“Domus mea domus orationis vocabitur (My house shall be called a house of prayer).”
— Matthew 21:13
WE have been habituated to make God a central part of our lives, and most of our important life events like christenings, weddings, and death have been witnessed by the Church and other places of worship like mosques and temples. These living, holy spaces are a crucial and vibrant center in many towns and cities. I grew up in a family of deep Christian faith and the first 22 years of my life was spent under the tutelage of the Church, learning the discipline and principles from my parents and pastors in the seminary, Catholic schools, and university. It is there that I learned the different functions of the sacred space, and came to appreciate the architects who built these enduring places of worship. Our country, richly diverse in sacred architecture, is a reminder of our colonial past and represents our deep connection and unending faith in God.
The reduction system
The royal ordinance proclaimed by King Philip II, known as the Laws of the Indies, established a uniform standard and procedures for planning cities, towns, and villages. Known as the De bajo las campanas (under the bells), urban and town planning centered around the plaza where the center of activities is celebrated. Nearest to the plaza was the church, then the governor’s palace, then the tribunal, and the city’s council. The Spaniards heartily took to the task of building settlements and towns through the process called reduccion, where Spanish missionaries built a central church and convent near where there was a relative concentration of houses. As time passed, some prominent families built their houses near the church and commercial activities also gradually gravitated towards the newly established religious center. The reduccion, the town plaza type of urban planning served its purposes then–to secure and protect and evangelize the inhabitants “under the bells.”
Church architecture in the Philippines
The first churches in the Philippines were made of flimsy, temporary materials like nipa, bamboo, or wood, but with the discovery of volcanic tuff quarries, the Spaniards began to construct churches, dwellings, and fortifications in stone. Most Philippine colonial churches were generally made of adobe, coral stone, or brick. With these strong construction materials, the churches exponentially grew in size, and in times of raids or natural calamities, it became the refuge spaces for the town folks.
According to Maria Valera-Tubera’s book Philippine Heritage Architecture: Before 1521 to the 1970s, the religious orders that came to the Philippines, which were influential in the development of the architecture were “the Augustinians, Franciscans and Dominicans, followed by the Jesuits, the Recollects, and lastly, the Seculars.” The friars were the architects, and the manpower was the native talent of the Filipino indios. In order to stamp their influence on the people, the churches and its conventos became the identifying mark of the religious orders. The Augustinians, writes Tubera, would construct churches which exemplify architectonic monumentality with fortress-like qualities. These churches became works of art and survived many of the calamities and wars that have razed the country since.
Inter-faith worship projects
One of the most well-known Augustinian churches that have survived to this day is the Paoay Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Ilocos Norte. It rises like a mirage of a Borubodur temple on the south bank of the Wawa River. It is imperative that the development in this area should complement the architectural character of the church and its surrounding spaces. Thus, when Palafox Associates was asked to prepare the Metro Ilocos Tourism Master Plan for Ilocos Norte, we proposed complementary activities to encourage visitors to be tourist-to-shop, dine, stay overnight, and fully experience the landscaping features, creating a safe environment by bringing down walls and reorienting buildings to face the plaza, such as arcaded walkways, seats, lights, and directional and way finding signs. In terms of architecture, the design for the arcade facing Paoay Church will conform to the baroque vernacular style of the Paoay Church to preserve the character of the district. The existing centennial building and convent will be converted into commercial spaces and fresco dining venues.
Preserving the architectural beauty of our great churches is just one of the many services Palafox Associates has done for the Church. One of our more recent worship projects is the dramatic Romanesque structure of the Shrine of Jesus: The Way, the Truth, and The Life in Pasay City. The church, rather than blending with the towering glass and concrete facades of the SM Mall of Asia and MOA Arena, is an embodiment and celebration of Filipino religiosity and an oasis for spiritual growth.
Palafox Associates, like its many other worship projects, rendered its design services to SM for the Catholic Church.
The largest religious structure Palafox Associates has done for the Catholic Church can be found in Misamis Oriental. The Divine Mercy Healing Shrine is a pilgrimage site on top of a hill overlooking the Macajalar Bay. The 50-foot statue of the Risen Lord is built facing the sea, giving the sense of protection as it watches over the area. At the heart of the structure is a prayer room, while the steps leading to the heart of the statue of Jesus Christ are concealed within the rays. The Shrine also has Mary’s Garden, a field altar, retreat and seminar facilities, and coffee shops.
The more modern-contemporary design of the Saint Arnold Janssen Church is a well-oriented structure that allows passive cooling giving it a welcoming atmosphere and a sense of openness. It also houses the SVD Mission Center, the SVD Mission Museum and a mini theater, while the Mission Center is utilized as a training facility for Filipino lay missionaries and a site for an informal education program for out-of-school youth.
Sprawling on a 15-hectare site in Norzagaray, Bulacan, Camp Praise Valley is envisioned to become the first masterplanned community in the country ideal for reflection, meditation, and conversations with God. The master plan will be pedestrian-friendly and public transport-oriented.
Buildings are designed to adapt to tropical climate, with high ceilings providing a breezy atmosphere in the interiors. The proposed community was rendered for the Jesus is Lord Ministry.
For the Buddhist organization Tzu Chi Foundation, Palafox Associates drew plans of a community development in Sta. Mesa along the Pasig River. Envisioned as a place of renewal for youths to flourish into responsible adults, Palafox Associates used the graceful silhouette and color of the lotus flower to reinforce the visual corridor of the community structure.
Palafox Associates’ worship project has even extended to Islam architecture. Rising on a five-hectare area in Cotabato City, the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid is a sight to behold. Currently the largest mosque in the Philippines, this landmark for worship features 14 majestic gold domes, with four minarets soaring up to 40 meters high. Deriving the architectural character from the Filipino Muslim culture, its design is inspired by the modern and classical masjids in Turkey, Dubai and the Arabian Gulf. Inside the main worship center will be two prayer rooms called the haram, with the bigger one able to accommodate up to a thousand worshippers, while the smaller haram can accommodate 400.
The Catholic Church may hold a special place in my heart, evidenced by the many Church structures Palafox Associates have done in the Philippines, but our global reach and experience has exposed us to the different cultures and religions and we have come to appreciate, admire, and respect them. All worship structures, regardless of religion has one main belief: The Chief Architect is God, the creator of the Universe, heaven, and earth.