IP Santos’s landscaping can be seen in the foreground of Juan Nakpil’s Rizal Theater in Makati Commercial Center in this undated postcard. Photograph courtesy of Gerard Lico
Culture Art

How two National Artists’ works have shaped our nation

Will we ever have such iconic structures like the ones they built? 
Rachelle Medina | Jun 01 2019

The sweeping driveway and cantilevered block of travertine marble of the CCP, the concrete dome of the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, the sunburst pavements and multiple sculptures of the old Makati Commercial Center—all of these modernist creations have been ingrained into our memories of the Philippines circa 1950s to the 1980s. And each building and landscape hits every one of us old enough to remember with a wave of nostalgia.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Complex is one of the popular collaborative projects of architect Leandro Locsin and landscape architect IP Santos.

These structures, among many other mid-century modernist marvels designed by National Artists for Architecture Leandro V. Locsin, and Landscape Architecture IP Santos, are featured in an ongoing exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Manilaentitled Leandro V. Locsin and Ildefonso P. Santos Jr.: A Legacy of Filipino Popular Modernism. At the opening last May 23, exhibit curator Architect Gerard Licoposed this question: “After that era, can you see any iconic buildings in the country today?” The resounding answer was: None. “It’s because the works of these two artists were very studied—the architecture, the landscape. Each project was a creation of a national culture.”


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This author was also hard-pressed to think of any Filipino-designed building or landscape from the mid-1980s to the present powerful enough to induce the same nostalgic response—the way a fading photo of say, Nayong Filipino or the Folk Arts Theater would. 

Many Filipinos who grew up in the 1970s to 80s recall Santos’s whimsical landscaping of the Nayong Pilipino, a theme park where people visited miniature replicas of the Ifugao Rice Terraces, Mayon Volcano, Vigan, and the Chocolate Hills.

The exhibit, which was launched as part of Heritage Month, was organized to encourage the Filipinos to look beyond the Spanish colonial structures like centuries-old churches and consider more recent mid-century modern creations as part of our heritage.


The post-war quest for a national identity

Unlike in Europe, wherein modernist design blossomed after the First World War, the crisp and sleek modernism we know of came much later in the Philippines, springing from the ruins of the Second World War. 

Modernism seemed to be the absolute solution, a way to raise the country from the ashes. “In the 1950s and 1960s, Filipino architects were fascinated with modernism as they sought to rebuild a brave new world in the aftermath of World War II and chart the future of a new nation,” Lico explains.

Entrance to exhibit

When asked how he picked the works in the exhibit, Lico reveals that he avoided residential projects and only chose works in the public realm. “These are entrenched in the collective imagination of a generation in the 1960s and the ’70s. The aesthetics here are really about how these projects bring a sense of civic consciousness—how these spaces create an identity for a Filipino, especially after the war,” he says. “In a way, their projects helped define that, and made this ‘imagination’ of a nation more tangible and palpable.”

In the exhibit, visitors are treated to displays of Locsin’s and Santos’s original floor plans, elevations, schematic drawings, and photographs, many of which have never been seen by the public. There is Santos’s site development plan of the Nayong Pilipino, with its detailed recreations of the Mayon Volcano and Bohol’s Chocolate Hills as family tourist attractions. The elevations from the 1950s of the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice in UP Diliman, Locsin’s first important public design, are especially poignant. The somewhat shaky, hand-drawn lettering of its title block and faded drafting lines on yellowing paper belie the bravado of the design of that famous, thin-shelled concrete dome church—a ground-breaking masterpiece of an architect who was just 27 years old when it was completed.  

Architecture Leandro V. Locsin, and Landscape Architecture IP Santos.


Marcos regime comes into play

The works by Locsin and Santos that highlighted their careers were built during the Marcos regime, from the 1960s to the 1970s. The culmination of this was a collaboration between the architect and landscape architect in the creation of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex with its CCP Theater of Performing Arts, Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), and the Folk Arts Theater. The erecting of stately and imposing institutional buildings as a form of socio-political control by the Marcoses was explored more deeply in Edifice Complex, a book written by Lico in 2003.

Another Locsin magnum opus is the Philippine Internation Convention Center (PICC), also within the CCP Complex. Its play of weightlessness and mass, floating volumes and open space is one of the finest examples of Filipino modernism.

“It cannot be denied that the two architects are linked to the ‘Bagong Lipunan,’” admits Lico, referring to the Marcos era’s notoriously authoritative, right-wing movement. “During the Marcos regime, architecture was more of a propaganda, and it was during this period that the state really poured resources into the construction of a singular national identity: ‘Isang bansa, isang diwa,’from the famous slogan. That regime was very consistent in the creation of a singular style.”

The Folk Arts Theater (Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas) was the venue for the first Miss Universe pageant in the Philippines held in 1974.


Not just brutalism and modernism, but also Filipino design

The term “Brutalist” is often used loosely when referring to Locsin’s works. But Lico stresses that this architect’s designs were not always exclusively definitive of Brutalism—the design movement noted for its imposing masses and raw concrete surfaces. He also included a lot of vernacular touches that imbued each building with a unique Filipino spirit. “Locsin’s works were more than just Brutalist. For example, with the CCP Theater, the finishes are a unique combination of aggregate; it is mixed with shell to allude to its location near Manila Bay, and the bahay kubois metaphorically transformed into the floating volumes of the building.”

The lobby of the Theater of Performing Arts shows Locsin’s mix of Brutalism with indigenous materials and references in the form of capiz shell chandeliers by Palayan and floating interior and exterior masses that allude to the Bahay Kubo.

In the same vein, Santos also incorporated many vernacular plantings and references in his public landscaping designs, parks, and playgrounds. Instead of using exotic ornamental plants, Santos often chose unpopular indigenous species such as the makahiya, a local weed with leaves that folded and closed when touched.


A question of conservation

Although many of the buildings of Locsin in the exhibit are still standing, the landscape designs of Santos have mostly disappeared—the old Makati Commercial Center torn down to make way for new shopping malls, the famous Manila Peninsula waterfalls transformed into neoclassical fountains, the CCP Complex now mostly barren. “Because of the materiality of landscape architecture, the plants grow, spread out, and die, so that many of his works are gone. There’s a certain level ephemerality in landscape architecture, and so it needs to be maintained but it wasn’t.”

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Cultural of the Philippines Elevation Drawings. 

IP Santos perspective. 

Makiling elevations. 

Parish of the Holy Sacrifice elevations.

Popular Modernism exhibit at Met Museum. 

Theater of Performing Arts, better known as the CCP Theater, is arguably one of Locsin’s most famous and iconic projects. 

The lobby of the Theater of Performing Arts shows Locsin’s mix of Brutalism with indigenous materials and references in the form of capiz shell chandeliers by Palayan and floating interior and exterior masses that allude to the Bahay Kubo. 

Early photos of the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice at the University of the Philippines-Diliman campus. “You could see from Locsin’s progression and evolution of design from the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice until his later works. In Holy Sacrifice, he still tried the traditional idea of a church, but he still innovated. There was no precedent at that time for a church that was circular with a centrifugal altar,” explains Lico.

The Parish of the Holy Sacrifice is one of the few projects that was collaborated upon by several National Artists. With Locsin as architect, Napoleon Abueva created the altar, Arturo Luz designed the “River of Life” floor pattern (seen in photo), and Vicente Manansala painted the Stations of the Cross murals, assisted by Ang Kiukok. 

Locsin deviated from his usual boxy forms to design the Bahay Kubo-like structure of the National Arts Center in Makiling, Laguna. 

As seen in this original perspective, Santos collaborated with Locsin and many other postwar architects in creating the landscaping of Makati Commercial Center. 

An early photo of Santos’s water features in Makati Commercial Center. You can see SM Makati in the background. 

Santos incorporated many important sculptures in his landscaping, like this Arturo Luz sculpture in a Makati Commercial Center fountain. Other Filipino artists who made sculptures to complement his landscaping were Eduardo Castrillo, Solomon Saprid, and Arturo Luz. 

Sulo Restaurant famous paving. 

Before the Neoclassical water fountain that we see today, Santos’s simple yet elegant modern waterfall graced the Manila Peninsula façade at the intersection of Ayala and Makati Avenues. 

Santos’s swimming pool for the pre-Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel created a visual seamlessness between the manmade pools and Manila Bay. 

An early Santos creation at Rizal Park. “His landscapes were characterized by irregular forms, asymmetry, and visual complexities that orchestrate the duality of soft and hard, of permanent and ephemeral in a delightful outdoor environment,” writes Lico.


Viewing the exhibit leaves one with a yearning for the landscape of the past, and longing for an era that was equal parts comforting and disturbing, nostalgic yet deeply troubled. And it makes one wonder if we still have the same civic consciousness from decades ago—or is this consciousness ephemeral too, much like a dying shrub or the footprint of a demolished structure.


Leandro V. Locsin and Ildefonso P. Santos Jr: A Legacy of Filipino Popular Modernism will run until July 2019 at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, BSP Complex, Roxas Blvd., Malate, Manila. Admission is free every Tuesday, and there is a free guided tour at 2pm every Saturday

Photographs courtesy of Gerard Lico