“The Most Iconic Work of Philippine Architecture” – powerful to say, difficult to define. Upon hearing this phrase, many Filipinos immediately gravitate towards images of the Tanghalang Pambansa, Coconut Palace, The Big Dome, perhaps even the SM Mall of Asia. Heck, depending on the definition you subscribe to, even something like the Jeepney could be a valid candidate. Our concept of “Iconic” varies greatly.
The question of the day is: “For you, what does “Iconic Architecture” mean, and what building qualifies as the “Most Iconic Work of Philippine Architecture”?
My answer is rather unconventional, in that the structure was small, impermanent and is long gone, in contrast to the many favourites out there. Be that as it may, I truly believe that it embodied and continues to embody the entirety of the Filipino spirit – my qualifications for something to be iconic.
I’m talking of the 1970 Philippine Pavilion in Osaka, Japan designed by Leandro V. Locsin. For those who don’t know the story, here’s the basic gist of it. If you want something more detailed, check out this great entry by Designkultur: http://designkultur.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/architects-leandro-locsin-the-philippines-expo-70/
The site given to the Philippines in the Expo ’70 was small and triangular – not the most ideal situation if you’re looking to dazzle the masses and give an impression of sheer awesomeness. To make matters worse, Canada’s pavilion across the street, designed by the great Arthur Erickson, was a stunning glass behemoth of epic proportions.
The Philippines would need something fantastic to compete with such grandeur.
And the Philippines did it.
Here’s an excerpt from the Designkultur entry:
“Since the Philippine Pavilion at Expo ’70 occupied a small corner lot opposite the large Canadian Pavilion (a mirror-wall pyramid), the architect felt that it had to make a strong architectural statement despite the limited building budget. Otherwise, it would be overwhelmed by its spectacular neighbour.”
The dramatic roof sweeping up from the ground was intended to express the soaring prospects and future-oriented outlook of the Filipino people. The architectural message was that although the Philippines is a young and developing country, it has a progressive spirit.
Fine Philippine hardwoods and other native materials were used extensively throughout the pavilion. The pattern of the narra planking on the ceiling directed the eye up toward the apex. Panels of capiz shell in the skylight diffused a warm interior light. Not yet installed when the building was photographed was a large capiz chandelier, which added a spectacular focal point to the pavilion. The chandelier now hangs over the central stairway in Ang Maharlika.
The exhibit in the pavilion was a photo essay covering the history of the Philippine Islands form their mythic origins to the present day. Interspersed with the photos were small exhibits of artefacts such as Oriental trade porcelains, Philippine-made gold jewellery dating from the twelfth-century and earlier, Muslim woodcarvings and brass jewellery, and Spanish-colonial sculpture. On the ground floor were exhibits of native products such as lumber (artistically displayed as sculpturelike works) and handsome silk fabrics (stretched on frames to form colourful, decorative panels on the walls). The basement housed a small art gallery of contemporary Philippine art and sculpture.
The Philippine Pavilion was well received and was judged one of the ten most popular pavilions at the exhibition.”
Talk of the powerful figures it seemed to abstract circulated – hands in prayer, a conquistador’s hat, a bird, etc. It was even said that people would take pictures of the Canadian Pavilion to capture the image of the Philippine Pavilion beautifully reflected on it.
Quite obviously, Locsin’s masterpiece for Expo ’70 is long gone, but its memory and what it stood for is still going strong. We are a developing country, with aspirations that soar to the heavens. No matter how small we might seem, the glory of the Filipino still shines though. The Philippine Pavilion in Osaka captures this beautifully, which is why I consider it the most iconic work of Filipino Architecture.
So then, what about you?
Our friends from Arkitektura.ph have launched a wonderful contest called “ICON: The Search for the Iconic Filipino Architecture”. The mechanics are simple: Simply go to the arkitektura.ph forums and ist down the top ten (10) buildings or structures (in descending order) which you consider iconic. Duration of this survey will be from JULY 11-25, 2012. The person with the best line-up of iconic Filipino architecture will win a signed seminal book, “Arkitekturang Filipino: A History Of Architecture And Urbanism In The Philippines” (617 pages) by Gerard Lico and DVD of Philippine Architecture. So tell all your friends and let the world know what is ICONIC FILIPINO ARCHITECTURE!