PICTURE a Christmas village and almost instantly, snapshots of houses with glass windows and chimneyed roofs capped with snow play in a mental slideshow. These houses would often stand amid an immaculately white landscape with miniature cars and trucks, and probably figures of bundled-up children happily making a snowman.
This scene has become generic, even in hot and humid tropical countries like the Philippines. These westernized Christmas villages often serve as visual hors d’oeuvres in many houses and commercial establishments to usher in the Yuletide season. But one architect dared to break convention by coming up with his own village that is more relatable to the Filipino context.
Architect Panfilo Castro Jr., fondly called Loloy, also makes scaled models for a living along with his wife Fatima, also an architect. “We were once asked by a client to build a mini village for his children to play with, using commercially available snow villages. He wanted to do a Filipino setting, but there were not a lot of items available locally. There were miniature bahay kubos, but the bahay kubo is Asian in nature and not totally Filipino,” he recalls. He also cites his Holiday season visits to the malls when snow covered houses making up Christmas villages are usually showcased when the Philippines does not even experience snow.
He admits that being a history enthusiast has helped him immerse himself more in Filipino culture and architecture. For him, the Bahay na Bato, which is mostly considered as Spanish in influence, is truly “Filipino.”
“You rarely see houses in Spain with very large windows and broad overhangs (like in the Bahay na Bato),” he says. Loloy shares that their occasional road trips to different towns in southern Cebu and even Bohol not just exposed them to the notable local architecture of houses from the colonial periods but also gave them a slice of the experience of the bygone era.
“The feel of walking on thick hardwood floors, the breeze of the countryside blowing through the very large windows, or the beam of sunlight through the capiz window, is just so beautiful to not notice. Or imagine standing on top of the stone watch tower, and seeing the galleons and other sailing ships pass by the waters of Cebu. We used some of the existing houses and structures as references, and oftentimes as inspiration,” enthuses the self-proclaimed “freak” in Cebuano heritage.
Taking all these into account, Loloy and his team of scaled model-makers are producing their first series of architecture scaled models of old houses, based on 17th-century designs, that would later on compose a whole truly Filipino village. And soon, they will be coming up with the second series, this time inspired from 18th century residential architecture in the country.
The architect considers this endeavor as a great way to promote heritage conservation and awareness, which he considers as a prime concern for every Filipino. The Filipino miniature village would educate people on how beautiful the barrios were and these can still be maintained and enhanced. They plan to have these villages displayed in museums and souvenir shops where many people can appreciate and learn from them.
“What is nice about these miniatures is that you can display them the whole year round, and not just on Christmas. You can dress up your “barrio” for a fiesta scene, or for a Santacruzan procession, or just create scenes of everyday life in the barrio. As they say, there is just too much fun in the Philippines,” he said.