Modern Living

Juan M de Guzman Arellano: Renaissance man

CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren -
I start my classes in Philippine architectural history at the University of the Philippines College of Architecture each year by asking the students to list down 10 important Filipino architects or landscape architects. Most can name only two or three architects and few can come up with only one landscape architect of note. Leandro Locsin and Bobby Mañosa are the most common answers for architects while IP Santos is the name that crops up for landscape architecture.

Almost no one can name any pre-war architect and so the authorship of over a hundred years of modern Philippine design is anonymous to most design students. Even fewer can name the three architects awarded the National Artist Award for Architecture – Juan Nakpil, Pablo Antonio Sr., and Leandro Locsin, of course. There are far more unrecognized architects than a country that prides itself in creativity should have. Three generations of designers have come and gone and the prime example of these lost heroes is Juan Marcos de Guzman Arellano.

The Post Office, Metropolitan Theater, Legislative building, and dozens of civic buildings are part of his immense body of work. Yet he merits no award and little printed space in history books.

Juan was born in April 25, 1888 to a family in the arts, music, and architecture. His father Luis was a maestro de obras. His elder brother was also a maestro de obras and the first architect to be retained by the new American colonial government to survey the city. Juan’s cousin Alejandro joined him at the Bureau of Public Works in 1927 and later ran Juan’s architectural office (he was in charge of drawings for the Metropolitan Theater). Alejandro also succeeded Juan as dean of the FEATI School of Architecture and Fine Arts in 1955. Otillio Arellano was Juan’s nephew (the son of Arcadio).

Juan attended the Ateneo Municipal and graduated in 1908. His first interest was reportedly painting and he trained under Lorenzo Guerrero, the "Ermita Master," Toribio Antillon, and Fabian de la Rosa. He, however, decided to pursue architecture instead; probably because it would earn him a living.

Arellano was one of the first pensionados in architecture (after Carlos Barreto – Drexel 1908, Antonio Toledo – Ohio State University, and Tomas Mapua – Cornell University).

Juan attended the Philidelphia Academy of Fine Arts in 1911 and moved on to Drexel Institute for his bachelor’s degree in Architecture. He was trained in the Beaux Arts system. He worked for George Post and Sons in New York and is said to have worked for Frederick Olmsted Jr., the landscape architect and planner (and son of Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park) in 1912 or 1913. That year, he also traveled to Europe and did the traditional grand tour – sketching and painting architectural monuments and landscapes.

Arellano returned home to start a private practice with his brother Arcadio Arellano between 1913 and 1916. He later on decided to join the Bureau of Public Works at an auspicious time – the end of the transition period when the last American consulting architects George Fenhagen and Ralph Harrington Doanne (after Edgar Bourne and William Parsons) were leaving. Here, Arellano started what was to be his longest string of projects and ones that have defined the American colonial and Philippine commonwealth periods.

He was made supervising architect with Tomas Mapua at the BPW until 1927 when he took a study leave for the United States. This trip to the US was key to his transition in styles to the Art Deco – previously, he had taken the Neoclassic style, which was the signature style of government then. While in the States, he exhibited his "colorful paintings" in Washington DC’s famous Arts Club in 1927 (he had not forgotten his art).

Arellano returned to Manila in 1930 and designed the Metropolitan Theater. It was controversially "moderne," but became the de facto cultural center of Manila and the Philippines. He continued to act as consulting architect for the BPW (Tomas Mapua had retired earlier to head his new school The Mapua Institute of Technology) overseeing the production of the first zoning plan for Manila and eventually teaming up with American Harry Frost to design the new capital of Quezon City in 1940.

He also designed a scheme for the High Commission of the United States (eventually the American Embassy). His design for a demesne on the bay’s edge was an elegant revival-style mansion, which took great advantage of the city’s best seaside view. The design was nixed by the Americans in favor of a bland federal-style structure that was overpriced and hot inside (the architects did not understand tropical design).

Arellano retired after the war. His devastated buildings (the legislature, post office and Jones Bridge) were reconstructed, but he lamented that the original designs were not followed and were poor replications of the grand edifices they once were.

Arellano was still active in the profession until the mid-’50s. He had helped start the first professional association in the early ’30s and designed the logo of the Philippine Institute of Architects. He retired in 1956 at age 68 and went back to his first love – painting. In 1960, he exhibited over 300 paintings at the Manila YMCA, giving the public a rare (and last and only) glimpse at his exemplary talent.

Juan Arellano was a renaissance man. He had been taught under the Beaux Artes method, which trained designers in painting, sculpture, classical art, and architectural history with heavy doses of music and culture. His (along with his generation of architects) was a holistic approach to teaching architecture and design. Arellano sought to practice that way and eventually designed the syllabi of the country’s early schools under the same model.

The war and the subsequent devolution of the profession have diminished the role and function of modern architects. Today, we produce mere draftsmen hoping to land OFW jobs instead of leaders who can help (literally) build a stronger and more elegant republic.

We need to recover the works of Arellano (like the Metropolitan Theater) and others of his generation to be able to benefit from a treasure trove of heritage in architecture.

The future of the design professions lies in making sure that architectural history and heritage exist for students to learn from and for the public to benefit by using. Otherwise, it is back to square one and our young students will only look overseas for both their heroes and ultimately their identities.
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View Juan Arellano’s architectural sketches and lyrical paintings at the Lopez Museum, ground floor, Benpres Building, Exchange Road in Ortigas Center, Pasig City until April of 2006.
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Feedback is welcome. E-mail the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.
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