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Inside and out: Ililikha Artist Village facade detail and the cafe called Scout Burrows. Photos by Jerome Gomez
Culture

This Baguio architectural wonder was built by a National Artist—without a blueprint

The whole building is a trip, in more ways than one.
Jerome Gomez | Jan 12 2021

Kidlat Tahimik is known as a filmmaker, and in fact was awarded the National Artist honor in 2018 for his contributions to Philippine cinema. But did you know the “Perfumed Nightmare” director can also make a building? 

Well, not the type of building you have in mind. We’re talking the kind of architectural curiosity where there’s something that catches your eye at every step—whether you look straight, turn your head down, or look to your sides. Something that at first glance the first thing that comes to mind is: how in the world do you begin to build something like that? 

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A sculptural footbridge beside a vignette with Ifugao scupltures on guard.
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Salvaged windows from old houses and TV frames make up walls. 

Walking into the Ili-likha Artist Village in Baguio’s Assumption Road is like walking into a maze—or a mess, if you’re only into ho-hum boxy concrete structures. It’s built around trees and assembled from a host of materials not necessarily acknowledged as stuff you make buildings from. Used windows and old television frames make up walls, as do old kuwatro kantos bottles. Metal sculptures are used as foot bridge floors. Old bikes, colorful chairs, paintings, Rizal figures, broken tiles, flags and Ifugao statues. All of these complete the whole eclectic patchwork that is Ililikha. The whole building is a trip, in more ways than one.

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Glass bottles jut out from corners covered in a mosaic of broken tiles.

“Kidlat wanted to create an alternative platform for small artist-run shops, restos and such,” says Kawayan de Guia, one of Kidlat’s sons, himself an accomplished artist. “It was also going to house the ‘Cinematheque of the North’ which is his tribute to Enrique De Malacca.” 

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The whole structure is built around trees.

Malacca is the Malay explorer believed to be the first person to circumnavigate the world (yes, earlier than Magellan), and the cinema is Kidlat’s—it shows his films and films of other independent directors. Those who have seen the space declare it to be a work of art, "a church for cinema." It’s located at the topmost part of the Ili-likha structure—although it’s hard to tell, really what is top or bottom in this building, what is entrance and exit. 

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Art jumps out of every corner in this artist village.

The entire complex was completed over a 10-year period. For the length of a decade, it was a work in progress using a process Kidlat calls ‘pukpok tastas.’ Many artists—Ifugao woodcarvers, craftsmen and artisans including Kabunyan de Guia, Kawayan's brother—helped create the structure. Kaway says it’s his father’s attempt to project his alternative architecture, viewpoint and lifestyle, which is basically summed up in these words: “Stray from your path and find your sariling dwende.” 

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The steps are covered in a mosaic of broken multi-colored tiles.
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A sitting area at the basement.

What is a dwende in Kidlat’s universe? “It’s just something in you,” Kidlat said in an interview a few years back, “that sees the world with a unique frame.”

According to Kawayan, the Ililikha property is owned by the small de Guia family comprised of his cousins and aunts. “The family didn’t have collateral to build a bigger structure and so Kidlat proposed that he take on the project using recycled materials such as bottles, salvaged wood from typhoons, and so on.” The process in which the project was made is akin to how the National Artist makes his films: “pakonti-konti...Pag may pera gawa, pag wala contemplate muna.” 

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A reading nook invites visitors to choose a book and hang out.
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The steps that lead towards Assumption Road. 

And the whole thing did not have a blueprint, Kaway says, every step of its making guided only by feel and intuition. “His father was an engineer,” says Kawayan, “and so in my opinion the structures he create are almost a sign of rebellion against the straight, flat and stiff.” 

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The building is filled with mysterious corners like this.
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The Scout Burrows cafe serves vegetarian buns. 

We visited on a holiday, hence most of the shops are closed. But locals say Leandro’s serves good coffee, cheesecake and carbonara, and Cafe Cueva has good rice meals. There’s a nook that serves vegetarian dumplings, yogurt shakes and ginger beer. Kulaaw sells crafts and accessories, and Anthoniuz is a flower shop where the owner himself will style a bouquet for you—and not in that pa-cute kind of way. 

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The Ililikha aesthetic echoes the one of Vocas, also a product of Kidlat's making.
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Steps that lead to the basement. 

But you can also spend an entire afternoon just hanging out—read a book from a selection stacked beside a colorful poste (just put it back when you’re done), or take selfies (you’ll never run out of textured backdrops), or just explore the whole building while paying close attention to how metal gives way to wood leading to art flowing into stairs. You’ll never know—somewhere in the in-betweens, you might find your duwende.