PH Pavilion at Venice Architecture Biennale discusses built heritage

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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).

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The Philippine Pavilion is located at Palazzo Mora, Venice, Italy and it will hold its vernissage on May 27, 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 a muhon 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 World War II. 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.”

For his part, Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Rene 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.

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