Thursday, January 26, 2012


Cultural Center of the Philippines, with its Christmas decorations


Leandro V. Locsin (1928-1994) was the most important modern architect of the Philippines, the equivalent in that country of what Kenzo Tange was in Japan. Aside of being an architect, Locsin was an interior designer, artist and musician, and in 1990 was entitled as National Artist of the Philippines by the recently defunct President Corazon Aquino, in addition to receiving the Asian Culture Award in Fukuoka.

I could only visit little of his extensive work, but I was impressed by his skill in the use of concrete and the cleanliness and strength of the volumes, which appear to be levitating while, at the same time, providing a sense of massiveness and lightness to his buildings. Many more advanced studies, however, have analyzed the important link between the work of Locsin and the traditional Filipino architecture.

Benedictine Monastery of the Transfiguration. Malaybalay, Bukidnon, posthumous building, 1996.

In this entry will present two of his most representative works.


Locsin's first work in 1955, was a church (ironically, his last work was also a chapel, located in Malaybalay shown above), the church of the Holy Sacrifice, at the University of the Philippines, Manila (although originally designed for the Victorias Milling Co. in Negros Occidental,  Locsin's home town).

Church of the Holy Sacrifice. See location in Google Maps.

It is a circular church, the first of its kind in the Philippines. The altar is in the middle of the floor, an idea which Locsin corrected in later churches, since it was not very appropriate to the rite of the Catholic mass.

Graphics courtesy of Caryn Paredes-Santillan

The main feature in the church is a large concrete dome, located on transparent walls and supported on pillars on the sides of the church, that people have dubbed the "flying saucer", somehow emphasizing the lightness of the form.

Some researchers have emphasized the parallel between this conception and the pre Hispanic architecture in the Philippines, especially in the bahay kubo, houses with sloping thatched roofs and light walls erected on wooden poles.

The dome is slightly separated from the inclined columns, emphasizing the sensation of floating and allowing more light to interior, which is complemented by a circular skylight at the top of the dome.

The architect Caryn Paredes-Santillan, presented at the II International Conference on Architecture and Phenomenology, a study of the manifestations of liminality in the churches of Locsin. Liminality is a concept used in semiotics to define an intermediate state between two areas, often characterized by its ambiguity and its complementarity with two spaces.

Paredes-Santillan distinguishes in her analysis of several churches by Locsin, three types of space: the primary spaces (main functions of the building, like the altar), secondary spaces (auxiliary areas, such as the  baptistery, choir, confessional) and liminal spaces, connecting these two kinds, which are "psychological barriers that delineate the different degrees of integration within a space and serve as a rite of passage between the exterior and interior."

To this end Locsin uses some techniques as surrounding a space by another space, the separation of the roofs and the use of light.

Paving designed by Arturo Luz

Aside of Locsin, the design of the church had the assistance of other leading professionals, the floor was designed by Arturo Luz, the Stations of the Cross by Vicente Manansala and Ang Kiukok, and the double crucifix and the base of the altar by Napoleon Abueva, all now recognized as National Artists.

Altar and double crucufix (showing Jesus died and rose) designed by Napoleon Abueva


The CCP or Sentrong Pangkultura ng Pilipinas is the most recognized work by Locsin, completed in 1969 during the government of Ferdinand Marcos. In fact, his work focused mainly on the Performing Arts Theatre.

Old view of Manila Bay, with the CCP at the background.

The CCP is located on the waterfront, in an area of 77 hectares reclaimed to Manila Bay. During my visit a project to recover the riverfront was undertaken, which had been abandoned for decades and was being converted into an interesting center of social exchange. The CCP is the starting point of this long boulevard.

The idea was to make this complex the artistic Mecca of Asia, and for that purpose it houses four theaters, a museum of ethnography, galleries and a library of art and culture.

The main theater is comprised of a huge concrete block covered in marble that forms the facade of the building and protrudes 12 meters thanks to the powerful arched columns that give the impression that this block is floating.

The building is accessed from two ramps which converge at the center of the facade, an idea that has been used by Locsin in some of his works.

Fountains were placed in front of the block, which allows an interesting perception of the building at night.

Gerard Lico, in his book "Power, Myth and Marcos State Architecture" has criticized the monumentality of this complex as a waste, whose primary purpose was to serve as propaganda and demonstrate the power of the dictator. Similarly, many  Latin American dictatorships at that time, also chose grandiose works to signify their power and the vision of the nation, so that Marcos probably used this monument as a mask to hide the corruption problems that afflicted its mandate.

While many people worship him in Ilocos Norte (I had the opportunity to see his embalmed body, but he looked to me  like a wax statue), but there are many others who blame the huge external debt that his government left, as well as his many eccentricities that Filipinos still have to pay. After all, after the war, the U.S. plan was to turn the Philippines into Asia's new leader, instead of Japan. What happened?

Interior of the building. Detail of the ceiling, courtesy of elzhear

- Modern Architecture.

Thank you very much to the Visaya cousins for being such excellent hosts in Manila ... maraming salamat!
(This tower in our back is often depictedin Filipino films as a spacecraft)

Monday, January 23, 2012


Photo courtesy of eazy traveler .

I walk the streets of Intramuros and feel a sense of deja-vu, of delicious familiarity. I was surprised when one of my friends invited me a chicharron, a dish that reminds me of that of my land (although here this crunchy fried pork rind is called Tsitsaron ). The landscape around me makes me refer to colonial images of Arequipa, Peru , Antigua in Guatemala or Mexico .

Interior courtyards and houses in Intramuros

Church of St. Augustine.

It is no coincidence. Intramuros was founded on the basis of an ancient Tagalog settlement, at the confluence of the Manila Bay and the Pasig River, by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1571, who had arrived from Mexico to the island of Cebu , then head toward the north to get to this place.

Intramuros, Manila. See location in Google Maps.

Intramuros was the capital of the new Spanish colony of the "Felipinas" islands and was a key point on the trade route between Asia and America (Manila and Acapulco) that by means of galleons, realized the dream of Columbus that Spain could reach the West Indies. And while the Americas benefited from products such as mango, silk, paper, envelopes and Manila shawls, Filipinos also received a major Latin American influence, in terms of food products, religion, art, mestizo architecture (of course, in the language as well. A plethora of Spanish words that are included in the modern Filipino language, there are some of Aztec origin, such as Nanay -mom-or, Tatay- dad).

The name of Intramuros evokes the idea of ​​an isolated area, protected from urban sprawl and housing historical treasures within itself, but also gives the idea of ​​protection against attacks by pirates or invaders (in this case Chinese, Dutch and English).

Remains of bastions and fortifications

But Intramuros also involved social exclusion, the separation between those who were inside the walls (white and mestizos) of those natives who lived outside them. It appears however, that in the mid-nineteenth century this characteristic was dissolved into a more inclusive society for people of all races and social strata, as a British traveler tells of the time recorded.

Filipino mestizas in the late nineteenth

Intramuros fortification was designed as a trapezoidal layout, located on a wedge formed by the sea and the Pasig River (now the land reclamation difficults that reading). Inside the walls there is a rectangular gridiron, which included the main square, surrounded by the major powers of the time: the cathedral, the prison the house of the governor. In that sense, Intramuros is similar to other fortified cities in Latin America, such as Lima , for example.

Intramuros in 1784.

Intramuros in the seventeenth century, showing the surrounding area or "extramuros"

Besides the cathedral, the city was dotted with the towers of churches from other congregations, such as Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians.

The Cathedral before 1945
Views of the Cathedral

The streets, like other Hispanic colonial cities, have compact profiles, with no setbacks or front gardens but with balconies and arcades, whose townscape had changed over the years due to successive disasters that devastated the city.

However, the buildings are arranged around courtyards and cloisters, allowing light and ventilation to indoor environments, generating a microclimate and providing an internal social and functional space.

The city is surrounded by fortifications, carried out throughout centuries, and gates, artistically decorated as in the case of the Parian Gate or the Real Gate.

Parian Gate.

Real Gate in 1899.

Video of Intramuros in the Spanish era

Jose Rizal, maximum hero of the Philippine independence, was arrested and shot at Fort Santiago in Intramuros. Before dying, he wrote his immortal poem " My Last Farewell".

Intramuros remained intact until the colonization of the Philippines by the U.S. which conducted widening of streets and gates.
The following video shows the effects of modernization during the American colonization, which transformed to Manila from a "sleepy Spanish village" to a strategic city in Asia, thanks to urban renewal, implementation of services and infrastructure as well as economic development. The documentary says nothing, however, that the colonization took place after a shameful betrayal by the U.S. the Filipinos and the Filipino-American War of Independence took between 200,000 and 1.4 million deaths (that's why I insist that we should always hear both sides of the story).

But I would not be the Americans but the Japanese who cause most damage to Intramuros and Manila in general. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, and in retaliation after an American response, Japan invaded the Philippines (it was actually the pretext that they were expecting). Manila, which was under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, surrendered promptly to avoid the destruction of its historical heritage and loss of lives.

- "Are you going to leave Manila, Douglas?"
- "Do not worry, Carlos. I'll move to Australia for a while, but I shall return."

, A Japanese soldier hides among the shadows of the fortress.

In the 3 ½ years that lasted the brutal Japanese occupation, between 1 and 2 million Filipinos were killed. In their final battle against the Americans (who, in one of those twists and turns of history, became the liberators of the Philippines), the Japanese did not hesitate to kill through the bayonet to the local population, including children and pregnant women, and to set Manila on fire during their withdrawal .

Note: This historical video contains scenes that may impact the susceptibility of some readers.

As a result of the crossfire between the two sides, Intramuros was devastated and all its structures destroyed, except for the Church of St. Augustine. In the Battle of Manila alone more than 100,000 Filipino civilians were killed.

- "That is equal to the deaths by the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki" an old guide said to me on a terrible and not so accurate comparison , but it reflects the deep pain of that experience he had in his own flesh and has accompanied him throughout his life.

Intramuros, Manila in 1932, before its destruction in 1945

Photo courtesy of DebraEve

Today, much of the Citadel has been rebuilt (incidentally, with the help of Spanish American and Japanese cooperation) although it is one of the monuments in the list of endangered heritage by UNESCO. Intramuros is not a depressing, tragic memorial as it is, for example, the island of Corregidor. By contrast, it exudes joy, festivity and frenzy, and while some foreigners are playing golf in the course around the monument, many locals express in their boisterous and extroverted character an optimism for better times. I am aware, however, that this place is not merely historical site, is a symbol of the tenacity and sacrifice of the Filipinos to achieve independence, who finally succeeded in 1946.


To thank you very much for your kind company Visayas in Intramuros.