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Pride of Place
DLSU building included in int’l best-of list

By Augusto Villalon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:35:00 04/12/2009

Filed Under: Arts (general), Architecture

MANILA, Philippines - The book ?1001 Buildings You Must See See Before You Die: The World?s Architectural Masterpieces,? authored by Mark Irving and published by Quintessence Books, focuses on buildings as varied as Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley; Borromini?s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome; the Berlin Reichstag by Sir Norman Foster; the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles by Frank Gehry; and the Yale Art Gallery by Louis Kahn.

Among the 996 other major architectural works listed is a single entry from the Philippines, the St. La Salle Building, centerpiece of De La Salle University Taft Avenue in Manila.

Surprised? Not me. Why did it take this long for it to get recognized?

But I am saddened, though, that it took an international writer to point out how special the St. La Salle Building is to the generations of students who had taken it for granted. This should change the way they look at the building.

Quoting from Denna Jones, who contributed the St. La Salle entry: ?Filipino resistance to colonial rule after Spain ceded the archipelago to the United States in 1898 was ended with rifles and superior numbers. But what shaped the Philippines into the most US-like of Southeast Asian countries was a typical imperial-style architecture allied to reinforced concrete.

?Architecture was part of the US pacification strategy. The imposition of Beaux Art monumental buildings as part of the City Beautiful movement [based on the 1905 Daniel Burnham Master Plan for Manila] meant Washington, DC, Chicago, and Manila would reflect harmony and social order.

?As part of the new order, the 1903 Pensionado Law awarded US university scholarships to Filipinos. In exchange, they agreed to work on reconstruction projects. [Founder of Mapúa Institute of Technology in Manila] Tomás Mapúa (c 1890-1965) graduated from Cornell University in 1911, and was later commissioned to design De La Salle College, now University.

?Mapúa?s H-shaped, three-story reinforced concrete building is pure Classical expression. A triangular pediment crowns an entablature of cornice, frieze and architrave supported by Corinthian columns to create a three-bay portico main entrance.?

Further defaced
[Original façade is now obscured by elevated LRT tracks and sadly further defaced by the insensitive addition of the DLSU Conservatory extending into the former front lawn from the façade of the original building.]

?Wide, open-air portico wings extend from either side; the square openings on the third floor balanced over the rectangular openings of the upper floors? balustrade level. Corinthian pilasters and a dentiled cornice unite the floors between each arch.

?The interior quadrangle is similarly ordered but stripped to basic flat elements without benefit of pediment and entablature. A later addition of an exterior green metal slope-roof walkway wraps the ground level on the quadrangle side.?
?The ground floor interior offsets Corinthian grandeur with the geometric simplicity of Tuscan columns, and a square coffered ceiling.

?Mapúa added a barrel-vaulted Art Deco chapel in 1939.?

The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is one of the unrecognized architectural jewels of Manila. With architectural elegance so subtle and serenity so all-encompassing restored by the late Bro. J Benedict, the chapel is one of the few special places I go to in Manila to be surrounded by total peace.

Long deserved
Technical jargon aside, what the book tries to say in plain English is that Mapúa took classical Greek architecture influences and simplified them to fit the modern lifestyle and building technology of 1920s Manila. He ably adapted a Western architectural style to suit the tropical environment of the Philippines. The building?s total attunement to tropical climate gave us body comfort in the four years I spent going to school in St. La Salle Building.

In classrooms separated by wood-and-capiz folding doors opening out to verandahs on two sides, we were not only in close contact with the environment (Taft was a tree-lined avenue then), we were also completely attuned to the tropical weather that we lived in.

Before the days of air-conditioning, our classrooms were naturally cross-ventilated. The wide verandah kept us dry during rains. When the large doors were folded open, we could watch typhoons build up until we were sent home before the floodwaters rose above the school?s ground floor.

St. La Salle Building, I admit, has always been a great part of my life, a wonderful environment for learning and establishing a lifelong network of friends, my home for four years.

But it is because I am aware of its heritage value, its place in the La Sallian community, and its significance to the Filipino nation, that measures should be taken now to protect not only its physical state but also the generations of memories embedded in that structure and for the entire Taft Avenue campus.

Hopefully, the entry of St. La Salle Building on this list finally brings the long deserved recognition and conservation of heritage values that has thus far eluded it.

E-mail pride.place@gmail.com.

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