PHL Pavilion Aims to Start Conversation on Built Heritage with Country’s First Participation at Venice Architecture Biennale

April 28, 2016

The Philippines’ participation at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition, La Biennale Di Venezia has started a conversation about the nation’s built heritage with its selected exhibition, Muhon: Traces of An Adolescent City curated by Leandro V. Locsin Partners (LVLP).


The Philippine Pavilion is located at Palazzo Mora, Venice, Italy and it will hold its vernissage on May 27, 2016, while the exhibit will run from May 28 to November 2016.


The country’s historic first participation at the Architecture Venice Biennale is a joint undertaking of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda.


The Filipino word muhon, translated roughly as “monument” or “place-marker,” evokes contemplation through the primal act of marking a fixed point in both space and time. The construction of amuhon is an act of affirming one’s existence and staking a claim in the universe. Thus, the exhibition anchors on the notion that the interpretation of the built environment is a critical method of understanding one’s sense of and belonging to a place.


As it stands today, the megalopolis of Metro Manila arose from the ruins of an older colonial city leveled by the Second World War. As such, the reborn capital is conceived in its current context as an adolescent city in flux.


In theory, “adolescence” describes the struggle for identity that Metro Manila now confronts. Through the selective investigation of nine post-war buildings and urban elements, Muhon aims to elicit conjectures that reconcile opposing vectors of progress and of permanence. It essays the implications of the careless destruction of a fraught architectural inheritance and the lack of consciousness about the dilemma.


In tracing each muhon through its history, modernity, and conjecture, the Pavilion is an attempt to understand a city’s identifying markers — to interpret their meaning and to discern their value. It aspires to be a platform for a collaborative and collective act of reflection about a built environment on the brink of vital renewal or irreversible decay.


NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon Jr., who is also the Philippine Pavilion Commissioner, said, “What is ostensibly an architectural issue is actually the age-old battle between public interest and private, particularly corporate, gain. Architectural structures are not just neutral, static objects in our midst. They are powerful arbiters of social relations. Edifices can impose ways of behaving, valuing and thinking on people.”


Legarda, the visionary behind the Philippines’ re-entry to the Art Biennale and first participation at the Architecture Biennale, explained “Building better is an axiom. When homes and infrastructure are destroyed, people say we need to build better; but building homes and cities is not about having second chances. We have seen hundreds of thousands of lives lost due to severe weather disturbances, flooding and tsunamis—showing us all that the kind of homes and facilities we build, and where we build them, can mean survival or death. “


She added, “This underscores the important role of architecture. Today’s realities demand a new understanding that transcends the conventional notion that architecture merely means planning, designing and constructing structures.”


For his part, DFA Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras highlighted the importance of the country’s presence in the Biennale. He stated, “As the Biennale is expected to gather the world’s outstanding artists from different disciplines and perspectives, we are confident that the Philippine participation will once again bring pride to all Filipinos – boasting the talent and ingenuity  of the country’s foremost architects and contemporary visual artists  who have created the Philippine Pavilion.”


This Philippine Pavilion will be the official national representation of the country at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. Only one national pavilion for each participating country is recognized by la Biennale di Venezia.


The Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena has been appointed as the Director of the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale. He stated that “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.” In light of such vision and advocacy, he imagines the 2016 Exhibition to display “success stories worth to be told and exemplary cases worth to be shared where architecture did, is and will make a difference in those battles and frontiers.”


Nine Participants and Their Muhons


The LVLP curatorial team composed of Leandro Locsin, Jr., Sudarshan Khadka, Jr., and Juan Paolo dela Cruz, invited six architects and three artists to participate in the exhibition. The individual architects and firms are 8×8, CS Architecture, Lima Architecture, Mañosa & Co. Inc.,Eduardo Calma, and Jorge Yulo. Meanwhile, internationally recognized Filipino contemporary artists, represented by 1335 Mabini—Poklong Anading, Tad Ermitaño and Mark Salvatus—complete the list of participants.


The nine participants surveyed buildings, structures, landmarks, boroughs and urban landscapes, and analyzed its architecture, heritage and cultural merit. After which, they created three sets of abstracted models built for each of the subject corresponding to their original state, their current condition, and their projected future.


The subjects that will be featured in Muhon are KM 0 in Luneta (Anading), Pandacan Bridge (Ermitaño), Chinatown (Salvatus), Magsaysay Center (8×8), CS Architecture (Pasig River), Makati Stock Exchange (Lima Architecture), Coconut Palace (Mañosa & Co.),Philippine International Convention Center (Calma), and Mandarin Hotel (Yulo).