"Only Art Deco, Art Nouveau and 'real' Pilipino architecture Will Save Manila's (and the Philippines) contemporary architecture..."
by Lualhati Madlangawa Guererro
When I was young, I used to look at buildings situated in Manila.
From Avenida Rizal to Escolta, from Plaza Lacson to Quiapo, Recto to Legarda, Morayta, and Espana. And what I used to see back then, aside from houses of course, are buildings designed by architects, whom tried enough to put artistry and purpose in making that building a good place for work, school, anything habitable for man.
As time passed out, lies drastic changes in the scenery of the once "pearl of the Orient." Yes, there are fine buildings being built, but the buildings once prominent, especially on Escolta and Avenida Rizal, were left deteriorated, even demolished-paving way for nonsense box-type buildings of glass and steel with less taste of architectural wonder, or in other words being built for sake. For sure people don't know much the value of buildings being made in the past, of Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Classical, even Spanish era architecture that is, limited to some scenic spots or rather say, coffee table books being bought in modern Makati.
And like our culture, being bombarded much with wholesale westernization, "modern-day architecture" also affects the status of Pilipino buildings, that, instead of rehabilitating, are being left out, deteriorated, and be demolished paving way for what the system wanted that is, modern. The Jai-Alai building in Manila, once prominent venue for its festive sport, was end up demolished despite protest from conservationists and even prominent personalities, and from its ruins lies a "meaningful" purpose in a "meaningless" architecture being built-a hall of justice that, according to a page concerning the building and the initator of its demolition, Lito Atienza:
"Mayor Lito Atienza, who studied architecture in college, says he is aware of the Jai Alai building's pedigree, but argues that it was necessary to tear it down. He believes the need for a new courthouse far outweighs the sports center's historical value. "I've been given an opportunity by the national government to build a hall of justice," he told Asiaweek. "I am proceeding with the task even if we have to sacrifice part of our historical past in the process." To suggestions that the Jai Alai building could have been saved and adapted as a court, he replies: "That building has been housing criminals, [purse-] snatchers and pickpockets and even deteriorated into a casbah. It would not work as a new justice building if we kept the faCade because people would remember the game-fixing and the cheating, instead of the dignity that befits a hall of justice. It just wouldn't blend."
Atienza is portraying the demolition of the Jai Alai building as the beginning of the rehabilitation of Taft Avenue — "You get a hall of justice and you get rid of a decaying part of Manila."
Atienza perhaps was too stupid in doing that initiative, he spoke of "rehabilitation", "justice", and other meaningful words to justify that hell of a kind action. Is rehabilitation in Manila be limited to old Spanish buildings in Intramuros whilst the American-era ones be left deteriorated and be demolished like the once popular Jai-Alai? Yes, you may have built the hall of Justice yet in a wrong place so to speak, worse? Making it also to say that Atienza was a good benefactor for the next elections!
There are even some buildings that end up doomed or deteriorated, or lately undergone rehabilitation or demolished instead:
The Manila Metropolitan Theater is located on Padre Burgos Avenue, Manila, Philippines. The theater was built in 1935 with an art deco design by architects Juan M. Arellano and Otillio Arellano and could accommodate as many as 1,670 people. The theater is endowed with bronze sculptures depicting ancient female Philippine performers designed by Francesco Riccardo Monti, a stained glass mural mounted above the main audience entrance, and Philippine plant relief carvings found in the interiors of its lobby made by Isabelo Tampingco. Still standing at the area of Lawton in Manila, near Liwasang Bonifacio, the theater is deteriorating because of lack of maintenance and acts of vandalism. Closed in 1996, its east wing is now used as office space for government services.
The Capitol Theater, situated in Escolta, Manila, was designed by Philippine National Artist for Architecture Juan Nakpil and was built in the 1930s with an approximate seating capacity of 800. This theater had a double balcony, which is a rare architectural design. With an art deco style by the architect, the theater's facade has reliefs of 2 muses done by Francesco Monti. The theater is now closed, its location serving as a venue for a few commercial establishments and restaurants in the said area.
Another architectural work by Arch. Juan Nakpil is the Avenue Theater. Located along Rizal Avenue in Manila, the theater had a 1,000 seating capacity, with its lobby bearing a marble finish flooring. At one point, the building housed a hotel and also served as office space. In 2006, it was demolished to make way for a parking lot, as realty costs were too expensive for it to be maintained.
The Bellevue Theater is one of a few classic Philippine theaters built in the '30s still running today. It is located on Pedro Gil (formerly Herran) Street, Paco, Manila and has a total seating capacity of 600. The theater's Neo Mudejar theme, the auditorium's quonset hut design, and its classic ornamentations bring visitors back to its founding era. The theater currently operates as a single screen cinema.
The Ever Theater is located along Rizal Avenue in Manila. The theater was also designed by Juan Nakpil and has a single screen cinema with an 800 seating capacity. It was also visited by Walter Gropius during its inauguration in the 1950s, praising the theater's outstanding qualities. Currently closed as a theater, it now serves the public as a commercial arcade.
The Ideal Theater was located at Rizal Avenue in Manila and designed by the late Architect Pablo Antonio in 1933. The theater was demolished in the late 1970s to give way to the construction of a department store. The Ideal Theater was one of the first major works of Pablo Antonio along with the buildings of Far Eastern University and Manila Polo Club.
Another theater designed by Pablo Antonio was the Scala Theatre, also on Avenida Rizal in Manila. With its floors paced with tea rose marble and its curved wall ligned with glass blocks, the theater's magnificence did not last: it was closed in the '90s. The theater catered to up to 600 people for its single screen operations.
The Times Theater, currently found along Quezon Boulevard, Quiapo, Manila, was designed by Architect Luis Z. Araneta. It was erected in 1939, with a Art Moderne relief. Unmaintained today, the theater is still operational, and can accommodate 800 people with its single screen operations.
Another work of the late architect Juan Nakpil, the State Theater was on Rizal Avenue in Manila. Built in the 1930s with an art deco design, the theater was eventually closed and demolished in the '90s.
One of the works of Pablo Antonio, the Life Theater used to be one of Manila's prime movie houses. The theater was adorned with aluminum buffles and columns, consistent with its art deco design. Along with the Times Theater, the theater is found along Quezon Boulevard in Quiapo, Manila. It has been converted to a shopping center.
Too bad for the buildings built by Pablo Antonio and Nakpil, or rather say prominent architects once studied in UP, UST, and even in America only to put their practises-trying to fuse style and utility, purpose and posh; but nowadays, mere creators of buildings using, as what my friend said: "Boysen Architecture."
How wonder why of all buildings be demolished are those made of prominent ones? Yes, there are buildings that are deserved to be demolished because it is totally deteriorating and inhabitable, but there are some that, with its good features be liable for rehabilitation and reuse, transform. But despite the calls, still not to care about it, even calling it unfeasable and be demolished, be replaced with buildings that are too contradictory with the familiar features of Manila as a classical place.
Once I read about a writeup about Cambodia's New Khmer architecture. Like the Philippines, Cambodia's architects like Van Molyvann tried to fuse the ancient and the new through its buildings after studying in France. And as a result, apartments, school buildings, even a sports plaza in Phnom Penh had some Khmer flavor in it; but sadly, some of it, like Manila, end up deterorating and demolished. As one writer said:
"Demolished and from its ruins concrete box buildings..."
Speaking of Van Molyvann, here's one writeup that shows his architectural wonder the way Pablo Antonio, Nakpil and Locsin did:
"Mr. Vann, who trained at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in the late 1940's and lives in Phnom Penh today, adapted a modern vocabulary to Cambodia's culture, climate, geography and its vernacular and ancient architectural traditions. In particular, the buildings elevate what we now call “green” technologies—double roofs, cross-ventilation, brise-soleils, indirect lighting, evaporative cooling, use of local materials—into exquisite architectural form."
I admire what Mr. Vann did for Cambodia-that some "green" architects tried to imitate it but carries the lack of what Mr. Vann shown, its like "less airconditioners more trees, less lightbulbs and more sunlight, plus good paint colour" so to say. Locsin, Nakpil, and Antonio may have tried fusing the ancient and the new in creating Pilipino contemporary architecture-with its theatres being designed by them as its proof and its interiors lies paintings and sculpture showing the beauty of the Pilipino-especially the Pilipina women, baked by the sun yet beautiful in its appearance.
People are least aware in the architectural wonders of the past, that there are buildings made in a unique, fashionable sense that made them famous like the ones in Escolta and in Avenida Rizal; the promincence of these centres were superseded by Makati and Taguig as the centres of business and lifestyle as we noticed, leaving the old deteriorated, less to be emphasised, worse? Demolished.
And upon looking at these bulwarks of old craftsmanship, true to say that we are creating losses in our heritage in favor of mere "modernity". That, most officials think that those buildings made during the Spanish era and few from the American era are being recognized much but how about the others? Isn't it obvious that we're becoming choosy, when it comes to landmarks?
As a suggestion, I would rather say that only Art Deco, Art Nouveau and 'real' Pilipino architecture will revive the Pilipino uniqueness in contemporary architecture. The creations of Antonio, Nakpil, Locsin, and others who tried to create the fusion of the old and new lies a means to inculcate consciousness amongst Pilipinos while, personally to say that these architectures are fitting for a tropical setting; for sure there are few people still trying to put patriotic flavor in creating modern monuments, but most tried but end up merely for aesthetic sense and not been seriously think of- that Manila we've seen back then, and now, would end up too different for tomorrow, sadly if most buildings in Escolta, in Avenida Rizal, in Recto, in Legarda would have been Boxes and a trying hard "New York" instead of a posh "London", "Paris" or "Barcelona" thanks to America.
Sorry for my suggestion regarding architecture, but to tell frankly, Manila is too classical, retro to put much a barrage of "overwesternized" buildings especially in those where once-bulwarks of Art Deco, Art Nouveau and other retro-like architectures being built. Worse? Trying to make Manila be as if like Makati. Sorry for the latter, but Makati,Taguig, and other cities in Metro Manila and even the Philippines is fit for "Modern buildings" while some must retain its "beauty and charm" as bastions of "old yet nice" architectures as Conservationists wanted. But personally to say, I don't like turning old buildings into mere museums and monuments: give them a real purpose. Let the old building of Citibank in Escolta return to its rightful purpose as a business centre same as others in its surroundings if they want Escolta to be revived once more as a prominent part of Manila. Same in Divisoria, rehabilitating buildings of purpose like the Manila Textile Market, Shoe Lane, and others being built after war and its succeeding years would be nicer than before same as they did in Tutuban.
More will remain apathetic about it. Worse, to say that being Luma is Pangit, of being Old, Ancient as Ugly and Unfit. Sorry but that's true.
This is not just about calling for conservation, but a call for consciousness...