Square one: Malcolm Square rehab breathes new life into Baguio

Baguio City's new Malcolm Square designed by 90 Design Studio reintroduces the city's once underutilized public space

  • July 5, 2018

  • Written by Denny Mata

  • Photographed by Patrick Kasingsing

Baguio City is dense with not only people, but also heritage landmarks like Session Road, Burnham Park, Baguio City Public Market, and Malcolm Square. The city almost never sleeps with activities happening from dawn to dusk—from the drop off of fresh produce at the public market to the setting out of the ukay-ukay stalls at the Night Market along Harrison Road, occasional festivities, assemblies, and even protests.

Baguio is definitely a city that is community-driven, and the recent rehabilitation of one of its public spaces—the Malcolm Square, also known as People’s Park—is a significant step in restoring the primacy of public spaces. From a dreary plaza with a dilapidated gazebo in the middle (sometimes occupied by mendicants), Malcolm Square has been transformed into an open space that welcomes citizens and visitors alike and is now an apt breathing space from the hustle of Magsaysay Avenue and Session Road.

bluprint planning malcolm square baguio city 90 design studio

Councilor Elmer Datuin, who proposed the rehabilitation of Malcolm Square, said that it was high time to restore the old grandeur and intended purpose of the area as a plaza and open space ideal for all kinds of events. True to its objectives, the square has opened more opportunities to exhibit, trade, socialize, or simply relax from a tiresome day of walking up and down the slopes of the city since its inauguration last 15 December 2016.

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The 8.9-million-peso restoration project that began in April 2016 was designed pro bono by 90 Design Studio, whose portfolio includes the Museo Kordilyera (Winner for the 2018 MADE Anthology Architecture Award – Institutional Category, and Finalist Kohler Bold Design Awards 2017 – Cultural Spaces) and Teatro Amianan in the University of the Philippines Baguio.

bluprint planning malcolm square baguio city 90 design studio

90 Design Studio describes Malcolm Square: “The project re-imagines the square as an open space allowing for multiple types of activities. The wedge shape and gradual slope of the site is taken advantaged of by introducing a stepped surface that may function as platforms for viewing during theater-like events and a stage for others.”

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Veering away from the old plaza, the architecture studio did away with the gazebo to open up the area in which people can pass through with ease and hold diverse activities. The new plaza’s open space also enhanced the view of the heritage buildings surrounding it, which is one of the goals of the rehabilitation project, by keeping seats and pocket gardens around the perimeter.

bluprint planning malcolm square baguio city 90 design studio
Rendering of 90 Design Studio’s design for the plaza rehabilitation. Image from 90 Design Studio.

The “New Malcolm Square” features a randomly striped grey and white monolithic tiles, timber clad benches, a pedestrian street on the south side to accommodate the heavy pedestrian traffic from Session Road, a collapsible and movable stage, and a wider plaza ideal for all sorts of activities, may it be a chess match between the senior citizens on one of the benches or a city-wide assembly.

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bluprint planning malcolm square baguio city 90 design studio

“The rehabilitation will reintroduce the square, once underutilized and neglected public space located at the most pedestrian part of the city, to the people reinvigorating Baguio’s public life, simultaneously highlighting the historic buildings that surround it possibly establishing it as a historic district,” said 90 Design Studio.

While the efforts of activating Malcolm Square and the area in which it is located is still in the works, Baguio locals and tourists have utilized the space as it is intended. Art exhibits and Sunday markets have taken place in the square, and more pedestrians now have better access to either Session Road or Magsaysay Avenue. 

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bluprint planning malcolm square baguio city 90 design studio
Image from 90 Design Studio