55 Spanish projects flank the aisle of the San Ignacio Church for the "Unfinished" exhibition in Manila. A makeshift altar is composed of a bamboo retablo and hanging tarpaulin.


Unfinished, award-winning Spanish architecture pavilion, now in Manila

The Gold-Lion-awarded pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 makes a stop in an Intramuros church

  • July 4, 2018

  • Written by Angel Yulo

  • Photography by Ed Simon and Lawrence Carlos

The San Ignacio Church, known as the Jesuits’ sueño dorado (golden dream) before World War II, stands reconstructed along Arzobispo St. in Intramuros Manila. Its incomplete state was why the Intramuros Administration was hesitant of it being used for an acclaimed exhibit. It was for the same reason the Spanish pavilion curators for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 selected the space to stage their Gold-Lion-awarded exhibition called Unfinished. 

Trusses and wiring remain exposed in San Ignacio as the church is still in mid-reconstruction. The space is set to become a museum for Intramuros artifacts. | Photo by Lawrence Carlos
Left: A top view of the exhibit from the altar. Right: The shorter video loop of proposals is projected on the left wall of the church. | Photos by Ed Simon

After Unfinished folded up in Venice two years ago, the exhibit went on tour with stops across Europe and Latin America. The Manila stop succeeds Sydney, Beijing, and Tokyo. This project made possible by the Embassy of Spain in the Philippines and Instituto Cervantes de Manila, the Spanish Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Intramuros Administration, with the support of Base Bahay Foundation, and the collaboration of WTA Architecture + Design Studio.

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An octagonal display of different incomplete projects across Spain stands at the foot of the aisle. | Photo by Ed Simon

Showcasing designers’ ingenuity in the face of adversity, the exhibit is a photographic series of possible solutions to problems that have emerged from the financial crisis affecting Spain since 2008 that has made the practice of architecture unfeasible and has thus led to the abandonment of construction projects, consequently resulting into many incomplete buildings.

“This is a response to the crisis. Architects ask, given the crisis, how to gather what is left and how to use it properly with the limited resources available,” co-curator Carlos Quintáns said during the media tour last 26 June 2018. “Here, you can see that there is no excuse not to use a space.”

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The Manila edition of Unfinished adapts and remixes what was found in the San Ignacio Church construction site. Door panels, wood stands, pallets, and remnant tiles are organized into piles and lines in the chambers flanking the altar. Quintáns said he “simply added rhyme and reason” to the found objects. Two videos are on loop in the space, with a crude bench fronting the longer 10-hour video of interviews.

A construction tarpaulin is suspended above the altar like a crucifix element above a bamboo retablo constructed by the young masons of Escuela Taller. The floating altarpiece was inspired by the one Antoni Gaudí created for the Palma Cathedral in Mallorca, Quintáns shared.

The different projects are presented differently from the original Spanish pavilion in 2016. Here, instead of being suspended on metal frames, the photos and drawings are girded by wood. | Photo by Ed Simon
There are three more copies of the exhibit touring the world today. One is in Mexico, another in Colombia, and the last one in Madrid. | Photo by Lawrence Carlos

During our visit, there was rainwater pooling at the church’s narthex, signalling that full reconstruction of the church is yet to be done and bolstering the context from which the exhibit was born. A octagonal display of photos are at the foot of the aisle. Seven different Spanish photographers capture buildings across the nation, half-done and abandoned in the blight of the financial crisis. Quintáns pointed out that these were projects that totally disregarded the economic situation.

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At the nave, occupying the area where pews might be, are two rows of 55 projects. Each project is represented by one photo and one axonometric drawing printed on wood-framed metal sheets. The set was culled from over 300 submissions for the Venice Biennale and are classified into nine categories: Adaptable, Consolidation, Guides, Infill, Naked, Pavements, Perching, Reappropriation, and Reassignments. These projects have understood the lessons of the recent past and consider architecture to be something unfinished, in a constant state of evolution and truly in the service of humanity.

The room to the right of the altar is configured for a columbarium. Here Quintans rearranged the different objects he found, as the space was being used as a temporary bodega. | Photo by Ed Simon
Spanish pavilion co-curator Carlos Quintáns giving the tour of the “Unfinished” exhibition. | Photo by Lawrence Carlos

Each category is an outlook, an approach in handling an existing ruin, white elephant, or orphaned project. In these wooden rows, established names like RCR Arquitectes and Flores y Prats are set side-by-side with emerging architects (and even students), showing that ingenuity is not monopolized by prestige.

Unfinished’s Manila run comes in a time of aggressive construction. In the concrete haze of confident developers and government agencies, the narrative of architecture in a time of austerity serves as a warning and sobering reminder that economic charts fall as sharp as they rise; so do buildings. But it also serves as a lighthouse, telling us that design does not stop with the cash flow, and that, sometimes, architects showcase the highest forms of problem-solving when financiers can no longer show them the money.

With our stock exchange entering bear market this June, I hold my breath in the uncertainty. And, in the event of an financial downturn, I hope Filipino designers will show as much spunk as the Spanish have.  

Unfinished runs in San Ignacio Church, Intramuros, Manila until 26 September 2018 and is open daily from 8AM to 5PM. Entrance is free.