B+Abble 2020: Notes from the 2-day design talks

B+Abble 2020 ran two days online with four speakers and one guest host touching on the past, present, and future of Philippine architecture

  • October 13, 2020

  • Written by Denny Mata

  • Images courtesy of B+Abble

The sixth edition of B+Abble, a series of talks on contemporary arts and design presented by Buensalido+Architects, discussed “the importance of understanding our architectural past and how it informs the production of our built environment in the present and beyond.” B+Abble 2020, aptly titled, PAST FORWARD: The Ongoing Story of Philippine Architecture (Past, Present, Future), featured talks by Dominic Galicia of Dominic Galicia Architects and Jason Buensalido of Buensalido+Architects on Day 1, and Dr. Edson Cabalfin of Tulane University School of Architecture and Carlo Calma of Carlo Calma Consultancy Inc. on Day 2. Samantha Sales hosted the two-day event, with Miggy Limgenco of G Limgenco Arkitekto initiating and moderating the Q&A segment on both days.

The online mini-conference kicked off last October 2 and concluded on October 3, recording over 1200 participants including architects, designers, developers, academics, and students from Metro Manila, Pampanga, Palawan, Bicol, Cebu, Bohol, Iloilo, Davao, and overseas in Singapore, Taiwan, and the US, to name a few. 

B+Abble 2020 Day 1

Dominic Galicia’s talk, Understanding the Timeless in Architecture in order to Conserve Heritage, aimed to “discuss the qualities that make the built environment timeless and meaningful, and vivify the seamless cord that links Architecture and Heritage.” 

BluPrint Architecture Events B+Abble 2020 Dominic Galicia

Galicia divided his presentation into three parts. First, the architect investigated the themes of significance, authenticity, and integrity in the context of patina and immanence. He linked firmitas (stability), utilitas (usefulness), and venustas (beauty) with “the ideas of the aesthetic experience and of memory, using examples from the built environment,” and discussed the criteria used in assessing heritage. 

His first case study was Le Corbusier’s Capitol Complex of Chandigarh, which he examined using Integrity and Authenticity as employed by the UNESCO World Heritage Lists. The architect discussed how these criteria relate to Architecture and Heritage as well as patina and immanence, light, time, and narrative. Galicia investigated the timeless in built form and the parallelism of architecture and heritage, which according to him, were central ideas to be nurtured in designing adaptive reuse projects.

The next two parts were illustrations of strategies on understanding “architecture as the essential way of conserving heritage” using the architect’s projects: new ground-up construction (Loyola Memorial Chapels and Columbary, and Manuel and Socorro Fong Sports Center in Xavier School Nuvali) and projects of adaptive reuse (St. Scholastica’s former Social Hall, National Museum of Natural History, and Misamis Occidental provincial capitol).

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Jason Buensalido’s presentation, Architecture of Optimism, “posits that architecture can be used as a platform to counter negativity and decline—a platform for hope, aspiration, human connection, empathy, [and] positive change.” Buensalido highlighted the Filipino culture’s jovial and optimistic characteristics, illustrated through his team’s projects that “explore different ways and strategies to manifest optimism in architecture, as well as responses to the ongoing pandemic.” The architect divided his talk into Roots, Renewals, and Realms, which explored ways of manifesting optimism and culture in architecture. 

Roots focused on homes, where families, core values, and character are cultivated. Here, Buensalido discussed creative personalization, and adaptation and response to the unique needs and contexts of the users and the ever-changing world. To illustrate, the architect cited Bamboo Orchard Subdivision, Sofia Townhomes (DMCI Homes), Project Smarthome, Polygon House, D House, and his firm’s recent conceptual project in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Buó. 

BluPrint Architecture Events B+Abble 2020 Jason Buensalido

Renewals discussed strategies such as adaptive reuse, renovation, and pilot projects that can renew or revitalize buildings or districts. Here, Buensalido illustrated how the old can inform the story of the new and in turn create a dialogue of the present and the future. He cited the retrofitted building of CIIT, the partial adaptive reuse of a private residence, and the pilot project The Terraces at Dao, which influenced the present context instead of blending in to encourage a more vibrant community.

Realms examined how meaningful connections within communities are established through architecture. Buensalido examined spaces where people connect and create pockets of communities such as offices, residential enclaves, neighborhood amenities, and public spaces. He cited the glass tower CNT Headquarters, the firm’s MMDA Complex design competition entry, the villages they have worked and have been working on, the Mobile Market Love Jeep, and studies on dense vertical living. The projects and concepts presented easily impact a huge number of individuals and families by convening them in these spaces and structures or by introducing new ways to access shared needs and services, which seek to build a community.

READ MORE: Buensalido + Architects retrofits an old building into optimistic architecture

B+Abble 2020 Day 2

Dr. Edson Cabalfin talked about Shifting Definitions of the Vernacular in 20th Century Philippine Architecture, which “interrogates the definition of vernacular architecture in the Philippines by comparing the various perspectives promoted during the American-colonial period in the first half of the twentieth century and the post-independence period after World War II.”

Cabalfin presented the concept of vernacular as dynamic and not necessarily neutral nor innocent. Through his presentation, he asked: How did the definition of vernacular shift during the twentieth century? How and why was the vernacular used in articulating Philippine national identity in architecture? What are the implications of vernacular in the construction of a nation? To answer this set of questions, Cabalfin examined two specific periods, the American-Colonial (1898-1946) and Post-Colonial (1946-present), and the implications of the varying interpretations of vernacular architecture during these periods.

BluPrint Architecture Events B+Abble 2020 Edson Cabalfin

During the American-Colonial period, there was a shift from the indigenous to the Spanish-Colonial sources. The Americans, based on the examples of the Pan-American Exposition and Daniel Burnham’s plans for Manila, looked at the tropical characteristics of Filipino architecture as a definitive element at that time. The following period exhibited a focus on pre-colonial sources, local motifs (Tajuk Pasung in Tausug houses, pyramidal, and hipped roof), tropical characteristics, and indigenous materials (bamboo, wood, nipa, etc.).  

“Based on the premise that temporal and spatial distances are inherent in the discussion of vernacular architecture, these comparisons are analyzed in terms of how the varying interpretations of the vernacular were deployed to argue for modernization and nation-building efforts during the colonial and postcolonial periods,” Cabalfin wrote in his presentation’s abstract. “In most cases, modern architecture intersected with ideas of the vernacular as a way to indigenize colonization and also to propagate modernization efforts.”

The problem, however, is that in the search of the definition of vernacular, there becomes a homogenization of its interpretation, and therefore marginalizing the other expressions of it. Cabalfin argues that “the conception of what is vernacular in Philippine architecture was not necessarily static and consistent throughout the 20th century but was dynamic and at times contradictory.”

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The Future of Architecture by Carlo Calma is a discussion on “the importance of adaptation,  innovation, resilient and engaging spaces where the importance lies in making a more sustainable future and accepting the challenges of today’s world.” 

Calma suggested to look at the potential and the future of architecture, and how it can make an impact across all scales through both micro and macro lenses as if using binoculars. Calma showed his explorations in design aimed at improving the quality of life of its users. Inspired by the everyday, the local culture, and other forms of art, he showed how he abstracts these sources to create a new form and experience.

BluPrint Architecture Events B+Abble 2020 Carlo Calma

“For me, understanding the future of architecture is really about trying to collaborate with multiple disciplines, trying to create the uniqueness and the newness. I think it’s about understanding the local culture because there are so many crafts that we have that we can integrate also in architecture,” Calma summed up his presentation. “The richness of these layers that creates a story, that’s the kind of narrative that we [can explore to] create a contemporary adaptation of the past, so we can have a relevant present, and so we can have an inspirational future.”

READ MORE: Carlo Calma explains the design of his Infinity House


B+Abble 2020 is presented by Buensalido+Architects with the Design Center of the Philippines, Department of Trade and Industry, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and Foundree. B+Abble 2020 is a satellite event of both the International Design Conference and Design Week Philippines. This two-day mini-conference is completely free via Zoom. BluPrint is the official media partner.

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