THE identity of a place is reflected not only through its history but also in how its people envision it in the coming years.
This idea was in constant play in the minds of the architecture students and mentors chosen to form the design team of the University of San Carlos School of Architecture, Fine Arts and Design (USC Safad) tasked to come up with a speculative project rooted in an existing site context in Cebu. This project is not just any Design class plate in school but a component of the Philippine Pavilion in this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, which opened last May 24 in Italy and will run until Nov. 25.
USC is one of only four architecture schools in the Philippines which were chosen to showcase at the Philippine Pavilion. Through the efforts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of Sen. Loren Legarda, the Philippines will have another opportunity to showcase Filipino design and creativity in architecture on this prestigious international exhibition.
The Philippine Pavilion will tread on the concept, “The City Who Had Two Navels”, which was proposed by Filipino architect Edson Roy Cabalfin, PhD and was chosen from 12 entries. Gaining inspiration from the novel of National Artist Nick Joaquin, the concept explores the relationship between colonialism and neoliberalism and how this interaction will lead to the empowerment and transformation of a city’s people.
Guided by this thought-provoking concept, the USC Safad team composed of Aldrein Abrio, Christopher Garcia, Arvin Lihaylihay, Immanuel Martinez, Lorenzo Pestano, Jr. and Fretz Suralta together with their faculty coaches architects Ryan Anthony Cabanlit and Karl Cabilao, had their hands full in coming up with a design idea that integrated past, present and future identities of their chosen site, no less than the oldest street in the Philippines, Colon. This means that just because it is the oldest street in the country with a lot of history in it, it will totally shut itself down to modern development.
“We wanted to explore the insertion of the recent developments into the historic district through a careful interweaving with the existing structures,” explains team member Lihaylihay. He added that the retention of historically-significant buildings and enhancing activities in those that sufer neglect will be a key to not just highlighting the the “two navels” but also dust off the negative specks on the current image of Colon Street. His teammate Pestano Jr. adds, “Positive change in Colon will depend on our generation’s efforts. With cooperation and urgency in responding to current problems, I see a Colon Street that will no longer be a dirty old street but one that is self-sustaining.”
Previous exhibits of Philippine Pavilions almost always showcased the indigenous culture of the country with native houses and structures as centerpieces. This time, it will be a lot different. The country’s pavilion will further reveal how the Philippines has welcomed (and continues to do so) new developments. It will show how cities here can give respect to its colorful history without necessarily being eternally tied down to the old. The pavilion aims to initiate a healthy discourse on the co-existence of colonialism and neoliberalism. This will be clearly evident on how the Philippine architecture schools, including Cebu’s very own USC, have envisioned local communities and familiar districts with the global spotlight on it.