and highlighting its role in revitalizing central

Manila, including Binondo, across the river on the north, Luneta on the south,
and the waterfront on the west.
On this waterfront rose another threat to the historic fabric of the city and to the
Luneta in particular. The Philippine Tourism Authority, under the leadership of Lito
Banayo, launched its Waterfront Development Project. This P400-million
flagship project proposes a new structure to be built off the existing promenade
behind the Quirino grandstand. The structure, designed by Architect Froilan
Hong, is a boardwalk elevated above the water and housing restaurants and
related facilities.
The project was started last year. The initial designs were much criticized for the
bulk of the structure, its lack of contextual connection with colonial buildings in
the area, and the loss both of physical access to the waterfront and the view of
Manilas famed sunset. Again the HCS led efforts to oppose any further building
on the waterfront to conserve this historical and natural resource. The Philippine
Association of Landscape Architects also voiced its concern over the projects
environmental impact.
The revised design, released earlier this year, showed adjustments to these
criticisms, including a study of visual corridors to the bay. Assurances, too, were
given that the new promenade would be freely accessible to the public and that
environmental concerns would be addressed. However, public hearings, if any
were called at all, did not seem to have been given due publicity.
Endorsed by Mayor Atienza, the waterfront project proceeded with initial piling
works by the middle of the year. Since then little progress has been visible. There
is a danger that, like the city courts intended to be housed in the Jai Alai site, this
project might have to be sidelined in view of the current political crisis and the
May 2000 elections. Like the Jumbo Floating Restaurant at the other end of the
bay, this project might turn into another half-submerged white elephant.
A similar controversy was brewing in Cebu Citys waterfront area. Mayor Alvin
Garcia unveiled plans for Cebus own waterfront redevelopment with a bypass
road to be built under historic Plaza Independencia. Concerned citizens and local
architects raised a howl as the construction endangered centuries-old acacia
trees and the overall waterfront development plan had been set with little
consultation with stakeholder groups.
The common thread in all of these controversies is the lack of transparency and
public participation in the process of deciding on the viability of the project, its
compatibility within heritage sites or its relation to landmark structures. Of
concern, too, is the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pesos in public funds
(or projected loans to be paid eventually by the public) to realize questionable
construction projects.

Disappearing Heritage
On other matters related to conservation, we have seen or will see the demolition
of several more landmark buildings significant in Philippine twentieth century
architectural development.
In Makati, the Neimeyeresque Union Church by Jose Zaragoza was demolished
to make way for a new church. A magnificent yucca tree (Yucca elephantipes)
perished in the process. The Insular Life Building on Ayala Avenue, a landmark
tower by Cesar Concio, is slated for demolition soon. (Napoleon Abuevas
masterful relief on the buildings faade is being transferred to a new site or
saved for the new replacement building.) Finally, there is confirmation that
Leandro Locsins Ayala Museum will be leveled and a new museum built on a
corner site nearby. The demolition reportedly comes with Locsins blessing (given
before he passed away), and his son Andy is supervising the design of the new
edifice.
In old Manila, the marvelous Marvel Building on Calle Juan Luna disappeared
overnight. Many buildings in the Binondo and Escolta areas are sporting
demolition permits or, like the art deco Meralco Headquarters on San Marcelino
Street, are boarded up, awaiting decisions for its sale or demolition. While in New
Manila, Quezon City, as well as older residential districts of Sta. Ana, Sampaloc
and San Juan, we are losing heritage houses almost every week, with many
being turned into standard, high-density, nondescript townhouse developments.
Hope for Heritage
There have been a few bright spots in the conservation scene. One is the
conservation of St. Cecilias Hall at the campus of St. Scholasticas College in
Manila. The 1932 design of Andres Luna de San Pedro (renovated in 1955 by
Carlos Arguelles) was used sensitively in reconfiguring and improving the layout
of the hall. The hall has been improved with the addition of an orchestra pit, airconditioning, and improvements in lighting and acoustics. The conservation and
renovation architects were the O.B. Mapua Group led by O.B. Mapua and Joel
Lopez. Theater design was by Dennis Marasigan and Gerry Fernandez with
interiors by Joel Panlilio.
Another excellent example of conservation and adaptive re-use that opened this
year is the Museo Ilocos Norte in Laoag. An old brick Tabacalera warehouse was
converted into a museum on Ilocano life. Conservation architect Rene Luis Mata
resurrected the edifice with the help of historian Regalado Trota Jose and Al
Valenciano. Matas approach to conservation was thorough yet accommodating
to modern functional requirements of a museum.
The Malate Church Convent and Mission Center was also inaugurated this year.
The competition for the project was won the other year by the firm of P.Y. Lim and

Partners. The new, four-story building replaces the old convento built in 1948.
The new building fits in the context of the site and reflects the architectural style
of Malate Church in details like the cornice treatment and fenestration. Though
not a strictly conservation project, the new building shows how heritage sites can
accommodate expanded uses without compromising historical integrity.
Other conservation efforts in places like Vigan, Taal, Silay and the southern
towns of Cebu, among others, have thrived despite apathy from local
government authorities and lack of public awareness. But on the main, most
towns and cities still neglect their heritage. Iloilos Fort San Pedro, which houses
a beer garden within its crumbling walls, epitomizes this. Efforts by the local UAP
chapter and support from Sen. Franklin Drilon have yet to see fruition.
The NCCA, the HCS and the UAP have pursued programs for documentation of
heritage sites and buildings, organized talks and seminars on adaptive re-use
and heritage conservation. A Heritage Bill is also being prepared in Congress and
the Senate to give more teeth to these programs and to arrest the continuing
depletion of irreplaceable cultural resources of built heritage.
Architecture in Media
Architecture and design continued to enjoy increasing space and exposure in
national dailies and magazines in the first year of the new century. A number of
books on Philippine architecture or featuring Philippine projects were launched
this year. Our built heritage was also given television coverage on cable channels
such as Lakbay TV and on regular television shows like Probe (on specific
issues like the Jai Alai and Intramuros).
Philippine Star and Philippine Daily Inquirer led most national dailies in the
amount of space given. Both have regular columns on architecture and urban
issues. The lifestyle and metro sections of both newspapers regularly feature
architecture and design, a contrast to a number of years ago when most articles
on architecture were fairly limited to the construction and real estate pages.
Other newspapers like Philippine Post, The Manila Times, and The Chronicle,
printed features on architecture and interior design (mostly residential work).
Design magazines have survived drastically cut advertising budgets. The field is
led by veteran publication Design and Architecture and relative newcomer
Bluprint Magazine (now on its second year). Other magazines like Arkikonst and
Hinge manage to hang on.
In December, the University of the Philippines College of Architecture launched a
new journal. Muhon is a semi-annual publication on architecture, landscape
architecture and environmental design. The inaugural issue contained papers
ranging from practical issues in Parking Design in the Tropics by Zenaida
Galingan to a postmodernist/poststructuralist look at Filipino space in Mala-

Baklang Espasyo sa Arkitekturang Filipino: Estetika, Morpolohiya, Konteksto


(Panimulang Pagtuklas At Paggalugad).
The title of the journal was originally used as a title for a travelling exhibit on
Filipino architecture funded by the NCCA that started with a CCP launch early in
the year. Launched this year, too, was an NCCA-sponsored publication on
vernacular building practices in the Philippines. Appropriately titled Oro, Plata,
Mata, the book is the work of Ernesto Zarate, a practicing architect. The book
had its origin in a series of advertisements for Amon Trading Corporation in the
60s that featured building practices similar to Chinese geomancy.
Last June another practicing architect, Bnn C. Bautista (with a collaborator,
Franklin Primo Libatique), launched Philippine Architecture 1948-1978 (Reyes
Publishing, Quezon City). The project had a tentative start in 1975 involving
interviews with the likes of Locsin, Nakpil, Mendoza, Formoso, the Maosa
brothers. It took another 25 years for the book to see print.
The book contains a selection of 11 buildings which the authors felt had a strong
impact on the architectural profession, including Juan Nakpils UP buildings, the
Maosa brothers Sulu Restaurant, Locsins CCP, Angel Nakpils National Press
Club, and Felipe Mendozas Batasang Pambansa Complex. The book is uneven
in graphic quality and loosely structured in its writing. But it is a laudable effort,
considering the dearth of writing on contemporary Filipino architecture, and the
book was personally funded by the authors.
Filipino architecture continued to slowly come to the attention of regional and
international readers. Robert Powells new book, the fourth in his series on
residential design in Asia, entitled The New Asian house (Select Publishing,
Singapore), features two Filipino architects. The Pablito Calma House by Ed
Calma and the Chan House by Joey Yupangco are featured in a collection that
includes works of rising stars in Asian architecture like Kamil Merican of Malaysia
and Wong Mun Sum of Singapore.
The same houses are also featured in another book, Tropical Living:
Contemporary Dream Houses in the Philippines by Elizabeth Reyes, Fernando
Zialcita and Paulo Alcazaren with photography by Chester Ong (Periplus
Editions, Hong Kong). This book follows in the steps of Filipino Style of two years
ago but with a more focused theme and featuring more work by a new generation
of architects like Manny Minana, Bong Recio, Conrad Onglao, Benny Velasco
and Andy Locsin.
Discourse in Architecture
The year saw three major symposia tackling urban planning, design, and
architectural issues. Two of these were hosted by academe and the third by a
forward-thinking developer.

Last April the first symposium was organized by the College of Architecture and
Fine Arts of the University of Santo Tomas. Cities 2000: Sustainable and
Humane drew over 300 participants. Three days of talks covered over 70 case
studies of architecture and planning interventions to cope with problems of
housing and city planning. These produced much interaction among architects,
planners, and public administrators from the regions and from the rest of the
world.
At times it seemed that more talks had been scheduled than could be
accommodated within the tight schedule. But this might be attributed to both the
enthusiasm of the organizers and the increasing acknowledgement of the
importance of professionally addressing the problems of cities in general and the
distinctive problems of Asian megacities in particular.
Significantly, the convention led to the drafting of the Human Cities Agenda
2000, a manifesto highlighting the dire problems of urbanization and proposing
solutions and sustainable approaches to development. The first meeting was
organized with the NCCA, the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners
(PIEP), the Eastern Regional Organization for Planning and Housing, ARCASIA,
and the UAP. At that meeting, it was agreed that the convention would be held
every two years.
The second event was a seminar presented as part of the Luis A. Yulo Memorial
Series II and sponsored by Teleray Investment and Development Corp. The
forum sought to examine the impacts of the paradigm choice (of post-war
models of real estate development) and its direct relationship to the social fabric.
The Quest for Community: New Urbanism in Asia featured the New Urbanist
couple Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk as main speakers. Also
featured were Yatin Pandya, associate director of the Vastu Shilpa Foundation for
Studies and Research in Environmental Design, Dr. Heng Chye Kiang of the
National University of Singapore, architect Jun Palafox, and this writer. Cosponsors were Palafox and Associates and the local UAP chapter.
The third event was another conference on megacities hosted by the Far Eastern
University. The International Conference on Metro Manila and Megacities
Development carried the official theme of Managing Megacities: 21st Century
Challenges and Opportunities. The timing of the conference in September was
less than ideal, for there was the peace and order problem in the South and
political turmoil was brewing in Manila.
Other venues for discourse were not lacking. The UAP, the Philippine Institute of
Architects, and the PIEP held their respective annual national conventions with
the requisite seminars and talks. The subjects of these talks have shifted
noticeably in the last two years from practical issues of competitive global

practice and building technology to softer, more academic topics of history and
concerns for architectural conservation.
The UAP, which celebrated its silver jubilee this year, hosted talks that
emphasized planning issues. The topics: Proposed Land Use Plan and Zoning
Ordinance in the City of Makati by Prof. Geronimo Manahan, Moral Values in
Environmental Planning by Sixto E. Tolentino, and The Quezon City Land Use
and Zoning by architect Gerry Magat. The rest of the talks featured academic
discussions of conservation and history: Architectural Preservation of Historical
Philippine Churches by Fr. Pedro G. Galende, OSA, and Arkitekturang Filipino:
Spaces and Places in History by Felipe de Leon Jr., Regalado T. Jose, and
Augusto Villalon.
The UAP, which has a new national president in architect Prosperidad C. Luis,
has also co-organized a travelling exhibition with the NCCAs Committee on
Architecture and Monuments and Sites. Arkitekturang Filipino: Spaces and
Places in History was curated by two UP-based architects, Edson Cabalfin and
Gerard Lico.
Lico and Cabalfin shaped the exhibit to bring out the heterotopic quality of our
architecture. They framed it as a process developed out of contradiction,
mediation, and transformation. The exhibits visuals accentuated the physical
and spatial texture of Filipino architecture, but the curators also endeavored to
make manifest Filipino architectures cultural expression as politics, ideology, and
power.
That these two architects of the younger generation have pursued scholarship in
architectural history, theory, and criticism is a good sign for Philippine
architecture. Even more encouraging is that they and a few others have taken to
sharing their research and insights as writers, given more space in print media
and supported by institutions like the NCCA and the UAP.
Intellectual discourse is slowly spreading and increasing in depth. There is still a
restrained air in these scholars critiques, but the untested, seemingly shallow
waters of public and professional appreciation may lead to an acceptance of
architectural criticism as a valued part of the process of evolving a Filipino
architecture.
This discourse is needed, too, in architectural pedagogy. In 2000, the two leading
schools, UST and UP, have embarked on programs to refocus their syllabi in
response on current concerns for green architecture and greater exposure to
aspects of heritage, and the urban context of emerging Asian and Philippine
architecture.
The UST under a new dean, architect Louis Ferrer, is restructuring as a
consequence of its separation from the College of Fine Arts. The UP College of

Architecture, under its also relatively new dean, architect Cristopher S.P. Espina,
is encouraging more research and its publication. Other schools like the FEU are
taking more pro-active stances.
The rest of the academe, however, is for the status quo, producing architectural
graduates to feed into the global market for competent CADD operators and
backroom designers. The need is for more architects of competence no doubt,
but also needed are professionals of calibers with ambition, self-esteem and
leadership.
This is what we have to do internally. Externally we still need to project our
architecture as our own and not just as an adaptation or mere mutation of foreign
styles. One opportunity came our way through a piece of Filipino architecture
framed as a national exposition pavilion at the Expo 2000 in Hanover last year.
Exposing Filipino Architecture to the World
International expositions have always been an opportunity to showcase our
contemporary architecture and benchmark ourselves against the rest of the
world. Notable in the Philippines past participation in these events have been
Otelio Arellanos salakot pavilion at the 1964 Worlds Fair and Leandro Locsins
shell pavilion at the Expo 70 in Osaka.
After 30 years of absence, the Philippines resurfaced at the Expo 2000 Hanover
with a pavilion that reflected the state of Philippine architecture, just as the
pavilions of 64 and 70 reflected its states in their respective times. Participation
was made possible by CITEM, Department of Trade and Industry, NCCA and the
German government resulted in the commissioning of architect Ed Calmas
pavilions design. Given a tight budget and little time, Calma produced a piece of
work as distinctive in form as the two previous Philippine pavilions.
While Arellanos salakot was literal and Locsins shell was expressionist, Calmas
sensual weave of bamboo lines and planes was evocative. His basket-like
construction of bamboo-derived elements created an environment, a
deconstructed architecture that sought more to frame its contents than to contain
them in a conventional envelope.
Calmas piece differed situationally from the previous two in that it was housed in
a cavernous interior space instead of in the open. There was no need to aim for a
distinctive silhouette or to bother with climate control. Freed from these
constraints, Calmas design focused on an almost totally introverted delineation
of space and the temporal experience of moving through it as displacements of
interaction with the various artifacts and digital images contained in the pavilion.
Calmas design was augmented by Melissa LaOs installations. She used
elements that unfolded from the logic and structure of Calmas framework. These

in turn contained the digitized or printed images and served as plinths for
material that provided the layering in a texture that was to blur both message and
medium. Unfortunately, the message or curatorial content was, in the opinion of
many, decidedly less focused than the medium.
The trade fair was the biggest in the world this year and ran from June to
October. It was popular with the expos visitors. There was a recurring theme of
the use of timber in many pavilions like Finlands. The Philippines contribution
was in the use of an indigenous material, bamboo, which is gaining popularity
now that appropriate downstream processing technology has been developed.
The contribution of Calmas piece to Filipino architecture was the experiment in
the process and production of form based on the goal of projecting a positive
image of the Philippines. Issue may be taken with this very goal as the image
projected was one that seemed to overly commodify Filipino craft and creativity.
More disturbingly, it also commodified Filipinos themselves as entertainers or
highly skilled exportable labor, adding value to economic or cultural enterprise in
other countries, except our own. Calmas appropriation of a foreign technology
(the bamboo process is German-developed) as a tool for producing a Filipino
form and framework seemed opposite to the message of our cultural and social
displacement.
This may be the gist of our architectural dilemma. Content and form in our
architecture, our contemporary culture and the spatial and aesthetic expression
of it, are either in a state of flux and evolving or dangerously dissipating in the
blinding light of a globalizing culture. Exposure works two wayswe can move
forward and use the process to further develop our architecture, or we can be
absorbed by the resurgence of internationalism in world architecture. We can
continue to play with fashionable form given the natural talent we have for
mimicry, or we can strive (a term connoting conscious effort) to experiment (as
Calma, LaO, and a number of younger Filipino architects have done) to make
form and content have real meaning.
Redefining the boundaries of Philippine Architecture
The year 2000 was a benchmark year for Philippine architecture. Heritage loss
like the Jai Alai and the impending loss of other landmarks, such as the Insular
Life Building by Concio and Locsins Ayala Museum, have not been balanced
with any new work. This situation pervaded 2000 save for a few bursts of creative
flair like Calmas pavilion and the continuing expression by a younger
architectural generation in residential design. Major new work in progress like the
Ninoy Aquino International Airport III terminal building and numerous towers in
our city are foreign-designed, relegating Filipino architects-of-record to the role of
glorified draftsmen, delineating our future buildings and sites under the
homogenizing gaze of western culture.

The older generation of Filipino architects have, like Felipe Mendoza, passed
away or, like Concio, retired into anonymity. Their work and contributions are
unappreciated and much worse, mainly undocumented. A younger transitional
generation (back from stints abroad) is mainly practicing based on sheer talent,
rehashing styles and forms absorbed from overseas as well as driven by
marketability and fashion. With few exceptions, the goal of Filipino architecture
has been to produce goods for consumption rather than to create environments
that ennoble our culture and to discover viable patterns of increasingly dense
urban life in the tropics.
Physical tragedies, like the Payatas and Cherry Hills incidents, have caused the
profession and academe to reexamine their environmental and social
responsibilities. Our schools of architecture and the various related professional
organizations have taken steps to acknowledge these responsibilities and to
benchmark progress along more environmentally sustainable and culturally
sensitive lines.
Housing for the Filipino masses remains an unattainable dream given the
continuing tight grip of the paradigm of sprawl and low-rise/high-density formulas
for residential typology. Meanwhile, cultural and institutional architecture is in the
doldrums, creating quickly crumbling symbols of political corruption rather than
monuments and sites of civic pride.
All crises and tragedies can be turned into opportunities. Philippine architecture
should rebuild on the debris of a shattered economy and shore up the
foundations with a conserved heritage and more substantial intellectual
discourse. Academe and professional associations must endeavor to reorient the
occidental inclinations of Filipino clients and the public, along with retrofitting the
mindsets of Filipino architects themselves.
The next year should bring a perceptible shift in the way we view our architecture
and the process with which we produce our knowledge, our practice and our
experience of it. This shift must occur, or the benchmark of 2000 may be lost in
the mire of social and cultural miasma, brewing in the wake of neo-colonial,
glossy, Mc-globalized, throw-away architecture.
**From Sanghaya 2001, a publication of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts
*PAULO G. ALCAZAREN is a landscape architect involved in several major projects here and
abroad. He recently received his M. A. in Urban Design from the National University of
Singapore. He also writes a weekly column for the Philippine Star on architecture and heritage
conservation