ARCHITECTURE and planning can shape society. Whenever you come across a history book and you read about the Greeks, the Romans, and the scientific revolution, among others, remember that those distinct art forms in each period are born from need, context, and the desire to achieve aesthetic significance—the desire to inspire society towards a certain idea, dream, or to show identity of place.
The Greek Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis built in 432 BC was a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena— the goddess of wisdom, craft, and war.
The Roman Aqueducts, like the arches of the Pont du Gard built between 40 and 60 AD in modern-day southern France was used to bring water into the cities and towns. It supplied water for the Roman public bath houses, fountains, gardens and farms.
The Baroque Churches built during the Renaissance were designed to convey grandeur, triumph, and dramatic play of light and shadow. They were designed to inspire the Christians by showing the majesty of God’s house.
During the industrial revolution, utilitarianism and early forms capitalism were at their height that is why mechanized weavers and spinning jennys in the form of factories were built in Manchester. Though later, safety and labor issues were at the forefront of designing better factories.
These architectural icons were not made out of whim, but with purpose, not sacrificing form and beauty. These icons celebrate the marriage of art and the sciences, and design is a response to the issues that these communities and societies confronted. While there is expression or representation, function and operability are equally part of it, and vice-versa.
The modern, green and walkable Manhattan, New York, was born out of the desire of New Yorkers in the 1970s to be more connected with their neighborhoods and have better social interactions along the streets. Jane Jacobs inspired a generation of urban planners to stand against the powerful misplaced car-driven city concepts to be more in favor of interactive and walkable neighborhoods. Jane Jacobs stood against the plan of Robert Moses creating more super-highways in the heart of New York.
Looking at Philippine cities
Whenever we look at our beloved cities in the Philippines, remember that it speaks volumes of who we are as a society. The tallest buildings, the widest and longest structures, and the land uses reflect what we value as a society.
Our government centers need not look like substandard buildings that could be prone to collapse in an event of an earthquake. Schools and institutions need not look like factories of some sort with rundown windows and muddy gardens. Malls need not look like pure boxes but they can have parks and green spaces. Many hospitals are too whitewashed that sometimes it feels like “you’re already going to die”. They can be filled with gardens, color, and greenery. Studies from Hong Kong and Singapore show that having gardens helps patients with mindset, therapy, and healing.
The noble role of an architect and a planner is to stay true to the calling of putting purpose in creativity and never losing creativity for the sake of need. Other forms of art have purpose in the sense that they serve as inspiration, expression, reflection, enlightenment, and commentary using craftmanship, but it is the role of the architect to put all of these inspiration and sentiment together and imagine it in built form.
Every single line that you draw, think of the beneficiaries and the sufferers. Think about your grandmother tripping over poorly designed and slippery sidewalks, steep unusable ramps (which you’d be surprised to see a lot in Makati), and stairs without hand railings. Also think about the effect of ugliness on the surroundings.
Education plays a major role for our country to be globally competitive. In my opinion, educational institutions essentially have two important roles: to explore a deeper understanding of human nature, and to nurture people to become an integral part of society. It is no wonder that, after an earthquake devastated Nepal in 2016, Master Cheng Yen of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation invited Palafox Associates and the Palafox Architecture Group to rebuild Kathmandu, with highest priority given to planning and redesigning schools to last 1,000 years. Much importance is given to education as a way of rising from disasters and alleviating poverty.
We should realize and appreciate that the Philippines is a country with unfulfilled high development potential. We are first in the world in terms of marine biodiversity and also considered first in having the best sailors and seafarers. I would also like to believe that we are No. 1 in the quality of our musicians. We are first in call centers, having surpassed India, and second in BPOs, third longest coastline. Some countries go to war to claim a longer waterfront. Dubai, with only 70 kilometers of waterfront, created the palm islands. We are second in geothermal energy, fourth in gold and shipbuilding, fifth in all mineral resources and No. 12 in human resources.
Having observed more than 2,000 cities in 71 countries lead me to conclude that the formula of globally competitive nations includes five major ingredients: visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design, and good governance. These start from quality education that nurtures innovative thinking and shapes values.