Architecture Of Power
CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren () - June 21, 2003 - 12:00am
There are only a few books on Philippine architecture or design that have been published. Most of the recent ones have been style books focusing on contemporary, mostly interior design and residential architecture. Philippine architectural historiography or design theory is almost non-existent and libraries here hold less than a shelf-full of books that illustrate, much less critically examine, Philippine architectural production. Architectural critics, writers and historians with academic backgrounds in architecture are also a rare breed. Older architectural practitioners would probably be familiar with the work of Bobby Perez, Geronimo Manahan, Julian Dacanay, Ning Tan, or Toti Villalon.

Today’s generation of architects – despite our perception of them as being overly self-involved or oriented to material goals of practice (or overseas employment) – is, in fact, concerned with the future of Philippine architecture, at least an identifiable segment of them. This concern belies a more reflexive attitude manifested in new trajectories for Philippine architectural design as well as in expanding discourse from an emerging crop of architectural writers.

These young Turks have found venues for such discourse in café conversations, popular broadsheets, refereed journals and progressive architectural magazines. The most prolific of this GenX batch has been Gerard Lico, an assistant professor at the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Architecture at the University of the Philippines. Lico has now expanded his critical gaze to a subject worthy of a book – what he calls "Marcosian state architecture." The book’s title – Edifice Complex.
Martial Law Lessons
Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. Although the infamous regime ended 17 years ago, many believe that "national closure" has not been achieved. The "persistence of memory" of those years still casts a dark shadow that blurs our vision of what really happened and, more disturbingly, prevents us from learning the lessons of that ordeal.

Gerard Lico has chosen to lift the veil of temporal proximity as he deconstructs the majesty and debunks the myths of Marcosian state architecture. Lico’s contribution to Philippine architectural theory, history and criticism covers the late 20th-century phenomenon of a distinctive, but slightly demented, architectural aesthetic, wielded by a conjugal dictatorship, to legitimize their regime and perpetuate their power. It is this relationship between power and architecture that provides the framework and context for his book.

Lico’s is a departure from traditional forms of architectural inquiry. Most previous work has been limited to stylistic influences or Spanish-era architecture. This was a result of previous phases of rediscovery of the country’s built heritage. Few writers have looked at the larger political and theoretical context of architectural production. This is not to say that previous regimes did not attempt to exert hegemony via the surveillance and control of bodies in space; Lico does illustrate historical precedents. But he makes a thorough case of the megalomaniacal "edifice complex" that defined architecture of the martial law years.

The book is not an easy read. The theoretical underpinnings of Lico’s work may be a tad difficult for some who may still be accustomed to pre-pomo (pre-post-modern) modes of architectural thought. The effort, though, is necessary to reframe our understanding of the process and product of the architecture from that phase of our socio-political history. The same is true for all who wish to learn the lessons from other aspects of the martial law years.
Cultural Complexity Of Power
Lico also does provide straightforward historical narrative and architectural criticism of the buildings within the prime site of Marcosian architecture that is the CCP complex, but he situates these within the terrain of tyranny that rerouted foreign aid funds and coopted the architectural flair of the likes of Leandro Locsin (main theatre, FAT, PICC), Bobby Mañosa (Coconut Palace), and Froilan Hong (Film Center).

The CCP complex, Lico states, was a site and itself a "spectacle geared towards winning and maintaining public support through an appeal to a common culture." It was architecture as propaganda, a "non-coercive mode of power imposition in stone, concrete and glass." Lico points out that the modernist, almost inhuman, geometries and scale of the complex had a human and social cost. It was a price those in power then were willing to pay.

Lico hopes that we do not have to pay that price again. His hope is that this book will lead to a greater understanding of the power of architecture and the architecture of power.

Today’s versions of power architecture – the Imeldific-sized malls and mixed-use complexes of global consumerism and MNC corporate gigantism threaten us today almost as overwhelmingly as martial law did in the 1970s.

Malls and mixed-use complexes have indeed taken over as de-facto civic spaces replacing the CCP, the Metropolitan Theater and Luneta (Rizal Park). Celebrations no longer involve myths of the "New Society," but rather the illusions of prosperity in seasonal fashion, next-month obsolescent phones and fancy imported coffee. We, the (economically and socially) hungry, are fed, as we were in the Seventies, with fancy cake. What we need is the nutrition of true community, not the empty calories of continuous consumption.

Power architecture (or engineering) is also rearing its dark side in heavy-handed "city improvement" schemes of road-widening, tree cutting and traffic "management," implemented with minimal citizen consultation and maximum speed. Martial law is re-emerging in metro-wide schemes that fail to take in the human scale and social aspects of physical improvement.

We all hope that this awareness will counter these terrorist threats to our civility and civic consciousness. Hopefully, architects and planners can generate new directions in design that lead to an architecture that empowers and not subjugates, one that adds social value, not continuing economic colonization and finally, one that accommodates the complexity of our own culture without the contradiction of social inequity.
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"Edifice Complex" is published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press and available at the Ateneo (tel. no. 426-59-84) and leading bookstores. Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at

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