WHEN we think of Filipino architecture, we immediately picture the bahay kubo. It reflects the ingenuity and resilience of our ancestors. It is culturally and geographically distinctive, made with local materials that are designed to adapt to the geographical climate.
While the bahay kubo or bahay na bato are great inspirations, they are not, however, the only representations of our identity. Whenever we talk about Philippine architecture, we immediately remember the houses in Batanes, tropical-Hispanized Ilocos, and ancient Malay-Tagalog. These are also good representatives of our identity. But while it is culturally distinctive and geographically adaptive, the idea of Filipino need not be narrowed down to these.
In Mindanao alone, there are about 18 indigenous lumad tribes and 13Muslimgroups. We can take inspiration from the textiles and weave patterns of the Manobo and T’boli tribes, the tribal dances of the Bagobo, and even the Ifugao spiritual animism and mythology, and mix influences of the Spanish, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Chinese traders, among many others. In religion, we often see the unique devotion to the Santo Niño and the Nazareno, which many refer to as ‘folk Catholicism’.
Another example of the many cultures and practices in our country is the flamboyant, colorful and lively fiesta attitude which is reflected in the numerous local town fiestas such as the Pahiyas festival in Quezon province. People in the cities decorate their houses and their costumes with kiping, a leaf-shaped wafer made of rice paste, and the collections displayed in old Filipino-Spanish houses (i.e. ceramic china tea pots and utensils displayed, but not used).
We can be more creative in adapting the rich Filipino culture and biodiversity and interpreting these into architecture, design and planning.
Biophilic, biomorphic architecture
The Philippines is so rich with land flora, fauna and marine biodiversity. In fact, it is No. 1 in marine biodiversity and has the third longest coastline in the world, longer than the mainland United States.
Biophilic architecture involves design using the unique context and geography of the environment. One of the technical definitions of biomorphic architecture is “the design of buildings directly influenced by the animal, vegetal, human body and anatomical structure with chosen materials to create aesthetic harmony.” It is design taking inspiration from the form of organic species.
The design of our buildings can take inspiration from the waves of water, flowers like the sampaguita, sea shells, pearls, natural landscape, and indigenous plants and animals. We could also incorporate the use of materials that are naturally abundant in our country like bamboo, abaca, capiz, coco-timber, and rattan, among others.
The ancient Philippines was a melting pot of cultures and tribes. From the migration of the Malays from South Asia, trade from Central Asia and East Asia, and the conquest by Spanish-Europe and the Americas, the Philippines time and time again assimilated with various cultures.
With the rich diverse culture and flora and fauna, the architecture design styles and character can merge inspirations of flowers floating on water and the column patterns using hibi and weaves. Rattan tables, chairs, and lamps can be designed according to indigenous patterns as well. Indigenous tribal houses can also be given a modern expression, and it does not need to be bahay kubo.
While the aesthetics is a fusion of forms it should also integrate well with the tropical climate of the Philippines. Our cities, especially central business districts, need not be flooded with glass and steel.
Towards a national identity
Is there a Philippine Architecture, or something that may be described better as architecture in the Philippines? This is a strong sentiment among many Filipinos since we as a people are continuously looking for our identity as a nation.
Or is it instead proper to say that Filipino architecture could be found in the mixing of the various influences such as the early Arab tradesmen, Malay, the Chinese, Spanish, Dutch, American and Japanese, and including the influences that the millions of Filipino expatriates bring back home to our country? There are more countries that have Filipino expatriates than the number of member countries of the United Nations.
We are one young nation. Global influences have continuously assimilated with our local culture. National identity, I believe, is taking form in the strength of the culture while being able to assimilate to the strengths of other cultures. There should be a balance. It is being able to design inclusive buildings that can inspire unity, or bring unity in diversity.
National architecture for me is architecture that can bring a community together because of good planning, architecture, and design. We can also highlight Filipino hospitality in planning and design, in such a way that buildings, places, and communities encourage social interaction and care for one another, even if the people are strangers to each other. This, I believe, is the global Filipino way.