STRUCTURES tell the story of a civilization. Old churches in the Philippines have survived three colonial periods, earthquakes, and fires. Tourists now flock to buildings that survived World War 2, guides narrating the horrors that took place during that benighted period. Mansions, repurposed as museums or restaurants, tell the economic history of a province. Newer edifices tell us much about nation-building after colonization and war.
And two men who figure prominently in that last era are the subjects of a major exhibition that looks at their legacy.
The Metropolitan Museum presents the works of two National Artists, Ildefonso P. Santos, Jr. who has been called the “Father of Philippine Landscape Architecture,” and architect Leandro V. Locsin in an exhibit, A Legacy of Filipino Popular Modernism.
The exhibit at the BSP Gallery focuses on the collaborative works of both National Artists that present their combined strengths as a Filipino architect and a landscape designer.
Exhibition curator and professor of architecture at the University of the Philippines-Diliman Gerry Lico noted that the exhibit presents “how modernism was employed to forge a national identity in the aftermath of the Second World War.”
In Mr. Lico’s curatorial notes, he wrote, “Modernism possessed a symbolic allure of a new architecture that would promote national identity. Landscapes would function as urban and ecological armatures that enable the people to flourish, both socially and physically.”
Mr. Lico explained that modernism is characterized by simple geometry and an absence of decoration. “It was a worldwide movement [which] we used after the war as a trajectory to create a new architectural style. It valorizes the honesty of the material,” he told BusinessWorld shortly after the exhibit’s opening ceremonies on May 23, citing Mr. Locsin’s use of concrete and marble clad with seashells in the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ main building.
Mr. Lico further explained that it was during the Marcos administration that the approach to architecture was “backward looking.”
“They wanted to erase the mass that has been accumulated by colonialism,” he said, citing that motifs were inspired by pre-colonial details.
Taking the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ complex as an example, the modernist structures allude to a rectangular anti-gravity mass or “floating bahay kubo” aesthetic.
“It’s very monumental, and some people would be alienated by it, but because of the ability of I.P. Santos to create organic landscape, talagang pinupuntahan siya ng taong bayan (People really visit these spaces),” he said, noting that Santos designed the CCP’s landscape with tropical and native plants and to serve as a communal space.
Items in the exhibit come from the collections of the artists’ architectural firms, including structural sketches and floor plans of the Folk Arts Theater and the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila; the landmark Church of the Holy Sacrifice Catholic chapel in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus; the San Miguel Corp. Head Office Complex in Pasig, and Nayong Pilipino in Parañaque.
3D images of the structures may also be viewed via augmented reality on tablets available around the gallery.
In 2010, with the approval of RA 10066, also known as the National Cultural Heritage Act, works by a National Artist and structures that are at least 50 years old are considered as “important cultural property” with the aim of protecting them “against exportation, modification or demolition.”
But when they think of heritage structures, most Filipinos only consider the churches from the Spanish period and pre-War buildings — anything newer is not considered “heritage.”
“Dapat isinasabuhay natin ’yung batas. Pero kasi, sa ating mga Filipino, these are [structures] of recent history. Hindi natin ito nakikita as heritage (We should follow the law. But for Filipinos, these are recent structures and they do not consider them as heritage structures),” Mr. Lico said.
Mr. Lico hopes that after seeing the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, viewers will have a fresh eye for architecture.
“It’s a lesson in architecture history. Although we are bombarded by architecture in our everyday life, we fail to appreciate its value and its historic importance.”
“Architecture is not just for shelter. It could spark meanings,” he said.
Leandro V. Locsin and Ildefonso P. Santos, Jr.: A Legacy of Filipino Popular Modernism is on view at the Bangko Sentral Gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Roxas Blvd., Malate, Manila, until July 30. Museum doors open at 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Monday through Saturdays; admission is free on Tuesdays. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman