PHL Pavilion’s ‘Muhon’ Tackles Pressing Issues on Built Heritage Preservation

May 26, 2016

“Are we demolishing buildings before we have had the time to fall in love with them?”


This is the question posed by the curatorial team behind the Philippine Pavilion’s exhibition, Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City, for the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale.


Nine heritage buildings and markers interpreted in three ways—its original state (History), current condition (Modernity) and the projected future (Conjecture)—are featured at the Philippine Pavilion. Each marker has a story to tell yet seemingly conversing with the other markers.


Leandro Y. Locsin, Jr., who makes up the curatorial team together with architects Sudarshan Kadkha Jr. and Juan Paolo dela Cruz, explained that muhon, which is roughly translated as monument or place-marker, conveys the idea of staking a claim to a place in the universe. However, following the Second World War, Metro Manila has gradually been growing at a frenetic phase and is currently perceived in its adolescent stage where it experiences an identity crisis.


“The primary objective of the exhibition is to question the debilitating mindset of a damaged identity ascribed to the conflict between fashion and commercialism and a desire to conform to a preconceived notion of self and history,” said Locsin.


Muhon, thus, aims to make sense of the implications of the careless destruction of cultural heritage and the relative lack of social consciousness about the issue.


It also tries to converse with the overarching theme of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition titled Reporting from the Front directed by Chilean Architect Alejandro Aravena.


According to La Biennale di Venezia, Reporting From the Front is about “bringing to a broader audience, what is it like to improve the quality of life while working on the margins, under tough circumstances, facing pressing challenges. Or what does it take to be on the cutting edge trying to conquer new fields.”


Locsin explains that the original impetus and the thesis of Muhon is the neglect and demolition of post-war buildings and urban features.


“The true test of architecture’s value is in the way it endures through time and the manner in which it resonates with people on many deeper levels. It may take a generation for society to appreciate the value of a building beyond its novelty as a product of its time, susceptible as architecture may be to the whims of changing needs, interests, taste and fashion,” Locsin said.


Senator Loren Legarda, the visionary behind the Philippines’ participation in the Venice Biennale, said that Reporting from the Front and Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City both highlight the fact that a thoughtful mind builds not just for today, but also to meet the needs of the future we can only predict.


Legarda said that the Philippine Pavilion tackles a subject that is a concern in the country today because of the seemingly wanton disregard for the historical and cultural value of built heritage.


“Our heritage, both tangible and intangible, is constantly under threat of extinction. We have already lost some of our historic structures from natural catastrophes and long years of neglect. With every instance in which our built heritage has been toppled down and turned to rubble, we lose a part of our identity and that unifying element that binds us as a nation,” said Legarda.


“As we offer the world a glimpse of our built heritage through Muhon, we initiate a dialogue on the progress of our architecture and issues on preservation and conservation of our heritage,” she said.


The nine participants and the subject buildings and urban elements featured in the Philippine Pavilion’s Muhon are Poklong Anading for KM 0; Tad Ermitaño for Pandacan Bridge; Mark Salvatus for Binondo; Eduardo Calma for the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC); Jorge Yulo for Mandarin Hotel; 8×8 Design Studio Co. for the Magsaysay Center; C|S Design Consultancy for Pasig River; Lima Architecture for the Makati Stock Exchange; and Mañosa & Co. for Tahanang Pilipino or Coconut Palace.


The Philippine Pavilion in the 15th Architecture Biennale is the country’s first participation in the history of the Architecture Biennale, but it has participated twice in the Art Biennale—first in 1964, then in 2015.


This year’s Architecture Biennale has 63 National Pavilions in the Giardini and Arsenale, and in the historic city center of Venice. Aside from the Philippines, other countries participating for the first time are Nigeria, Seychelles and Yemen.