Articles Special Article Decoding Philippine Architecture: Examining the Influences and Styles that Shaped the Country's Built Heritage

Decoding Philippine Architecture: Examining the Influences and Styles that Shaped the Country's Built Heritage

Philippine architecture reflects the country's diverse history of traditional society, colonial rule, and the new millennium.

The Philippines' rich history of ethnic traditions, colonial eras, and post-war culture is reflected in the structures of shelter, religion, community, and government. Indeed, local architecture has been shaped by these various time periods and influences. Today, these different design styles continue to coexist in the country - showcasing the beauty of honoring history through the conservation of historical landmarks and builds, all while introducing modern designs that take the environment to the new age.

From bahay kubos to Baroque-style structures and brutalist builds, the Philippines is a country proud to showcase different design styles and architectural aesthetics in its streets. Here's a rundown of the five major periods that have significantly dictated architectural history and design in the Philippines.

Traditional and Ethnic Builds

Present-day take on the Bahay Kubo

The bahay kubo is presumably the quintessential piece of Filipino architecture. These lowland structures were made with the local nipa and were designed on stilts to be easily transported to new areas when communities would migrate post-harvest. These kubos were typically rectangular in make, and housed all the essential functions a family would need in shelter. In certain parts of the country like Batanes, the bahay na bato was a popular option for housing - as it withstood most weather conditions and proved to be more permanent as Filipinos began to settle. Specific to certain cultures were the one-room, pyramid-shaped fale of the  mid-land Ifugaos, the sea-located, stilted houses of the Badjaos, and the torogan for chieftains of Muslim Mindanao.

Today, many homes are still designed with the characteristics of these traditional builds in mind. Stone (bato) construction is still a prevalent take on housing in typhoon-ridden areas, while ethnic designs still exist in certain provinces and towns that work to preserve their local cultures.

Spanish Colonial Architecture

Manila Cathedral at night

You can't talk about Philippine history without talking about Spanish colonial rule. Spanning over 300 years and beginning in the 16th century, this historical period influenced all aspects of Filipino life, including architecture and design. The Spaniards brought their ideas of township and erected buildings and structures reflecting the societal pillars of the times - cathedrals for Catholic religion, government buildings for political life, and housing fit for the foreigners who migrated to Manila.

Spaniards introduced Antillean style and adapted it to the Philippines' tropical climate, thereby creating localized versions of European-designed architecture. Most constructions were monotonous in their brick builds, but were made unique by exterior ornaments, i.e. classic elements in Corinthian, Doric, or Baroque style infused with local motifs like inscriptions or carvings pertaining to lush vegetation and local fauna.

Today, you can find many of these ancient churches and structures still erect across the country. Some notable pieces of architecture are the San Agustin Church in Manila, Calle Crisologo in Ilocos Sur, and Intramuros or the Walled City. Antillean and Baroque styles continue to influence particular designs in the country, mostly in relation to conservation and restoration of Philippine historical sites.

American Rule and Western Styles

Inside the Manila Metropolitan Theater, an American Colonial piece of architecture

The architectural history of the Philippines was changed when a new set of colonizers entered the country, this time people from the United States. Americans were particular about affecting change in government, social services, and urban planning - and this showed in the way they introduced democracy, operationalized health and educational services, and constructed around the cities.

Regarding architecture, American architect Daniel Burnham was instrumental in reviving neoclassic styles in the cities of Manila and Baguio back in 1904. This meant restoring canals or esteros, constructing bayshores, designing parks and waterfronts, and building public facilities like schools and hospitals. Today, we see this architecture style living in the likes of the Philippine Normal University, Manila Hotel, and the Manila Post Office Building.

Unlike Spanish colonial style, 20th century design in the Philippines erred on the side of utility and function. Ornaments were not top of mind and structures relied on monumental scale for effectivity of design. This means large scale columns and tall facades. Domelike roofing was also a staple in neoclassical builds, which prevailed across American rule.

Interestingly enough, the 1930s also ushered in a considerable Art Deco influence in architecture, with a number of designers and architects erecting structures that showcased intricate motifs and exotic embellishments. Some of the builds that remain today are the Manila Metropolitan Theater, El Hogar, and the Nielson Tower (now famed restaurant Blackbird.)

Post-War Brutalism

Brutalist style Faura Hall in Ateneo De Manila Unviersity

Of course, as you may remember from history, the 1st and 2nd World Wars were fought during American rule in the Philippines, and as a result - Manila and other localities were devastated. Post-war construction ensued and along with the rest of the world, was rooted in the ideas of functionality, grave simplicity, and rationality. Simple, block-like, and aggressively concrete - that's what post-war brutalism was like.

Due to its simplicity, brutalist architecture continues to prevail in present-day society. In fact, many cities still retain brutalist builds as they have no issue fitting in with modern skyscrapers and 21st century constructions. Famous examples of brutalism in Philippine architecture are the Makati Stock Exchange designed by National Artist Leandro Locsin, the Development Academy of the Philippines, and Padre Faura Science Hall and the Villamor Hall in Ateneo de Manila University and University of the Philippines Diliman respectively.

Modern Era Architecture

Mactan Cebu International Airport

At present, the Philippines has kept up with global tech and innovation by designing modern structures with avant-garde designs and functionalities. Microcities like Bonifacio Global City are making waves for housing columnar architecture with the latest innovations and features. Deconstruction and unexpected shapes and forms are becoming more and more popular among new constructions.

In terms of addressing certain societal issues, architects and designers have also adapted their work to be more "green" and conscious when it comes to energy consumption and improved efficiencies. Sustainable materials and designs are at the forefront of green architecture, which is increasingly becoming popular among modern builders.

Key modern landmarks like the Zuellig Building and Gramercy Residences in Makati City, the Mactan Cebu International Airport, and the Philippine Arena all boast modern and tech-driven elements that take the country's metropolitan cities to the next century.