History of Philippine Architecture

Archian Design Architect Studio Bacolod City

The first inhabitants of the Philippine Islands arrived between 300 and 200 B.C. They were of Malay-Polynesian descent. The people lived in groups of 30-100 families in societies known as barangay. They were mainly an agricultural and fishing people, others were nomadic. Trade with mainland asia, especially China, was established by these people. In the 14th century, Islam was introduced. Then in 1521, Magellan stumbled upon the islands in his attempt to circumnavigate the world. This was the introduction of the Philippines to the western world. What followed was 300 years of rule by the Spanish and the acceptance of Roman-Catholicism, which led to the building of churches. In 1898, sovereignty was given to the Philppines and rule by the United States began. The Philippines gained independence in 1946.

The climate in the Philippines is a tropical monsoon climate. The annual lowland temperature is 80 degrees F (27 degrees C). It is marked by wet and dry seasons. The dry season lasts from March to June and the wet season lasts from July and October, with the remainder of the months a mixture of both.

Ancient Filipinos lived in big settlements along sheltered bays, coastal areas, and mouths of rivers. Interior settlements were established at the headwaters and banks of rivers and their tributaries. The houses were usually constructed side by side along the river banks or seashores. This type of settlement could be found in Cebu, Leyte, Bohol, Panay, Cagayan, Manila and others. Other types of settlements included clustered communites and scattered communities on the inland hills and plains.

These ties to the water made it the most practical location for a community. The water was a major source of food like fish, shrimp, and shellfish, which were easily harvested around the communities. Transportation on and along the rivers and streams was also practical. Also, the alternative, the primary forests, were not strategically attractive environments for settlements.

These early settlements were also rather mobile and non-permanent. The slash-and-burn agriculture practiced by the Filipinos caused them to search for new land, because if the land is cultivated and harvested, secondary growths and tough grasses made it difficult to recultivate.

elements/bahagi Philippine architecture responds to the climate. Although there are many variations, generally the roof of the first Philippine houses, nipa huts, or bahay kubo, were high pitched and usually open gabled to allow for ventilation. The steeply sloping pitch also protected from the wind and rain in the typhoon season. The roof also provided wide overhang eaves, to provide shade from the hot sun.

These houses were elevated three to four meters of the ground, supported by wood or bamboo. There were usually four or more of these support posts. This aids in air circulation beneath the house. This space underneath the house, called the silong, can also serve as a workspace, a storage space, a granary, a pen for livestock, and one source says it once served as a place to bury relatives (?). In addition, the raised structure sits out of the flooded ground if located next to coastal or riverine areas, and also keeps small rodents and other creatures from entering the main structure. A ladder, hagdan, is used to enter the main structure. It could be drawn up at night or when the owners went out.

The structure was usually four-walled with tukod windows. These windows had swinging shades, which could be propped open during the day. There was usually one simple multi-use space on the interior. This open interior again provided ventilation, but also gave the simple dwelling a spacious feel. This space could be used for cooking, eating, and sleeping. Sometimes the cooking was done over an open fire built on the heap of earth in one corner or partitioned off in a space in front of the ladder. Sometimes, there was an open front porch, pantaw or batalan, where jars of water would be kept to wash dishes. This gallery also served as an anteroom or lounging area. The structure could easily be added to, should the need arise.

The materials used in the Filipino house are found near the site. Depending on the ecology of the area, the materials may differ around the Philippines. The major building materials are: bamboo (kawayan), rattan (yantok), various native woods, native palms like palma brava (anahaw), and nipa palms, cane, and cogon, a long grass, for thatching. Stone and clay are sometimes used as well.

With a bolo and the knowledge of house construction, the early Filipino could construct a hut in just a few hours. These Pre-Hispanic Filipino lowland houses had a light stucture on top, and heavier materials on the bottom. This helps in resisting the earthquakes that occur in the Philippines. The light structure is also beneficial if the house was toppled by earthquakes or typhoons, leaving the occupants with little injuries.The early Filipino house was constructed without the use of nails or pegs, which were not available. The frame was tied together with rattan or other materials.

The walls were made of bamboo and nipa, dried grass, wood, or siding made from splitted and pounded green bamboo halves. The materials were lashed or woven to keep the interior water tight. The floor was composed of bamboo slats (tinilad, tilad), usually placed convex sides up, that were spaced apart to increase ventilation and allow dirt to fall through. The roof was made of nipa shingles or cogon thatch.

The houses are usually constructed by the head of the family, the whole family, or the family and their friends. Most early Filipinos are capable of building their own houses and could complete them in a couple of days.

Other Dwellings

In addition to the nipa hut, houses built in the trees were another form of architecture in the Philippines. The Bagobos and Kalingas people used this type of house for protection from enemies and wild animals on the ground.

In the southern islands of the Philippines archipelago, the Moros of Mindanao had distinct architecture of their own. It was brought with them along with the Muslim religion. The datu, the chief, lives in a torogan and is a symbol of power for the Moro people. Built off the ground on posts, these posts of the torogan sat on top of rocks which served as rollers to prevent damage in an earthquake. The roof was made of palm frond thatching with three tiers. The three tiered roof symbolized the Javanese and Balinese Mt. Meru, the temple building representing the cosmic mountain in the Muslim religion. The brightly painted wood carvings under the gable of the torogan emphasized the religious and hierarchical significance of the archticture as well.

Modern Filipino Architecture

Today, architects like Leandro V. Locsin and Bobby Manosa are the leading figures in architecture. They stress the understanding of ones culture and history and its roots in design. I am happy for their success and thankful for the doors they have opened for us Filipinos in architecture.

Leandro V. Locsin, born in the Philippines, has built 5 churches, over 30 office buildings, over 70 residences, and a major landmark of the Philippines in the Cultural Center of the Philippines. In his early career, he worked for the biggest firm in the Philippines, the Ayala and Co. In 1959, Locsin came to the United States to tour U.S. architecture. The visit was marked by meetings with Eero Saarinen and Paul Rudolf.

Upon his return, Locsin had found the inspiration for Filipino Architecture in the modern age. He saw the current architecture being erected in post-war Philippines to be a copy of other forms from different contexts with little thought behind them. Locsin felt that the lessons of the past and the building traditions were best suited to the context of the Philippines. The use of native materials, the roof emphasized as the dominant form, wide overhanging eaves, massive supports, interior lattices and trellises, ornamental detail contasted with simple forms, and spacious interiors.

Locsin, who died in November 1994, saw his work as a link between the past and the future of Filipino architecture. The Filipino architect Francisco “Bobby” Manosa agrees. With projects in Saudi Arabia, Europe, and the United States, Bobby Manosa stresses awareness of one’s history and the traditions of the past. Also an awareness of the psyche of one’s people, and the different levels of one’s society to guide the architect.

Bobby Manosa and Leandro V. Locsin have contributed so much to the understanding and spirit of modern Filipino architecture.

About Archian
An Architect, Blogger and Strategic Thinker

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: