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

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