Architect reiterates advice on Dominican Hill preservation

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014


IT WOULD do well for the city to tap qualified people in the restoration and preservation of the soon-to-be a century old Dominican Hill to ensure its authenticity, ambience and historical value are not lost forever.

In an updated presentation of a study his team initially presented in 2006, Architect Nick Latogan of the University of the Cordilleras stressed the fortress-like baroque edifice and compound, built by the Dominican friars on a promontory overlooking the city, is priceless.

As such, Latogan said, any alteration on the existing structure and ambience of the place, including introduction of new features, must not damage its original character.

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"It deserves to be resurrected to become an architectural jewel for the city of Baguio," Latogan told city and barangay officials and students who attended the presentation arranged by the Heritage Hill Committee inside the vandalized building March 28.

Latogan reiterated his recommendation for conservation and re-use of the building while retaining its character or defining features. He said this has been done with the Tutuban Railway Station and the former Elks Club, both in Manila, their architecture preserved despite their reuse as the centerpiece of a commercial complex and as the “Museo Pambata” (Children’s Museum).

The two-story Dominican Hill stone edifice, built under the supervision of Dominican priest and engineer Roque Ruano, was inaugurated on May 23, 1915. It initially served as a vacation house for members of the Dominican Order, and then as a boarding house and college, later as a refugee center and prison camp during the Second World War

Assistant City Environment and Natural Resources officer Ruben Cervantes, who did a research on the building, said Fr. Ruano used his knowledge to give the structure two initial distinctions: as the first building in Baguio to be earthquake-resistant and the first to have a rain-harvesting feature through its concrete roof deck.

In her book “Japanese Pioneers in the Northern Philippine Highlands”, Baguio girl and anthropologist Patricia Afable noted “the massive stone and concrete walls still stand, a tribute to all the Ilocano and Pangasinan carters whose water buffaloes and oxen dragged on sleds each stone and bag of lime up that hill.”

After a visit to the hill in 2003, Afable rued: “Today, however, no window is intact, and water has destroyed all of the interior wood surfaces. In the courtyard, now overgrown with large weedy shrubs and covered with rubble, two broken cherubs still decorate the fountain that the Dominicans built. Parts of the structure and ground were damaged in the 1990 earthquake.”

Deterioration of the compound through neglect and vandalism began after it ceased operating as the Diplomat Hotel which closed in the middle ‘80s. It was later placed under the jurisdiction of the Presidential Management Staff.

In 2004, Cervantes said, the remaining 52,402 square meters (from the original 19 hectares) were transferred by then President Gloria Arroyo to the city government and the Sandiganbayan. The city began repairs on the vandalized building while the Sandiganbayan also built its structure on the inner, wooded portion of the lot which served as a meditation area of the priest-occupants.

Repeating his call for preservation of what remains of the original architecture and ambience, Latogan quoted noted architect and heritage conservationist Augusot Villalon: “If we are going to save what we have left, it helps to know how to do it. There is a scientific, proper way of conserving.”

This means, Latogan said, setting priorities, citing as example the fact while the roadway leading to the building and the Sandiganbayan portion have been repaired with concrete, the old gate post which had been leaning and in danger of collapsing had not been restored.

Latogan recommended the creation of a conservation council and for the City Council to formulate an ordinance for the use and preservation of the remaining cultural heritage buildings and sites of the city.

It would do well, he added, to heighten the people’s involvement on how to value and preserve what remains of the city’s cultural, architectural and historical heritage. This, he said, can be encouraged through a walk-through of the Dominican Hill.

In a related presentation of an ongoing study on the structural integrity of the building, a team from the St. Louis University suggested limited use of the building until research has been done specifying its actual loading capacity.

SLU Civil Engineering students Danmark Helidore Gangan and Ningsi Hosngal added there is a need to "perform non-destructive test for further assessment of the strength capacity of the structural members."

Summing up, former city architect and present Heritage Hill Committee member Joseph Alabanza zeroed in on context which he defined to be the elements that enhance whatever is designed. He enumerated these as: people (who will use, visit, maintain, and their thoughts on preservation), resources needed in terms of the final function of the building or site; environment (natural and built, including people and their culture); institutions that will maintain and improve the building; technology (building construction), and time and space.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on April 09, 2014.

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