BEING playful with creation has always been the personality of Cebuano architect Arsenio Abella. Fondly known as Arsing, he often recalls his younger self tinkering with clay and molding different things like small cars, furniture and sculptures. “Sometimes, I try to improve the way it was made,” said the senior architect of ATD Architects Design Firm.
It is no surprise then, that armed with what he calls as his “natural instincts,” he eventually pursued an architecture degree at the University of Southern Philippines Foundation (USPF), where he graduated in 1970. He passed the Architects Licensure Examination a year after that. He recalled that it was challenging to study then since there were only a handful of books available in Cebu during that time.
He went back to his alma mater to teach architecture before establishing his own architecture office in 1975. Guided by the organic architectural principles of his idol, the renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, he designed 36 residences as well as apartment buildings and other projects, all realized within a six-year period. In 1981, he moved to Manila to establish an office, adding to his impressive repertoire of residential projects in Ayala Alabang, Greenhills, Paranaque, Pasay and Pasig.
Ten years after his stint in Manila, he returned to Cebu for his home firm. It was during this time when his projects ventured into more than just residential types. He designed bigger commercial, institutional and resort projects not just in Cebu City but also in the cities of Dumaguete and Cagayan de Oro. From 2014 until 2017, he became an in-house consultant to one of the more dynamic architectural firms in the city, Archi-Global Inc.
Carrying his childhood artistic passions, Arsing also dabbles into other artistic forms, such as painting and sculpting. His first one-man exhibit in 1984 was entitled “Evolutionary Art,” which was about non-objective art based on nature. This was followed by three more shows between 2001 and 2017. Just like in architecture, he also excels in these artistic fields as proven in the awards that he got such as winning Best Entry in the AAP Sculpture Competition in 1985 and being a finalist in the Toy Design Competition of the Design Center Philippines in 1986. In 2002, he was awarded “Most Outstanding Alumni in the field of Architecture” by USPF.
For his notable contribution in the field of architectural practice, Arsing was elevated to the prestigious College of Fellows (COF) in 2003. The COF is an institution within the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP), which is composed of members elevated to the College for having rendered notable contributions to the advancement of architecture and outstanding service to the organization. Famous Filipino architects in history, such as national artists Leandro Locsin and Francisco Manosa, are part of this illustrious group.
This year, Arsing is one of two honorees to be given tribute by the UAP COF in their annual Balik Tanaw event, which will be held this Oct. 3 as part of the World Architecture Day celebrations. The recognition is given to members of the COF “of long standing and active participation who have reached the age of 75 and continuing both their professional work with verve and dynamism as well as contributing to the COF and UAP.”
Through years of defining skylines and landscapes through his beautiful pieces, Arsing still firmly believes in the architect’s duty to the community and that is being a “creator of man’s vision of what is an ideal environment for human habitation.”
“Ultimately, we must learn the very essence or truth on how beauty is created,” he shared. With the community recognizing the importance of beauty through good architecture just like Arsing’s, people can look forward to their cities as playgrounds of creativity and functionality.