| Aug 10, 2009 |
Is there Filipino Architecture? (Philippine Daily Inquirer)
Boh staff
By Staff

By Augusto Villalon

A welcome addition to the scant material on Philippine architecture is “Arkitekturang Filipino: A History of Architecture and Urbanism in the Philippines,” by Gerard Lico, professor of Architecture and campus architect of the University of the Philippines. The book is from the collection published by the University of the Philippines Press in celebration of the university’s centennial. The title of this book, eminent architecture historian Rodrigo D. Perez III writes in the foreword, “may resurrect an old question: Is there such a thing as Filipino architecture?” For generations the issue keeps arising during academic and architectural discussions, stubbornly refusing to be put to rest.

But Perez resolves the issue, completing his introductory statement: “Anyone who has diligently examined the various types of buildings in this country and has bothered to look into their history will realize that there is such a thing as Filipino architecture.” The 560-page textbook takes an in-depth examination of Philippine architecture as it has been shaped over the centuries by environmental, historic, cultural and political influences. Illustrating how architecture is often used as an instrument of domination in some periods of injustice, Lico correctly points out that, despite being subjected to colonial, political or financial demands, the genius of Filipino architects, whether schooled or not, has always shone through.

Lico takes architecture in its holistic context. Buildings are not studied as solitary monuments. Instead, the author steps back and refers to the built environment as part of an urban or landscape ensemble, integrating architecture with human life, which is the way it should be, since architecture, no matter how grand or humble, is simply the nurturer of lifestyle. Lico does not isolate architecture. He looks at it through a trained historian’s eye while acknowledging the strong contribution of allied disciplines such as sociology, culture, history, politics, economics and others in shaping our towns and the structures that give those towns their character.

Geography is another strong influence in our lifestyle, and Filipino architecture reflects the influences from across the seas, starting with the Austronesian building tradition that came to the Batanes islands from southern Taiwan over 6,000 years ago, before dispersing to the west through the Philippines to Borneo, Sulawesi, Indonesia and ultimately Oceania. Eastward, the Austronesian influence spread to Vietnam, the Malay Peninsula, reaching as far as Madagascar. Among some shared Austronesian characteristics very evident today are language similarities and houses raised on stilts with steep, thatched roofs. There is no denying colonial influence. Philippine architecture reflected what Lico terms the “spectacle of power” so evident in the Spanish colonial churches, government buildings, and especially in the rigid town planning following the precepts of the 1573 Leyes de Indias, which stipulated exactly how new towns were to be laid out. Thanks to the royal ordinance signed by King Phillip II of Spain, towns were laid out in a rectilinear pattern, with straight streets crossing each other at right angles, around a central plaza where the two main structures were the principal government building and the church facing each other. The highest government and church officials lived in the town plaza along with the elite.

Upon the introduction of “imperial imaginings” by the newly installed American colonial government in 1898, Lico dissects its impact on the architecture and urban design in the new tropical colony of the United States. This is the age of Daniel Burnham and his City Beautiful urban plan for Manila and Baguio in the image of Washington, DC. Outside the Intramuros walls, Manila broke out in wide, radial boulevards shaded with tropical hardwood. Neoclassic government buildings, such as the Manila Post Office and the Philippine General Hospital, were situated at strategic locations as focal points declaring the new style of colonial governance.

Pre-World War II Peace Time was the apex of American power in the Philippines, the halcyon days of Quezon when the Philippines reflected its opening to world influences with the Art Deco architecture and lifestyle of the 1930s. From the ashes of World War II, Lico traces the permanent destruction of Intramuros and the rise of Quezon City, suburbia and bungalow housing. This was the time when architectural leaders emerged: Juan Nakpil, Pablo Antonio, Carlos Arguelles, Leandro Locsin, whose presence led to the establishment of a strong architectural profession. Lico takes a perceptive look into the renaissance of Filipino vernacular architecture, followed by examination of various architectural trends until arriving at the current phenomenon of an “architecture of pluralism” that embraces the architecture of malls, new developments like Global City in Fort Bonifacio, Rockwell Center and Eastwood City Cyberpark.

“Arkitekturang Filipino” is available at University of the Philippines Press, E. de los Santos St., UP Campus, Diliman, QC; tel. 9253243; fax 9282558; e-mail press@up.edu.ph.

Want to stay informed? Sign up for our newsletter, which recaps the week’s stories, and get in-depth industry news and analysis each quarter by subscribing to our print magazine. Join BOH Insider for discounts, workshops and access to special events such as the Future of Home conference.