All set for the world stage

(Left to right) Faculty Coach Karl Cabilao, Aldrein Abrio, Immanuel Martinez, Arvin Lihaylihay, Fretz Suralta, Lorenzo Pestano, Jr. and Christopher Garcia.
(Left to right) Faculty Coach Karl Cabilao, Aldrein Abrio, Immanuel Martinez, Arvin Lihaylihay, Fretz Suralta, Lorenzo Pestano, Jr. and Christopher Garcia.

HOW can the distinct culture of the Filipinos be showcased in buildings and in our ever-dynamic cities?

More often than not, students studying architecture at the University of San Carlos (USC) are faced with this challenge when they are given a design project to work on. This is the usual training of future building designers and planners who must always be sensitive to the history of a place when they conceptualize their designs and translate them into floor plans and perspective drawings. However, for five of these students, showcasing “Filipino” is not just limited to the people in school and their families but presenting them to a global audience.

USC architecture students Aldrein Abrio, Christopher Garcia, Arvin Lihaylihay, Immanuel Martinez, Lorenzo Pestano, Jr. and Fretz Suralta with their faculty advisers, architects Ryan Cabanlit and Karl Cabilao, compose a team formed just five months ago that will come up with a design proposal as part of the Philippine Pavilion in the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale. USC is one of only four architecture schools in the Philippines and the only university in the Visayas chosen to take part in this prestigious exhibition that will run from May 24 until Nov. 25, 2018.

The team had their hands full in coming up with their own interpretation of this year’s theme for the Biennale’s Philippine Pavilion, “The City Who Had Two Navels”, crafted by this year’s curator, architect Edson Cabalfin, who is an associate professor at the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati. His inspiration was from National Artist Nick Joaquin’s 1949 novel, “The Woman Who Had Two Navels.”

In the concept, the two navels are represented by two influential movements, colonialism and neoliberalism. The four teams from the chosen schools will be showing how specific sites in their region can meld together both “navels” through their design. The USC group chose Colon Street, the oldest street in the country, for their future-oriented and speculative design proposal.

As they conceptualize one of Cebu City’s most historical spots as a place where different layers of function and identity overlap and intertwine, the students made sure that the distinct history of the place is preserved. Team member Fretz Suralta explains that development continues to penetrate Colon but the need to preserve its historical value is still important. “We incorporated the concept of colonialism through the retention of the spirit; how the place was used and what it was known for during those times,” he says.

The team members share their excitement and pride in not just representing their school but also the Philippines in this international design showcase. “My experience working on our proposal for the Venice Architecture Biennale has helped me see the bigger picture surrounding the field of architecture,” says team member Immanuel Martinez.

With the projects showcased in the Pavilion, the Philippines hopes to present itself as a country that has long outgrown its identity as an archipelago of merely just mountains, farmlands and beaches detached from whatever progress the world outside has achieved. Through their design concepts, these future architects from Cebu have a vibrant vision about their city and that Filipinos are capable of getting out of the proverbial “box” without losing their own colorful culture and identity.


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