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Phl architecture at its finest

VENICE – For the first time, the Philippines is participating in the International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia here, more popularly called as vernissage. The international exhibit of famous and historic landmarks opens today at the Palazzo Mora, and will run until Nov. 27.

La Biannale di Venezia appointed Alejandro Aravena as director-curator of the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale.

“There are several battles that need to be won and several frontiers that need to be expanded in order to improve the quality of built environment and the people’s quality of life,” Aravena said.

He said this year’s exhibition would display “success stories worth to be told and exemplary cases worth to be shared where architecture did and will make a difference in those battles and frontiers.”

The Philippine Pavilion presents “Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City” curated by the company named after national artist for architecture Leandro V. Locsin Partners (LVLP). Among other outstanding structures that made the name of Locsin synonymous to architecture is the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) along Roxas Boulevard.

The country’s participation at Biennale was made through the efforts of the Department of Tourism (DOT), National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), with support from the office of Sen. Loren Legarda.

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Sen. Legarda led the Philippine delegation at the formal opening of the exhibit, the theme of which is very close to the heart of the senator who has been championing the cause of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. She has been designated as the United Nations (UN) Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) Global Champion for Resilience, pro bono or without compensation. It is just an honorific title for an advocacy she has been doing through the years long before climate change became household words.

Billed as historic, the Philippine exhibit, dubbed as “Muhon” for short was derived from the Spanish word “mujon,” roughly translated as monument or place-marker.

I first learned the word “muhon” as a young child when our grandparents bought a piece of property in Marikina, which was then a municipality of Rizal, and is now one of the bustling cities of Metro Manila. They pointed to us the four pieces of tube-like piece of cement, with markings of letters and numbers on top of it.

As explained by our elders, the markings indicate the size of the property and direction (north-south-east-west) where the measurement of length or width emanated. The four pieces of “muhon” were inserted and buried on the ground, one each at the endpoints of the square-shaped property.

The putting of “muhons” is said to be an act of affirming one’s existence, to convey the idea of staking one’s claim or place in the universe. The Philippine participation at the Biennale revolved around this theme to capture the essence or concept that the environment is a critical method of understanding one’s sense of and belonging to a place, or tracing a presence, standing on a ground, or abiding by a position.

The curatorial team selected for the Philippine exhibit at the Biennale is composed of Leandro Locsin Jr., son of the late National Artist; Juan Paolo de la Cruz and Sudarashan Khada Jr. They invited six other architects and three contemporary artists to join this year’s vernissage, which started in 1980.

The Philippine Pavilion, according to Locsin Jr., “aspires to be a platform for a collaborative and collective act of reflection about the built environment on the edge of precipice,” given the challenge on architectural structures posed by climate change. “Architects must encourage the public to take a step back, to pause and to demand deeper, more enlightened contemplation on our built heritage,” the young Locsin urged his colleagues.

The subject buildings and urban elements featured in the Philippine Pavilion are KMO in Luneta (Anading), the Pandacan Bridge (Ermitaño), Chinatown (Salvatus), Philippine International Convention Center (or PICC by Calma), Mandarin Hotel (Yulo), Magsaysay Center (8x8 Design Studio Co.), Pasig River (C/S Design Consultancy), Makati Stock Exchange (LIMA Architecture) and Coconut Palace (Mañosa & Co.).

We see a number of these modern-day architectural wonders almost every day of our commuting and traveling in Metro Manila. To and from our house in Parañaque City to The STAR in Port Area, Manila, we pass by the PICC at the reclamation area, just behind the CCP on Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City.

The Coconut Palace, now called as Tahanang Pilipino, at the Roxas Boulevard reclamation grounds, houses the Office of the Vice President, which will be vacated by outgoing Vice President Jejomar Binay on June 30.

The Magsaysay Center is also a familiar site along Roxas Boulevard, in front of which the statues of former President Jose P. Laurel and the late Vice President Salvador Laurel stand.

The Makati Stock Exchange in Ayala Avenue houses our country’s barometer of economic activities. Sadly, however, the Mandarin Hotel, which used to be one of the iconic buildings on Paseo de Roxas also in Makati City is being demolished to give way to a much bigger and much modern five-star hotel.

The PICC, Makati Stock Exchange and the former Mandarin Hotel were Locsin’s iconic structures.

Altogether, these buildings, structures, landmarks, boroughs, and urban landscapes represent our country’s exhibit at the Philippine Pavilion here.

“Building is not only about creating new structures all the time. It is also about revitalizing communities and connecting the present with the past,” Legarda pointed out.

And if I add, these architectural prides add more fun and will surely make one say “wow Philippines!” 

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MEA CULPA. In my column last Wednesday, Taiwan’s newly elected President is Tsai Ing-wen, their first ever female president. Dr. Chen Chien-jen is her vice president.

 

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