LEGO blocks are most commonly used for fun and play and are rarely used as an educational tools in the Philippines. But a recent contest has changed that.

A LEGO Education Center called the iMake History Fortress held its soft opening on March 19, alongside the awarding of the iMake History Fortress Architecture Scale Model Competition, a national LEGO model-making contest of Intramuros landmarks.

The project resulted in the adaptive reuse of the Baluarte de Santa Barbara in Fort Santiago, Intramuros, which was renovated for this purpose.

The iMake History Fortress is a project of the Intramuros Administration in collaboration with the Royal Danish Embassy, and LEGO Education’s exclusive partner in the Philippines, Felta Multimedia Inc.

Launched in August 2017, the iMake History Fortress Architecture Scale Model Competition was opened to undergraduate students in architecture, industrial design, and engineering.

Each team of three to five members was assigned to recreate a 1:100 scale model of an Intramuros landmark. Nine teams participated in the competition, while a team from the Surigao State College of Technology built a non-competing scale model of the San Francisco Church.

The scale models of Lourdes Church by students from the University of Santo Tomas (UST), of Recoletos Church by students from Don Bosco Technical College, and of Sto. Domingo Church by students from National University (NU) won first, second, and third prize, respectively.

The winning scale model by the UST students also won the Most Innovative Award. The students said that they wanted to make the model interesting by including a wedding entourage in laser-cut acrylic in the church interior, as well as placing lights on the floor to create a vanishing point effect when viewing the interior from the model’s main entrance.

The 10 scale models become the property of the Intramuros Administration.

The Baluarte de Santa Barbara — which served as a powder magazine during the Spanish regime and was later used by the Japanese invading forces as a prison during the Second World War — will today house displays of Philippine landmarks and function as a multipurpose hall for learning.

The ground floor houses a lecture area, an exhibit area, and a photo booth; while the second floor includes a reception area, a dark room featuring glow-in-the-dark figures, a lounge, an audio-visual room, and an exhibit area for temporary displays such as the robot Philippine Eagle by the Filipino LEGO Education designer Lee Magpili.

The Administrator of the Intramuros Administration, Guiller B. Asido, said that the project is aimed at educating people on the country’s history and culture. “We wanted to make an adaptive reuse of the spaces. Our direction is to give Intramuros a new narrative through a creative approach,” he told BusinessWorld at the soft opening.

Exhibits on the second floor will be changed every six months, while the LEGO models from the competition will be on permanent display at the ground floor.

The iMake History Fortress is set to be “fully operational in April or May.” It will then be open to the public daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. No additional fee will be charged aside from the Fort Santiago entrance fee.

Mr. Asido added that projects using other spaces within the walled city are underway including the development of 44 chambers inside the wall along the Pasig river. There will also be a new museum which will house a collection of ecclesiastical objects.

Another development is the opening of Casa Azul, the Intramuros branch of the Spanish cultural center Instituto Cervantes (IC), in May. Casa Azul will function “exclusively for academic and cultural purposes,” according to a signed Memorandum of Understanding between IC and the Intramuros Administration (IA). — Michelle Anne P. Soliman