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Modern Living

Architecture for kids

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren - The Philippine Star

The maturity of a country’s architecture can be gauged by the literature on the subject. Progressive countries that take their architecture seriously publish dozens of books yearly, featuring historic and contemporary architectural production. Architectural criticism and writing in these countries also find a regular audience via magazines and newspapers, many of which have resident critics covering the whole spectrum of design.

Philippine architecture, by comparison, has seen little by way of books in the last 50 years. Until the 1980s, there were only a handful of books and one or two magazines showcasing Filipino architecture and allied arts. The situation improved from the late ‘80s onwards starting with Philippine Ancestral Houses by Fernando Zialcita and Martin Tinio Jr. and Folk Architecture by Rodrigo Perez, Rosario Encarnacion-Tan, and Julian Dacanay, both published by GCF Books and sadly out of print.

The last two decades or so has seen more books and monographs on architecture, mostly by academics from the University of Santo Tomas, such as Norma Alarcon, Lorelie del Castillo and Manolo Noche, as well as the University of the Philippines, Geronimo Manahan, Honrado Fernandez, Christina Turalba and Gerard Lico. There has also been a slew of coffee table books on design by Liz Reyes and other authors, as well as tomes on the works of noted architects like Leandro Locsin, Pablo Antonio, Jose Zaragoza, and Willy Coscolluela.

I attended a book launch last week of one of the most important books produced for Philippine architecture to date. Its importance is not in its length (48 pages compared to Gerard Lico’s Arkitekturang Filipino, weighing in at 617 pages), but who it was written for — kids.

What Kids Should Know About Philippine Architecture, published by Adarna House, was written by Edson G. Cabalfin, Phd. and illustrated by Asa A. Montenejo. Both are architects and products of the University of the Philippines College of Architecture. Edson is a contemporary of Gerard Lico and collaborated with him on seminal exhibits on Philippine architecture a decade ago before he embarked on his doctorate at Cornell University. He now teaches at the University of Cincinnati. Asa, the book’s gifted illustrator, is also director for marketing at Adarna House.

The launch was held at the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) headquarters off Morato Ave. It was hosted by the UAP Diliman Chapter and Adarna House, the publisher. The author gave a short talk on the book and his collaboration with Asa Montenejo.

Dr. Cabalfin explained that the organization of the book is not chronological, although it dates the structures featured. It is also not stylistic in focus, although it does touch on styles. The flow of the book focuses on questions and concepts: What is architecture, who makes architecture? Architecture as creative process, architecture as place-maker, architecture as a social medium. Difficult concepts indeed, but Edson and Asa are able to present these in text and graphics that are engaging and compelling …and not only to kids.

Edson’s text contains the best definition of Filipino architecture I have ever encountered: “Filipino architecture is the type of architecture specific to the Philippines and Filipinos. Architecture designed by Filipinos is considered Filipino architecture. When a building is designed for Filipinos, that is also Filipino architecture. When the architectural design helps us to understand the conditions of the Philippines (such as climate, geography, culture, economics, politics, and history), that too, is part of Filipino architecture. Filipino architecture is architecture that responds to the needs, conditions, hopes and dreams of Filipinos.”

 

 

Asa’s graphic style is straightforward but not so cartoony as to distort the subject matter. Her background in architecture serves her well here, as she presents key Philippine architectural landmarks and settings with elegant simplicity. She does all this without removing the essentials of architectural composition, proportion, balance and even detail. She spices up the drawings with figures of a family, with the main characters of a boy and girl. Asa places the two kids in illustrations of architecture not only for comic relief, but also to show the scale of buildings as against the book’s intended audience’s appreciation of their own size. Brilliant!

The book design (also by Asa) and text are cut up in bite-size sections that you could read and enjoy almost independently of each other. You can jump from section to section and across the book, as the author and illustrator manage to fill in almost every inch of each page with factoids and little side graphics. This is exactly like the Filipino treatment of filling up open space (horror vacuii—or fear of open spaces). The form of the book follows the function of Filipino culture.

Edson also makes sure to acknowledge the roster of National Artists for Architecture. Kids need role models and those that do develop and interest in design need heroes. It is wonderful to see architects and landscape architects get featured so our young can have options other than basketball players, movie stars, pop singers, or master chefs to emulate.

The future of Philippine architecture and design lies in the hands of the next generation of architects. This book in the hands of our kids is a great way to introduce them to a noble and enriching profession. Filipino architecture may yet reach maturity at the same time as this new generation.

More books and periodicals on architecture and design would help in this journey to maturity. Those of us who’ve trodden the path in the last few decades would also benefit from this book, as I have. This book makes us see as through a child’s eyes again, bringing a fresh look to our profession; one that rediscovers joy for the art of designing buildings for Filipinos and places for our private and communal life.

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Feedback is welcome. Please email the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com. What Kids Should Know About Philippine Architecture will be available at leading bookstores at the end of February. For inquiries please contact Adarna Publishing House 352-6765 or email adarnahouse@adarna.com.ph

 

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