Batulao Summers
CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren () - April 17, 2004 - 12:00am
Phew! It’s so hot these days that you could boil not only an egg on the sidewalk but a complete lauriat dinner as well … plus bake a cake. I’m grumbling because I had to stay in this cauldron of a city over the Holy Week. Suffering is the lot of those who can’t escape the lowlands. It’s "The Passion of the Price" for me, the price, that is, of a week’s stay out of town.

Thankfully for many, there’s Baguio and Tagaytay. The Tagaytay Ridge is teeming with destinations from the Highlands to the New Tall Vista Hotel. The restaurant row on the ridge offers a plethora of food choices from the fine dining of Antonio’s, the local dishes of Dencio’s and more pedestrian options. And yes, coffee is there in full force with Starbucks, Bag of Beans and a few other cafes that offer the famous Bantangas barako.

In the ’70s, when the Taal Vista Lodge was falling to disrepair, there was only one place to go – the Batulao Village Club. A project of the Puyat family, the club was the first south of Manila to offer the same luxurious escape as the older destinations in Baguio. Anyone who was anyone was a member and wanted to be seen at Batulao.

The club’s architect and planner was Bnn Bautista, a Filipino architect whose work has been overlooked and unacknowledged in contemporary Philippine architecture. Bnn designed with an environmental sensibility before it was fashionable. He espoused modernism filtered with Filipino flair and a distinctiveness that rivals Locsin’s oeuvre.

The club was a sprawling development that included a Gary Player-designed golf course, a main clubhouse, a halfway house, a village inn, cottages and a sports complex that featured the latest hit in racquet sports – pelota (the badminton of the 1970s).

Architect Bautista is a native son of Baguio and he brought his upland experience down to Batulao. We can credit him for introducing Mountain Province methods in retaining walls and terracing, which are now copied in many developments around the ridge. His buildings used local stone with indigenous patterns that don’t look hokey. (The ’70s patterns he used are now actually in vogue again.)

The main clubhouse complex was sited on a rise overlooking the swimming pool and sports complex on one side and the golf course on the other. Bell-bottomed teeners and Nik-niked and mu-muued yuppies arrived via a sinuous driveway. Entry into the complex was via a trellised walkway. Trellises and sunscreens were used liberally and in geometries that lent a consistent look to the entire development.

Bautista and the Puyats wanted to make sure that the development was top-notch so they also assembled the best in related design and engineering fields. The most notable of this group was IP Santos, the famous landscape architect. This is how I was able to visit Batulao. I had worked for architect Santos and managed to join a few office outings at Batulao.

The landscape design of IP Santos successfully melded Bnn Bautista’s architecture with the site. The tandem of architect and landscape architect was proven here and copied for many projects afterwards (although recent collaborations have seen Filipino consultants relegated to secondary roles by a bias with many developers for foreign consultants).

The use of natural materials and indigenous patterns and textures was taken into the buildings and cottages, with the interior design and furnishing apparently also handled by Bnn Bautista. Rattan, narra, and capiz were used in modernist modes, again setting the trends for that decade.

The halfway house on the course itself was the most distinctive of the complex’s buildings. Here, Bautista used angles and massing, faintly reminiscent of his Mountain Province roots, but with the flavor that ties it to Batulao rather than Banawe. The building became iconic of leisure architecture of that decade and landed on the cover of Philippine Arts and Architecture, the only glossy design magazine then (the equivalent of BluPrint magazine today).

Batulao Village Club was the place to be in the summers of the 1970s. Live music courtesy of combos was a nightly attraction. During the day, trekking and camping were favorite activities at the Gulod sa Batulao. Pelota tournaments were also a regular draw as was golf and swimming.

By the time I was moving up in the world, Batulao, however, was moving down. Corporate difficulties, it seems, led to its demise and Batulao became a ghost of its former self. The mid-1990s saw a short-lived renaissance. The golf course was rebuilt, townhouses constructed and a sister beach resort envisioned by a new owner. The original complex was left to the elements and in any case, the Asian slowdown squashed all hopes of completing the ambitious project of bringing back Batulao.

Tagaytay survives, however, and continues to evolve. Not all this evolution is well-planned. There are numerous lessons to learn from Batulao and succeeding leisure developments. What is needed is a regional framework for all these developments that can make sure that tourism and natural resources are sustainably managed, that developments are supported by adequate infrastructure, and that these do not kill each other off or mar the beauty that is Batulao, Tagaytay, and Batangas.

Pelota, anyone?
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