Monumental Design Mistakes in the Philippines: Are we still guilty?
Filipino architects and designers comment on design mistakes committed by the government and the design professionals in the Philippines
September 19, 2019
Introduction by Denny Mata
Illustrated by Meneer Marcelo
Here’s a light but insightful opinion piece from BluPrint magazine’s third volume in 2014, where eight Filipino architects and designers sound off on the design mistakes of both the government and the design professionals in the country. Although the article dates five years back, the errors pointed out still ring true today, especially in city planning and heritage conservation. To those that government has attempted to address, we added updates, FYI.
The unbuilt National Government Center (NGC). Master plans were developed in 1949, 1955, 1956, 1959, and 1979. The Philippine Congress was intended as the first institution to be transferred to the 60-hectare NGC, in an effort to centralize all national government offices. Only a few other offices, like the Commission on Audit, followed. The Senate is renting in Pasay, and Malacañang is still in its 19th century temporary premises by the Pasig River, while most of the NGC site is now filled with informal settlers. The NGC’s non-completion means that the government spends hundreds of millions a year on office rent, and because of this, citizens (and demonstrators) have difficulty accessing government offices sprawled across the metropolis. It also means the Philippine capital has no physical or symbolic center for democracy.
Paulo Alcazaren, Landscape Architect
Update: A National Government Administrative Center (NGAC) in the New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac is nearing completion, after eighteen months of design and construction. It will house “back-up” offices of various government agencies to ensure continuous business operations and services in the event of national calamities. The target turnover of Phase 1 (first two buildings) is on October 2019.
I consider many of our government buildings from the mid-80s to date as design mistakes. The government doesn’t invest in good architecture, good planning, and good design. They just hire the cheapest contractors, who then hire the cheapest consultants who use the cheapest materials. This also applies to some developers who don’t invest in good design. They do cookie-cutter designs repeatedly. Most government buildings, infrastructure, and structures by private developers contribute to the uglification of our cities. My clients abroad expect better, smarter, and sustainable buildings and master-planned communities. If better is doable, good is not good enough. They always strive for excellence.
Felino Palafox, Jr., Architect
The rapid growth of tall structures in Tagaytay, such as business establishments and condotels, makes me want to waylay the irresponsible city officials and developers who put up these structures. These buildings block the lake and volcano view for everyone to enjoy and disrupt the soothing ambiance of the city’s natural attractions. Some have not even allowed for a visual corridor for visitors to view the panorama. What a shame! For a city like Tagaytay, designers and the government should put up structures that respond to the surroundings by respecting what is already there. There should be proper planning guidelines to stop the concrete jungle in Tagaytay from expanding.
Choie Ylagan-Funk, Architect
READ MORE: Why we need to get our tall buildings right
One of the biggest mistakes in terms of planning is allowing home and shop owners to use sidewalks for parking. This also includes establishments putting reserve signs in front of their shops. Each city should regulate curb cuts in all streets as done in newer developments like Bonifacio Global City and a lot of the gated villages. Sidewalks are for people and public roads are for all.
Dan Lichauco, Architect
Update: On 30 June 2016, Senator Win Gatchalian filed Senate Bill No. 201, which seeks to enforce a “no parking space, no car” policy. He re-filed the bill on 11 August 2019 as Senate Bill No. 368 or “Proof-of-Parking Space Act,” and got the support of the Department of the Interior and Local Government. The bill is yet to be passed into law.
READ MORE: What does inclusive street design look like?
For me, the lack of awareness of Filipino architects in recognizing and treating heritage structures is a big mistake. It is incumbent that our fellow architects be more actively involved in their conservation and eventual restoration. I understand that not all of us have the interest and know-how to do it properly. However, the architectural institutions such as UAP and PIA should provide training and seminars for this specialization, because our profession’s value to society is reflected in how we value our heritage structures.
Joel Rico, Architect and heritage conservationist
The Philippines is currently experiencing a population boom and economic growth and is seeking to become a Tiger Economy. But because of the lack of foresight and regulation implementations when it comes to our road networks, we are content to just put up with the existing conditions, and resort to short-term repairs and road additions. Handling permits and red tape in the municipal offices down to the police officials is also another hindrance to the progress of the country, allowing people to get away with violations of the National Building Code which in turn makes our city look dilapidated and unorganized. The changing of government administrations also play a part, because every new administration has a different agenda and long-term plans started by previous ones are shelved. I wish our government officials realize that the country’s progress and developments also lie in their hands and not only at the hands of the private sector.
Nikki Boncan-Buensalido, Architect
The biggest mistake of Filipino designers is when they cease to think and practice as Filipinos. While some think the Filipino identity is still a vague idea, I firmly believe that identity is inseparable from a nation. For instance, when you think of a Filipino built environment, we should have communities deeply rooted in Filipino values: hospitable, has close family ties, and nurtures the bayanihan system.
Now we tend to borrow a lot of foreign ideas piece by piece and crankily squeeze them to fit our local urban spaces. Adoption has to be coherent with the holistic picture, it has to start from what we already have and progress in a general direction—preferably one that is compatible with the Filipino psyche. Our designs should nourish the best within us and reflect a psyche towards a stronger and more progressive Filipino identity.
Jonathan Gan, Architect
I wish to take a more optimistic approach when it comes to this question, rather than sounding as though I know more than anyone else. I think that if we have to look to the future and focus on aspects that will prove beneficial for us, it should be in the belief that planning with a long term sight is a cultural vision we must instill in all of us. This belief, turned into a cultural habit, will transform us to set goals that will be visionary for our cities and its environmental necessities.
Joey Yupangco, Designer