Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Children’s Blueprint for the Appreciation of Architecture

Adarna House launches What Kids Should Know About Philippine Architecture, which affords children to learn about architecture, particularly Philippine architecture, and hopefully appreciate heritage
The dearth in awareness of, concern and appreciation for heritage remains to be one of the blights of the country. This is discernible from the paucity of old and heritage structures around Metro Manila, which may furnish the sprawling urban landscape with character and history. What few left are neglected, misused or even torn down. Recent news and controversies focus on this disregard of heritage. This indifference to heritage, particularly to heritage structures and buildings, stems from lack of understanding and appreciation of architecture. This is affirmed by architect, professor and architecture scholar Edson Cabalfin.
Back in 2000, when the Jai Alai [building] was demolished, approved by the mayor of Manila then, what struck me with all of the discussions about it was that they never saw that Art Deco is part of the history, he related. They only saw it as this shell, and my argument now and with all of my scholarships that there was no appreciation and people didnt realize that it was important, that it was part of their lives. I think thats part of the problem why heritage is being demolished.
A deep understanding of and appreciation for things like heritage, art and culture though cannot be readily inculcated in people, as many found out. They are things to be cultivated in a person, things included in the education of children, but another problem in the country is that art and heritage appreciation is not part of the school curriculum.
To address is glaring lack, longtime childrens book publisher Adarna House, founded by poet and National Artist for literature Virgilio Almario, continuously churns out childrens books on Philippine history, art and culture, including the What Filipino Kids Should Know series of books, recommended for children 10 years old and above. It first came out with What Kids Should Know about Andres and the Katipunan, tackling a portion of Philippine history.  The latest book in the series is timelyWhat Kids Should Know About Philippine Architecture. Adarna House approached Cabalfin to write the book with Asa Montenejo doing the illustrations.
This is in fact my first book, and Im very happy its a childrens book, revealed Cabalfin.
Having written scores of articles for journals and books, all academic, he commented on the 48-page book: Its a different type of writing, but the ideas are kinda similar in terms of the content. But its writing in a simpler and clear way. If anything, its one of the challenges of writing [a childrens book].
With What Kids Should Know About Philippine Architecture, perhaps the first childrens book on the subject, kids now have a colorful resource for and introduction to local architecture. Cabalfin remembered how he was drawn into architecture:  I came from a family of scientists. My parents are scientists. So I grew up in a family, in a household in which science was constantly discussed. But I love the arts. So when I was deciding on what field to choose for college, I thought that architecture was the perfect balance between art and science. I love design, and I think I realized later on, after I took architecture, that this is really my passion.
He further said: I also love history, and that prompted me also later on to teach and to write about history. So I decided to focus on history of architecture. So thats why it was the focus of my masteral and then my PhD studies. And I really want to focus my advocacy on promoting different ways of like understanding Philippine architecture. And that is manifested in this book. My many views I developed over the years are present in this book as well as my passion for architecture.
What Kids Should Know About Philippine Architecture is different from other introductory books on architecture which usually tackle its history chronologically and present the different architectural styles, movements and designs. Cabalfin opted to present architecture in its social context, emphasizing its meanings and importance in the society. Additionally, it makes architecture relevant to Filipino children by including Filipino styles and examples found in the Philippines, from indigenous houses to modern buildings.
The book opens with what architecture and Filipino architecture mean as well as what makes architecture. Other chapters discuss the creative process, how architecture adapts to the environment, how it makes places, how it changes across time, how it creates meaning, how it reflects society and its future. These are interspersed with interesting tidbits of information such as the National Artists in architecture and different native materials used in building.
According to Cabalfin this way of tackling architecture was inspired by his own paper he wrote in 2000 and a traveling exhibit, Arkitekturang Filipino, he mounted with colleague Dr. Gerard Lico, who teaches at the University of the Philippines College of Architecture, in 2000.
We started presenting Philippine architecture thematically, rather than chronologically or historically, Cabalfin said. So I presented an outline for this to Adarna House and then I also presented a chronological version. I really wanted the thematic structure so I was happy that they decided they wanted to go with the thematic structureIt is easier to talk about architecture as something that happens in the past and the present and the future but [the thematic structure] broadens the scope. It also is not focused on dates, which may bore people. We wanted to show architecture as something that is part of everybodys lives everyday. So thats why it became thematic.
What Kids Should Know About Philippine Architecture also reflects Cabalfins views on architecture such as the idea that architecture is about people. I know it sounds common, but in fact if you look at it, a lot of people dont realize it. They see architecture as something about buildings, he said.
He further explained: Thats part of it but what I wanted to promote is that buildings happened because of people. And the changes that have happened are because of the people who use them also, and the people who designed them. People is an important element of architecture.
So thats very apparent [in the book]. Thats why it talks a lot about how people use architecture, how they change it, why it is significant to them because of the meaning, the history.
Another integral part of Cabalfins beliefs that is in the book is his definition of Filipino architecture.
At the beginning of the book I talk about what is Filipino architecture, and that is my position. Some people might not agree with it, but I wanted a definition of Filipino architecture that is more inclusive and more democratic, and that really kinda recognizes and celebrates diversity of expressions, he said.
In the end, What Kids Should Know About Philippine Architecture shows people the many dimensions, meanings and diversity of architecture and Philippine architecture in particular.
Part of this books advocacy is [letting people know that] Philippine architecture is so many different things, Cabalfin said. Its not only the bahay kubo. Its not only also the bahay na bato but even the new skyscrapers. Those are also part of Filipino architecture. Because in the future, how will we then look at, lets say, the skyscrapers, or lets say, the modern architecture that we have right now which might not be heritage yet?
He went back to the Jai Alai building. Many did not consider it a heritage building because it was not Spanish colonial. He pointed out that it was in fact part of the American colonial heritage and thus part of our history. Thus, What Kids Should Know About Philippine Architecture, he said, attempts to broaden the view of heritagethat it is varied and diverse.
Cabalfin said: Im hoping that this book will also kind of inspire kids to be able to have an understanding and appreciation [of architecture and heritage]. Im not expecting them to memorize all of them. But at least theyll be aware na may ganito pala, na this is pala Philippine architecture, and that they can also find out more about it, they can try to discover other examples.Theres really many more.

What Kids Should Know About Philippine Architecture tackle the subject thematically, focusing on meanings and context, as well as citing examples in Philippine settings

Author Edson Cabalfin and illustrator Asa Montenejo sign books during the launch
Author Edson Cabalfin

Monday, June 15, 2015

A New Chapter for a Heritage Structure

The Metropolitan Theater (Met) is now owned by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). The national government’s agency in charge of arts and culture acquired the prominent heritage landmark in Manila for the sum of P270 million from the owner, the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). The Deed of Absolute Sale (DAS) was signed and the original titles were formally transferred on June 10,2015, at the national social insurance agency’s main office in Pasay City, led by NCCA chairman Felipe de Leon Jr. and GSIS president and general manager Robert G. Vergara.
This marked a new chapter for the theatre, a National Cultural Treasure. According to De Leon, “this is a very touching, historic occasion and milestone because the Met is one of the best, most creative products of Filipino artistic excellence.”
On the other hand, Vergara said: “GSIS is privileged to turn over this extraordinary asset to the NCCA. In more ways than one, we see this as an agreement handing the Met back to its rightful owners, the Filipino people.”
The NCCA credits the national government and President Benigno Aquino III for this development.  The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) earlier released the amount of P270 million to the National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts (NEFCA) for the acquisition of the Met. This was announced by DBM Secretary Florencio Abad in late May of this year.
“The Met was once a testament to the richness of Philippine culture and artistry, but decades of neglect brought this beautiful landmark into serious disrepair,” he stated. “The Aquino administration, through the NCCA, has taken the first step to restoring the MET to its former glory. It will take some time, but we are confident that the NCCA has the capacity to take on such a formidable task.”
“We cannot claim to pursue national development if we fail at preserving our culture and heritage,” he added.
 According to the NCCA, the purchase of the Met is an important initial step towards the fullest conservation of the property by the NCCA in coordination with the concerned cultural agencies, commensurate with its status as a National Cultural Treasure and National Historical Landmark.
Additionally, the NCCA Board of Commissioners expresses that there is need for the Met, described as “a great architectural landmark of the artistic and cultural creativity of the Filipino people” and to restore it according to the highest standards of heritage conservation:   “This will indeed be an iconic building of Filipino heritage that affirms the vision of the NCCA that Filipino culture is a wellspring of global and national well being. Restoring the Met is befitting a national treasure that eventually would be an office for the conservation of the NCCA and a center for arts and culture for use by the nearby students and the general public.”
In the district of Ermita, among flyovers, bridges, the fumes of traffic, parks and other buildings, the Metropolitan Theater presently stands out with its motley of colors. The facade has a curving top crowned with pinnacles, colored glass window and iron grills depicting stylized birds-of-paradise.
The Met was inaugurated on December 10, 1931, designed by prominent architect Juan Arellano (April 25, 1888-December 5, 1960). Having studied in the United States as one of the first pensionados in architecture, Arellano was influenced by the neoclassical and eclectic styles, which are evident in his major works such as the Legislative Building, built in 1926 and now housing the National Museum of the Philippines (NM), and the Manila Central Post Office Building, also built in1926, with its impressive portico with Ionic columns. He also designed the Central United Methodist Church (1932) and the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol (1936) in Bacolod City.
To many people, Arellano is known for the Met. Veering away from styles he was known for, the Met is in the Art Deco style. He was sent to the United States to study under Thomas W. Lamb, American theatre design expert, of Shreve and Lamb. In designing the theatre, it is said that Arellano was inspired by the phrase, “On the wings of song.” The Met also exemplifies his belief in incorporating native art forms and motifs in designs.
The idea for building a theater in Manila was developed in 1924. A theatre existed in the area before, the Teatro del Príncipe Alfonso XII, built in 1862 at the Plaza Arroceros and burnt down in 1876. With approval from the Philippine Legislature, 8,239.58 square meters of the Mehan Garden were allotted for the new theater and construction started in 1930.
With a program of music, drama and film, the Met opened the following year and was immediately hailed as an architectural achievement, both modern and romantic. Local motifs were used, particularly images from Philippine flora. A frieze of mango fruits and leaves, for example, adorned the ceiling. Local flora and fauna as well were depicted in the stained-glass central window of the facade which served as signage and a way to bring in natural light to the lobby. The walls were curving and sported patches of colors resembling batik patterns. Inside, there were lamps of capiz shells and pillars in the shape of banana leaves. Colorful walls, bas reliefs and sculptures were interspersed inside the theater.
Other prominent artists contributed to the grandeur of the Met. At the main lobby were sculptures of Adam and Eve by Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti, who lived in Manila from 1930 up to his death in 1958. At the balcony overlooking the entrance were National Artist Fernando Amorsolo’s murals The Dance and History of Music as well as Monti’s other statues. Sculptor Isabelo Tampingco made the carvings of local flora in the interiors. Arellano’s brother, Arcadio, painted images of local flora in the main auditorium.
With the auditorium’s original capacity of 1,670, the Met hosted performances of zarzuelas, operas, concerts and foreign classics up to the Japanese occupation. The works of National Artists Antonio Buenaventura and Nicanor Abelardo have also been performed at the Met.
In World War II, during the Battle for the Liberation of Manila in 1945, the Met suffered damages, and thus began its deterioration and neglect. With the US Rehabilitation Act of 1946, the Met was repaired, but it was not able to bring back its glory days. The building eventually has been used by different agencies and sometimes misused.
There were several efforts in restoration and rehabilitation. In the 1970s, then First Lady Imelda Marcos led an effort to restore the Met. The National Historical Institute, presently the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), declared it a National Historical Landmark in 1973.  A restoration was conducted under the supervision of Arellano’s nephew, Otilio Arellano, and the Met was inaugurated on February 4, 1978. Kabataang Barangay staged a show tracing the roots of the Filipino people through poetry, song and dance called Isang Munting Alamat.  Up until the 1990s, performances were staged at the Met including the musical adaptations of Jose Rizal’s novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo by Ryan Cayabyab and National Artist Bienvenido Lumbrera in 1995. But it was eventually closed in 1996 after prolonged disuse.
            Already falling into neglect and disrepair, the Met saw another effort in restoration. In 2004, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo released P50 million to the NCCA for it, and the NCCA, the city of Manila and the GSIS signed a tripartite agreement to rehabilitate the theater. In 2007, the newly-formed Manila Historical and Heritage Commission came in to manage and supervise the restoration. This effort led to a “soft opening” on April 29, 2010, with the performance of a senakulo, a performance from Pilita Corrales and an excerpt from the original zarzuela Baler sa Puso Ko by Isagani Cruz. The National Museum declared the Met a National Cultural Treasure on the same year on June 23.  Rock band Wolfgang was able to hold a concert in 2011. However, it was closed down again in 2012 because of ownership dispute between the city government of Manila and the GSIS.
Interest in the heritage structure did not die down. In September 2014, Manila mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada announced the city government’s plans to buy the Met for P200 million, to restore it to its former grandeur and to house the Institute of Performing Arts (IPA) of the Universidad de Manila, which is near the Met, as well as to serve as a venue for performances by the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. The Manila city government has asked for a loan from the Landbank of the Philippines for the purchase as well as for restoration which was estimated to be at about P700 million.
In February 20, 2015, Estrada informed the NCCA of the city government’s intent to purchase the Met and requested the cultural agency to waive its right of first refusal. According to Section 9 of the National Cultural Heritage Law of 2009 or Republic Act No. 10066, “the appropriate cultural agency shall be given the right of first refusal in the purchase of cultural properties declared as national cultural property. Prior to the finality of the sale, the appropriate cultural agency may likewise match any offer made for the purchase of national cultural property.”
            After a few days, the GSIS informed the NCCA of the formal offer of the mayor of Manila and offered to the NCCA and the NM to exercise right of first refusal and match the formal offer. The NM, through its director Jeremy Barns, waived its right of first refusal in favor of the NCCA. The NCCA finally decided to purchase the Met on May 14, 2015. It considered a counter-offer and requested funding from the DBM. It initially requested P550 million, which will also cover other expenses such as service utilities dues and conservation and restoration works.
According to the NCCA, its purchase of the MET stems from its mandate under Republic Act No. 7356, or the NCCA Law, with reference to other laws related to Philippine national cultural heritage, which is to formulate and implement policies and plans to conserve and promote the nation’s cultural and historical heritage by supporting and promoting the establishment and preservation of cultural and historical monuments, markers, names, and sites. NCCA’s acquisition of the Met is said to ensure minimization or prevention of damage to the property in accordance to a related law, the Republic Act 10086, or the NHCP law, which defines preservation as referring to “all activities that employ means to control, minimize, or prevent damage or deterioration to cultural property.”  
            The Manila city government respected NCCA’s decision, expressed support and proposed partnership in the Met’s restoration. In turn, the NCCA took into account the initiatives of the city of Manila on the Met, particularly its effort in reducing the initial price of P600 million during its negotiation with the GSIS, and its vision for the theater. It promised to give priority consideration to the city government, particularly the Universidad de Manila and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila for the use of the theatre.  
The NCCA initially envisions a restored Met to become a center for arts and culture, with additional exhibition galleries and its theater and performance halls for use by artists and cultural workers as well as by students and the general public. Additional space is planned for its needs in the implementation of the National Cultural Heritage Act.
The Met remains today as “the only existing art deco building in its scale and integrity in Asia,” according to heritage experts. Its Western design is infused with Philippine motifs and elements as well as the creativity and craftsmanship of Filipino masters and National Artists. It was considered as the country’s first “national theatre,” hosting cultural performances, social events, and visual art exhibits; a place where Filipino artists were nurtured and launched their careers, and where many Filipinos were inspired and made to dream. 

NCCA chairman Felipe de Leon, Jr. and GSIS president and general manager Robert G. Vergara signed the Deed of Absolute Sale and transferred titles for the Metropolitan Theater, with NCCA OIC-executive director Adelina Suemith and vice president of the  Real Estate Asset Disposition and Management Office Apollo Escarez on June 10, 2015. Gracing the occassion was Department of Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad.