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A house of creativity

A WOODEN door with studded details was about to be thrown away after the church that it was a part of was dismantled. That same evening, architect Pablo S. Antonio and his wife Marina Reyes Antonio acquired the door for their family home in Zamora Street in Pasay City.

“My great grandparents were going to a party. And on the way there, they saw this nearby church being dismantled. They saw the door; it was about to be thrown away. And they purchased it. That door became the door of their house,” the late architect’s great-grandson Joshua Carlos Barrera said.

The origin story of the door was told to him by his grandmother and her siblings, and later on, by other architects.

“There are a lot of stories like that regarding furniture in certain areas in the house,” Mr. Barrera said.

Had Mr. Barrera not focused on the Pablo S. Antonio residence as the topic for his college thesis, other stories about the house would have remained unknown.

Pablo Severo Antonio (1901-1975) pioneered Philippine Art Deco and Modernism. Responding to the country’s tropical climate, Mr. Antonio’s works embraced the streamline moderne concept of Art Deco which was inspired by aerodynamic designs. Some of his notable works include the Far Eastern University Manila, the Manila Polo Club, and the White Cross-Quezon Preventorium. Mr. Antonio was posthumously awarded the order of National Artist for Architecture in 1976.

His family home on Zamora St. was built in 1949 following the second World War. In 2019, the National Museum of the Philippines declared the residence an Important Cultural Property. Today, the house functions as a fashion atelier, events venue, and art gallery.

Distinct features of the house include its stonework, spacious rooms, and slanted windows — a signature trait of Mr. Antonio’s designs.

“Certain rooms are designed in a certain way because it tries to meet the values of the person,” Mr. Barrera said of each room taking on multiple roles.  “Some bedrooms used to be a kitchen, now it’s a showroom. My lolo designed the place to meet that need [so] that there’s a place for everyone.”

“I actually spent my earliest childhood in Pasay City,” Mr. Barrera told BusinessWorld in a Zoom interview, adding that the house was where his relatives would gather for family events and reunions. “So, ever since I was a child, I will always visit this place.”

As a student finishing arts management at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, Mr. Barrera focused his study on preserving the narrative aspect of architectural heritage, which led him to appreciate his great grandfather’s residence beyond its structure.

Mr. Barrera explained that when it comes to heritage, “a value is being passed through generations,” which goes beyond the structure and its functions.

“I wanted to really look at the intangible value of this house because the stories within it also contribute to how we see the house,” he said.

Mr. Barrera’s research began in Dec. 2020. Due to limited reference material, he rummaged through archived materials at his home since his mother — designer, author, and chef Vicky Veloso Barrera — is also the chief archivist of Mr. Antonio’s works. Other reference materials such as blueprints, sketches, and photographs were borrowed from his relatives.

“Most of my interviews I had to conduct via Zoom or via telephone call. Some relatives who contributed photographs, sent scans via e-mail, or other sent them via shipping,” he said.

“Through this research I was able to connect the dots that the people who lived in this house were architects, fashion designers, and artists.”

Since the study required project implementation, Mr. Barrera built a website so that materials about the residence and his great-grandfather’s work are now accessible online.

“Originally, my idea was to host face to face exhibition in the house showcasing the old sketches, the floor plans, and old photographs of the house. But of course, that could not happen because of COVID-19,” he said. “So instead, I thought, since everything’s online, why not we bring the house online after all?”

With his basic knowledge of web design, Mr. Barrera put up the website, which was launched in Oct. 2021.

It features a short biography of Mr. Antonio, videos and photographs of the current house, and essays and blog entries about the events held there.

“[Mr. Antonio] is a National Artist and the knowledge people can learn from his work deserves to be made accessible to many Filipinos,” he added.

The website will be publishing more of the literature about the house and will also feature archival material from the whole body of work of Pablo Antonio. Other plans for the website include announcements for future events, a booking system for visits, and an online store.

Mr. Barrera noted that heritage structures are built legacies. Unlike moveable objects like paintings, sculptures, and relics, heritage sites lose their story if it’s detached from their place.

“Being immovable, these heritage assets in particular are directly connected to the land that they are in,” he said. “These places hold stories within the space, multiple stories, personal stories, historical events, and many more. If we destroy the structures, all of those stories are lost.”

Visit https://pablosantoniohome.com/ for details on the Pablo S. Antonio residence and the virtual tour. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman