It’s difficult to pinpoint the homestead of creativity in Manila, which is baffling considering creativity is a trait Filipinos claim as their trademark. In fact, 7.34% of our GDP comes from creative industries. While places like Silicon Valley, Montreux, and Venice already have instant recall for start-ups, jazz, and contemporary art, Filipino creatives—artists, designers, writers, developers, and more—have yet to find a home, or at least an official communal space. The Maestranza in Intramuros is set to change that.
The Intramuros Administration (IA) and Creative Economy Council of the Philippines (CECP) are working together to revive the colonial structure into a creative hub. The goal is to qualify Intramuros as a UNESCO Creative City, following Baguio’s admittance into the network in 2017 for Crafts and Folk Art.
The Maestranza is a 300-meter-long wall with 45 chambers on the North edge of Manila’s old city. It was built in the 16th century to house soldiers and store goods cruising the Pasig River trade. During the Second World War, the Japanese used it as an artillery, which is why it was leveled when the American forces returned to Manila.
What we see standing today is a reconstruction with concrete supporting the adobe and brick cladding. The entire complex, including the open grounds now doubling as a parking area, is around 2 hectares.
Portions of the wall have been activated through recent efforts like Viva Manila and Manila Biennale, but on regular days, the 17-by-7-meter bays are underutilized. Although, some of them have re-assumed their original functions as storage cellars, this time for scraps from the ongoing reconstruction.
On 27 April 2018, the IA and CECP kicked off a design charette for the Maestranza creative hub. The 2-day charette was attended by architects, designers, artists, and representatives from the different agencies involved with Intramuros.
That morning consisted of a site visit and talks on Intramuros, the Pasig River Ferry system, and creative hubs. Then, the participants were divided into groups relating to different aspects of hub development: Brand Story & Design; Community, Connections, and Flows; Spatial Design; Content & Calendar; and Business Models & Partnerships.
Paulo Alcazaren, one of the facilitators, described the point of the exercise: “We need to lay out our plans so that government can see it and support it. If we simply present the big idea, it’s like explaining an elephant to someone who has nver seen an elephant before and ending up with a horse.”
But what is a creative industry anyway? According to an article by the British Council, creative industries originate in the imagination, and create wealth or value through the generation of intellectual property. Therefore, a creative hub is:
A creative hub is a place, either physical or virtual, which brings creative people together. It is a convenor, providing space and support for networking, business development and community engagement within the creative, cultural and tech sectors.
CECP President Paolo Mercado explains to that day’s audience that a service-driven economy like the Philippines is reliant on BPOs and exported labor. This model may soon be rocked by the virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, which are quickly being developed each year. “It’s time to pivot and look into creative industries,” Mecardo said.
The future Maestranza creative hub can be the homestead of Filipino creativity. Having studios, galleries, production areas, and even a cinema interspersed in its 45 bays is plausible. Throw in a Maestranza stop in the Pasig River Ferry System and we can begin a string of creative pearls along the waterway—connecting Intramuros, Escolta, BGC, all the way to the old shoemaking towns in Laguna.