Designing Filipino, The Architecture of Francisco Manosa

Designing book; Eric Carruncho, 254 pages

BOOK REVIEW "Meditation on a Monograph"
Jophen Baui

Flicking through this luminous monograph and coffee table book, and goggling at photographs of bahay-kubo and bahay na bato inspired homes, resorts, institutions, and religious landmarks, I was again stirred up to ask the oft-repeated question of what counts as Filipino art. A hefty, glossy brochure, this monograph re-creates the already actualized aesthetic passion of one true Filipino architect.

“Three factors make architecture truly Filipino,” says Manosa, “Filipino values, Philippine climate and the use of indigenous materials….”

“The point was not to rebuild the bahay kubo and bahay na bato – their time had come and gone – but to learn from them. What was their essence? What made them Filipino? And how do you build modern structures that meet present-day needs while retaining that essence?”

Found in the short biography at the beginning of the book, these words serve as wise haligi to Manosa’s vision of a uniquely Filipino design. Francisco Manosa, named by Asiaweek in September 1982 as one of the seven visionary architects of Asia, is considered “the most outspoken champion of an indigenous Filipino architecture.”

“His striking designs for residences and institutions incorporate vernacular forms and make extensive use of indigenous materials while stretching the boundaries of contemporary tropical design.”

Nostalgic Pinoy

In this book, each captioned shoot of his showcased legacy arouses nostalgia for everything provincial and pinoy --

  • Snapshots of houses contiguous with the spaces surrounding them and marked by “a return to the old… from the age-old customs and traditions of the people and the lessons of the past” – an apotheosis of which is the “coconut palace”.
  • Vistas of churches and commemorative structures that provide a “tangible feel of the Philippines” because… they are “rich in historical significance…” such as the EDSA shrine and the St Joseph Parish housing the bamboo organ in Las Pinas.
  • A panorama of resorts and hotels that “espouse Filipino values, consider our tropical climate, use Filipino motifs…” – noteworthy of which is the Mactan Shangri-La Hotel in Cebu.
  • And finally, a perspective of high rise buildings and institutions that considered local “climate, geography and materials…” and echoing culture – the San Miguel building, one epitome of such.

Filipino Aesthetic

Far from merely showing off pictures, however, deliberate in the design of this book is a sala-sala of insights for creative inspiration. Artists should be inspired by the book’s outspokenness, its vocal and visual articulation of an aesthetic Filipino philosophy. For example, the spread that is pages 24 and 25 captions an elongated blueprint of the upper floor of the “coconut palace” as consisting of “seven suites, each intended to showcase a distinct cultural group: the Ilocos Room, the Igorot Room, the Tagalog Room, the Visayan Room, the T’Boli Room, the Maranao Room and the Zamboanga Room. In each case, authentic artifacts and motifs were used for the décor.” Virtually entering these rooms lets me into even the color preferences of these cultures – enriching, and one that local tourists may miss.

How about also providing a tukod for artists who aspire to become a “champion” in whatever art medium and leave their own marks of excellence? Consider the book’s effort at providing even aerial views and topographic plan that shows how structures were “designed and sited to blend with the natural landscape.”

Appreciate its descriptions of unifying motifs and design principles using actual blueprints and accounts of serendipity. [I am amused that even the hexagonal design idea for the coconut palace came from the coconut itself, how it is trimmed and cut.]

The book is also a construct with a built in shed or sibi to protect the creative from the glare of “inferiority.” “We must believe in ourselves, our capabilities, innovativeness and creativity, and stop imitating alien cultures and architectures. We must believe that in accepting what we are and what we have – both their limitations and potentials – we can finally emerge as equals.”

In Mactan, Cebu, the Shangri La hotel used the stones and sand available in the area to build its sturdy walls. The twelve-story 1987 Eucharistic Congress tower was made from “200 bamboo poles….Gale-force winds tested its integrity and proved the soundness of this traditional way of building with bamboo.” Back pages of the book displays photos of industrial designs using bamboo, coconut, shells, local lumber, Note Capiz lightings and shades, shell works, wood inlay works, coco material works – all a direct output of innovating “from traditional forms using modern technology….”

Champion Filipino-ness

Thus, an artist flipping through the pages is inspired to become an able steward of local culture and indigenous materials. Outspoken and a champion of Filipino-ness, this book is a firm, authoritative witness to artists grappling for a voice. It affirms that every artistic medium is its own boundless space and limit; but without a vision any art is merely redundant. A Filipino-ness in every art executes the personal yet universal essence of belonging to an appointed environ that is the original design of creation. At least, for many artists here is more than a final clue to identity:

“I design Filipino, nothing else.” This is a bold declaration, coming from an architect now at the peak of his powers after a successful four-decade career. But it springs not so much from Manosa’s successes in his field as from knowing himself, where he’s from, where he’s going.

“Architecture,” he has said time and again, “must be true to itself, to its land and to its people. For the design of the built environment reflects man’s expression of his way of life, his emotional, philosophical, religious, technological and material values in response to his needs and environmental challenges.”

In a culture that often takes mediocrity for granted and is hasty towards becoming a part of the global culture, Manosa’s monograph is a trigger of sorts, some stubborn call to regional individuality, a celebration of Filipino uniqueness. 

more on expressions of the Filipino soul

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