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A Journey Through Metro Manilaís Public Buildings

By Carolyn Fenix Chua

In studying the history of architecture, you cannot get any nearer to the subject matter than seeing actual representations of different period designs. In more ways than one, the trip that I took gave me an understanding deeper than what I have read and seen from books.

It was Saturday morning, the 14th of November. I am not really accustomed to waking up very early on Saturdays but I had to do it anyway. And it took me to a trip that changed the manner on how I look at structures that I have taken for granted for years.


I have passed by numerous pagodas but I did not really gave much attention to its intricate designs. This one along Coastal Road boast of its splendid construction. The most notable feature of temples such as this Buddhist Temple is the construction of its roof. It is amazing to know that the roof of a pagoda is constructed in the absence of triangular tied frames. To increase the size of the room, it was necessary to introduce more pillars.

The roof began as an archaic design consisted of narrow eaves and span but because the sizes of the room gets bigger, there was an increased number of pillars making the interior cluttered. Towards the 8th century up until now, cantilevers are used for the construction of the roof.

Upon becoming first lady, Imelda Marcos did something no other Filipino First Lady had ever done-she became actively involved in national affairs. She began restoring Manilaís old walled city of Intramuros as a tourist attraction, and started filling in waterfront on Manila Bay to build a sprawling Cultural Center that would be the Acropolis of a New Athens in the Pacific.

The Cultural Center was planned in four parts-a library, a museum, an amphitheater, and a theater seating seven thousand. The centerpiece and first to be built was the theater, a monumental white slab set off by wide reflecting pools, containing a large auditorium for performances of opera, ballet, and symphony. The former First Lady was determined to have perfect acoustics, and a stage deep enough for grand opera, broad enough for a troop of horses. After a year, the Center was broke. Imelda asked for foreign aid and then came Lyndon Johnson. In a sense the Cultural Center was a monument to Lyndon Johnson, a Texas-sized whit elephant.

When the Cultural Center was finished at last, she wanted the hall inaugurated in a manner emphasizing Philippine roots. The result was a pageant-drama involving an orchestra of native instruments, dance, solo and choral singing, pantomime, to a story in an ancient form of Tagalog, which not even the Tagalog speakers in the audience could understand.

The lay out of the Cultural Center follows the principle: form follows function. The structure is considered to be modern and contemporary. The legacy of the functional approach to architecture can be seen in the new technology using building materials such as steel, concrete, etc. The adoption too of flat instead of pitched roofs has removed many restraints in the design of buildings.

The Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) was built during the Marcos Dynasty as a place to entertain foreign dignitaries to discuss stately affairs and held huge conventions. The PICC is located at the Acropolis that Imelda dreamt of the area to be. Like any other structure in that vicinity, the concentration was more on how it would serve its purpose, so little importance was given to its exteriors. Thus, following the modernistsí view.

Because Modern/Contemporary architecture were much more concerned with designing buildings to serve the purpose of whatever went on inside them than with their exterior appearance, surfaces tend to be impersonal. Sometimes, however, the shuttering marks on concrete were exposed in order to give an interesting texture to the external surface. The buildings are frequently asymmetrical, and the purpose they serve is often easy to deduce.

Mrs. Marcosí mingling with state affairs did not stop after the completion of the Cultural Center. This was followed by a film center modeled on the Parthenon but followed the post and lintel type of construction of the Egyptians, where she could stage film festivals, Miss Universe contests, and professional boxing matches between such reigning champions Joe Frazier and Mohammed Ali.

The Film Center was built on 1982 and the idea had come to Imelda Marcos in a mystical vision in June 1980, to create an Asian answer to Cannes, next door to her Cultural Center. So much of the construction money was siphoned off her claque that structural engineering was neglected. Two months before the festival was to open, two floors of the center collapsed, taking a number of workers with it. Officially, eight laborers died-the real figure was said to be over thirty. Not to delay the construction, it was alleged that the bodies were left in situ and concrete was poured over them. This distressed the superstitious, so Imelda reportedly had the center exorcised.

The façade of the Film Center consists of several columns supporting the flat roof. This is similar to the pylon or entrance gate of an Egyptian temple. Unlike Imelda Marcos planned the structure to be, it is more Egyptian inspired rather than the Greekís Parthenon.

The GSIS Building was built in the reclamation area along Roxas Boulevard. Similar to the San Miguel Building in Ortigas, the ground floor has the biggest floor area and as it moves up, it becomes smaller. This concept is inspired by the Mesopotamianís ziggaurat, but the building has interiors. The construction of this structure started just this decade and it opened four to five years ago. Issues regarding the sale of the property sparked the delay in its opening. Talks were made to resolve the problem and the opening followed as soon as the decision favoring its opening was made. Also found in the building are the Congress Hall, the new home of the Upper House of the legislative body.

The stadium is an enclosure that combines broad space for athletic games and other exhibitions with large seating capacity for spectators. Each side of the Rizal Stadium consists of decorative walls. Columns are evident in the structure but in their simplified form.

It is to be seen in many buildings constructed between the world wars, the great majority of them serving commercial purposes. Discipline is not very strong, and designers felt encouraged letting their imagination roam freely.

In essence, Art Deco was a simplified form of classical architecture, in which the Greek and Roman orders were reduced to their simplest and then blended with motifs from other cultures.


The Metropolitan Museum is found along the stretch of Roxas Boulevard. It is part of the Central Bank compound. The museum showcases different artworks done by Filipino artists. The museumís façade is in simple form. Visible are the four embossed pillars of the museum supporting the flat roof. This can be associated to the Egyptian templeís pylon, which is in the form of a post and lintel.

The National Museum was built during the stay of the Americans in the Philippines. Like other Neoclassic-inspired structures in the country, the museumís construction has similarities with the U.S. White House. The numerous columns of the museum are very evident in neoclassic architecture. The Senate, before transferring to the GSIS Building, used to draft laws here.

Neoclassical buildings are characterized by clean, elegant lines and uncluttered appearances and also by freestanding columns and colonnades.

The prototype to which Neoclassical architects most commonly turned was the temple, which was considered to represent classical architecture in its purest form. In the temples the columns served their original purpose: they were freestanding and carried the weight of the building. It was only in later years that they were used mainly for decorative purposes.

The Central Post Office is one of the many structures built during the American period in the Philippines. The façade of the building is painted in a shade of yellow. Neoclassic structures use different colors on the walls as opposed to the Renaissanceís neutral colors.

In Neoclassical architecture orders are also used structurally rather than as a form of decoration. Columns, freestanding and supporting entablatures, are more common than pilasters or attached columns.

Rooflines are generally flat and horizontal, the roof itself often being invisible from the ground. There are no towers or domes.

Facades tend to be long and flat. In front of them might be what was in effect a screen consisting of a number of freestanding columns.

The maintenance of the classical proportions on the exterior of the building was of paramount importance. Decoration on the exterior of Neoclassical buildings is reduced to a minimum. The craftsmanship is usually of a very high order. Stone cutting, plasterwork and woodwork are more severe than in earlier styles, but no less excellent in execution.

The arch can be found before entering Chinatown in the City of Manila. Similar to the Buddhist temple, the distinguishing factor that makes the structure Oriental is its roof. Oriental influence in the country can be traced to the Chinese. Even before the Spanish came, the Filipinos are already doing business with the Chinese through barter. Some Chinese settled in the country with their purpose as establishing business. The concentration of their businesses is found in Manila until now, hence the area called is Chinatown.

A theater is a building or space in which people can see and hear a performance given by others. The Metropolitan Theater was a witness to a number of great theatrical events. Famous performance artists have graced this landmark.

The stained glass found in the front wall of the theater is what makes it Art Deco. Also evident are the use of painted columns and walls. The theater is one of the few Art Deco structures still present in the country. Early this decade, plans of having it demolished was suggested by some legislators, protests were made by a number of cultural groups and up to now, it has been a great debate whether to indeed erase this structure in the geographical map of Manila.

The materials used in Art Deco were predominantly modern, chromium plate being particularly popular. More traditional materials, such as stained glass, colored tiles and smooth render over brick, were also used, often in startling, jazzy patterns.

The Arch of the Century is located at the entrance of the University of Santo Tomas, the oldest university in Asia. To celebrate this eventuality, the Dominicans constructed the arch. It was constructed during the 17th century.

Triumphal arches during the Roman period commemorate great military victories and other important events. They were often situated astride a main road leading into a city and were composed either of one or of three arches.

There are usually a column on each side of the arch and Corinthian or Composite orders were most commonly used. Elaborate carvings decorated the space below the columns and around and underneath the arches and friezes. The part above the entablature was called the attic. This contained the dedicatory inscription. Above the attic there was usually a large sculptured group, often in the form of figures driving a chariot with four or six horses.

The University of Santo Tomas (UST) was founded on April 28, 1611 in honor of the great Dominican theologian St. Thomas Aquinas. The founders, Manila Archbishop Miguel de Benavides, O.P., Frs. Domingo Nieva and Bernardo de Sta. Catalina, O.P., initially envisioned it to be an institution for preparing young men for the priesthood. It was then named the "Colegio Seminario de Santo Tomas." The College was given the authority to grant academic degrees in 1624, and then raised to the rank of a university in 1645.

The school was built during the Spanish period (17th century), and it was during this time that it was the height of the Renaissance. The UST Main Building is a good example of Renaissance influence. Renaissance buildings are chiefly characterized by their classical components. Doors are normally flanked by columns carrying an entablature. Pediments above the doors are common. The façade is decorated with rows of pilasters placed between the windows. Perfect symmetry is also evident in Renaissance architecture.

This hotel is located along Mother Ignacia St., Quezon City. The name Camelot is the derived to be the city of gold where the Round Table is found. The legend can be traced to belong in the medieval period when castles were all around the region. The façade of the hotel resembles the castles built during the Romanesque period. The interiors well portrayed the Nordic legend of King Arthur.

The rounded arch, the most distinctive characteristic of Romanesque architecture can be seen in doors, windows, arcades, vaulted ceilings and in many decorative features.

Round, square or octagonal towers with their own steep roof and of considerable height draw the eye upwards and relieve the heavy outline of the building. Doors are deeply set and the doorways flanked by a series of receding columns. Windows were comparatively small and narrow. They were made to look larger and more important by the columns, arches and decorated mouldings, which surrounded them.

San Miguel Corporation (SMC) was established in September 29, 1890. The company started out a brewery; midway, through its history, the company considered going into agriculture as a new source of revenue. This eventually led SMC to become one of the countryís leading company in agribusiness. The agribusiness project group was launched in 1974, which planned future agribusiness schemes involving shrimp, coffee beans, and hybrid corn feeds production. Today, SMC successfully supplies the foreign market with green coffee beans.

Due to SMCís growing business, they constructed their own building along Ortigas Avenue to be the central place for all business activities of the corporation. The structure is similar to the Mesopotamianís truncated pyramid. The ground floor has the biggest area and as it goes to the higher floors, it becomes smaller. The building appears to be a ziggaurat but with interiors.

By the end of the day, I feel so exhausted yet I am fulfilled with what I have accomplished. I would not think twice in re-visiting these places even if only to admire their beauty. ©

Some informations regarding the periods in architecture were taken from the (1) World Atlas of Architecture and (2) Crash Course in Architecture by Eva Howarth.