Notes on Filipino architecture

IN 1911 a slim volume titled, ‘‘Studies in Philippine Architecture,’’ by Marilla Maria Norton was published. Since Manila at the time had not yet been devastated by war and consumed by greed, it was possible for the author to actually see and take notes of the built heritage that constituted the origins of the city.

Norton cites three structures at the corner of Victoria and Magallanes in Intramuros. The first was of indistinguishable architectural style; the second was what she describes as Spanish-Renaissance with wide arches; and the third designed by Otillo Arellano (Juan was in Philadelphia studying sculpture and architecture) was "in modern adapted style of Assyrian." Letran was described as "wonderful" with "bulging incipient pillars," and traces of Roman influence were evident in Calles Palacio and Muralla near the Parian Gate that housed a carriage shop and a livery stable.

The widow of one of the Tuason brothers engaged in construction was living in Intramuros in a rented house thought to have been a convent at one time and owned by a Señor Enriquez. It was built "of wood combined with stone, although its date must be some centuries back."

You ascended stairs into a caida (landing) so vast that it was used as both an entrance hall and a dining room containing "two buffets, marvels of European art, and cabinets and china closets, two tables which would seat, either one, forty people." The large space was varied by the use of a small railing at one end and Chinese screens creating three immense rooms. "On the walls, among many pictures, are the coats of arms of the Tuason and Valdes families, names built into the city by industry, brains and wealth, as well as distinction, for generations."

The caida overlooked a courtyard housing "stables, carriage house, garage with half a dozen machines, terraces, servants’ quarters, bodegas, with noble archways and latticed windows, with on one side a wall rising to some formidable height, all as generous in scale as the home of a feudal lord." Eight or nine rooms led off the caida, one of which was furnished in "pure Louis XV" with delicate gilded tapestry-upholstered chairs and bronzes.

The lady’s husband had also built a house in Nagtajan some 40 years earlier that had once served as the English Club, and was now occupied by Secretary Dean Worcester. At the time Nagtajan still formed part of the Tuason estates. (A certain Antonio Tuason in 1794 bought the property of the expelled Jesuits from the government composed of the whole of Sta. Mesa all the way to La Vista.)

On Calle San Pedro, off Plaza Quiapo, stood a row of houses that had "cache, flavor, genre and all the qualities which a lover of good building likes." Number 56 was "a thing of beauty, a little bit of Europe set down in our faraway land, with its sculptured windows and their dainty pilasters, its good iron work."

These houses faced the Arellano residence classified as "German-Renaissance, very pure and one of the handsomest homes architecturally in Manila."

The author considered the development of Calle San Sebastian as "comparatively recent." Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns decorated stately façades. On this street were the residences of the Tuasons and the house of Señor Legarda (Commissioner Benito?) done in the "cortijo style" and built by the Tuason brothers.

This "cortijo" houses had an azotea in the center of the building filled with plants so that it formed a kind of conservatory for the caida whose rooms opened into it, providing protection from the dust and heat of the street by its greenery. Within the house, wide corridors separated salons and dining rooms. The azotea contained a stone cistern or aljibe (a pure Arabic word adapted into the language). The dining room overlooked "immense baronial courts" measuring some 100 feet by 70, paved with flagstones and arches forming the stables.

The Legarda house had "wide, generously proportioned rooms and the entrance with its sweep of court to the far solar behind and the garden on all sides all suggest space. The ceilings and walls with their rich ornamentation, the semi-oriental, semi-occidental taste displayed by the owner, who is at home in both, makes it a house full of interest as to detail and ensemble." What fascinated the author about the house was that it combined the contours of age with modern comforts "as well as china and bric-a-brac gathered from the far past." The house in her estimation stood "possibly second to none in the city." (It withstood both time and a world war, only to be sold by an in-law to the Manuel L. Quezon College whose trustees had it demolished and replaced by a squat "modern" style building that would be an eyesore anywhere.)

If you were interested in Filipino architecture in 1911, a study of the old houses in Intramuros was a start continued by a tour of San Nicolas and Binondo. There was a variety of carving and sculpture and tracing in wood "from the good taste of the old residences of Manila’s aristocracy in Intramuros, San Miguel, or Binondo, to the burlesque of some nouveau riche who flaunts his pesos even on his door posts, for alas we have that class even in this ancient burg."

by Bambi Harper (Research courtesy of Pio Andrade)


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