Preserving heritage structures

May 30, 2016

VENICE – “Are we demolishing buildings before we have had time to fall in love with them?” The rhetorical question was posed by Sudarshan Kadkha Jr. while contemplating on the fate that lately befell the iconic structures that used to dot the skylines of Metro Manila. Kadkha is a 45-year-old Filipino-Nepalese architect who was born and raised in the Philippines.

Kadkha lamented the now reduced to rubble Mandarin Hotel, which used to be one of the iconic buildings in Paseo de Roxas in Makati City. It has been demolished to give way to a much bigger and modern five-star hotel. Another landmark building, the Intercon Hotel, also a five-star hotel on Ayala Avenue in Makati City, is now being torn down for the same reason.

Both structures were put up through the genius architecture of our country’s late National Artist Leandro V. Locsin. Other famous works of Locsin include the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), the Makati Stock Exchange (MSE) and Ayala Museum.

Inspired by his architectural masterpieces, Kadkha is working with the company named after our country’s National Artist for Architecture whose namesake son Leandro Jr. is now running the LVL Partners (LVLP). Locsin leads the three-man curatorial team who included Kadkha and put together the Philippine entry to the International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia being held here in the island city of Venice. The third member of the team is another young architect Juan Paolo de la Cruz.

The LVLP won the right to curate the first ever Philippine Pavilion entered into the biennale competition for architecture that the country is joining under the auspices of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

The 54-year-old Locsin Jr. just completed his Master of Architecture in Harvard University when his father died in 1998 knowing already at that time about the planned demolition of Mandarin Hotel. Actually, he cited, there is an existing Heritage Law in the Philippines that listed iconic buildings/structures under its protection and mandates their preservation as a national heritage.

However, the same law provided certain exemptions that seemed to be giving ways to circumvent the restrictions to change or demolish such buildings, Locsin said. Any structures which are 50 years old and above and products of the country’s national artists cannot be touched, changed or demolished without going through a process.

So years before the building reaches age 50, the planned demolition gets underway and the new plan is presented to the architect behind it. But like any other product, he said, the building is not owned by the architect who cannot object to the plans of the owner. “We are big boys and we can live with such reality we do not own it,” he quipped.

Other than that, Locsin added, the other threats of extinction of architectural works also have to deal with man-made and natural causes like acts of war and effects of climate change. The Philippine entry to Biennale was aptly titled “Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City” that tries to tell the story of our country’s architectural heritage, specifically in Metro Manila as it rose from the ruins of World War II through the years.

The young Locsin explained the original impetus and thesis of Muhon at the biennale is the neglect and demolition of post-war buildings and urban features.

“The true test of architecture 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 maybe to the whims of changing needs, interests, taste and fashion,” he pointed out.

The Mandarin Hotel, the PICC and the MSE are among nine heritage buildings and markers featured at the Philippine Pavilion and presented through abstract arts of their scale models by artists selected by the LVLP to help them put up Muhon. They are, namely, Eduardo Calma, Jorge Yulo, 8×8 Design Studio Co. (Mary Pearl Robles and Adrian Lorenzo Alfonso), C/S Design Consultancy (Anna Maria Sy-Lawrence, Charm Chua Cabredo, Regina Sofia Gonzalez, Luther Maynard Sim, Mervin Afan, Lea Celestial, Katrin Ann P. de Leon, Philip Mendoza, Raquel G.Orjalo, Karen Tillada), LIMA Architecture (Don Lino and Andro Magat), and Mañosa & Company, Inc. (Bambi Mañosa). The contemporary visual artists are Poklong Anading, Tad Ermitaño and Mark Salvatus.

The Philippines debuted here in the biennale of architecture upon the initiative of Sen. Loren Legarda. The last time the Philippines participated in the Biennale for Arts was in the 1980s. It was due to lack of funding support by the government to the NCCA despite being an agency attached to the Office of the President.

As a advocate and patroness of the Philippine arts and culture, Legarda mobilized the resources of the government to provide more support to the NCCA through the annual budget in her capacity as senator. When she became the chairman of the Senate committee on finance, Legarda provided for additional budget allocation to the NCCA to enable it mount this undertaking to join the Biennale for Arts that takes place every two years alternating with Biennale for Architecture.

Aside from the NCCA, the Philippine participation here at the Biennale was put together jointly by the Department of Tourism (DOT) along with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the office of Sen. Legarda. NCCA executive director Adelina Suemith also flew here from Manila to represent NCCA chairman Felipe de Leon at the launching of the country’s historic participation at the Biennale for architecture.

Thus, Legarda is thankful to the outgoing administration of President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III for supporting collaborative efforts to promote globally the country’s arts, culture and architectural heritage as a legacy they can leave behind to the next Filipino generation.

The senator expressed her gratitude and elation for a dream come true in her brief remarks at the vernissage, or soft opening of the Philippine Pavilion held here last May 27 at the Palazzo Mora. The Philippine government leased three rooms at the Palazzo Mora for the entire period of Biennale that will run until November 27 this year.

Legarda lauded former DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario for “unstinting support” to the Biennale and which is being continued by his successor, DFA Secretary Rene Almendras who was represented here at the soft opening rites by Philippine ambassador to Italy, Domingo Nolasco. Legarda paid tribute to all who responded to the national goal of promoting our country’s arts and culture before the world community.

The 2016 Biennale of architecture curators from 63 participating countries now included the Philippines.

And from hereon, if the incoming administration of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte would give due importance for such intangible heritage upliftment of Filipino arts and culture.

Source: Philstar