There’s a new book coming out on the works of Filipino architect and National Artist Leandro Locsin, the man behind such iconic Philippine structures as the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Philippine International Convention Center, and UP’s circular chapel, the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, to name a few.
Unlike the largely photo-driven first book that came out in 1977 (Weatherhill, New York and Tokyo), this new title is more generous when it comes to details on Locsin himself and the structures he created, fleshing out the man’s process through substantial prose, archival imagery, section drawings, even perspectives.
But like that first book which was authored by a Nicholas Polites—still a coveted title, by the way, because of its rarity and overall resplendence—this new one, called “Leandro Valencia Locsin, Filipino Architect,” is by a foreigner by the name of Jean-Claude Girard, a Swiss architect and scholar.
Girard moved to Manila with his family in 2012 and stayed in the country for a year. While his wife worked on her post-doctoral research, Girard spent his time getting his hands on every material available on Locsin, visiting the buildings he designed, and speaking to those who knew him (from Arturo Luz to Gilda Cordero-Fernando) and the culture that nurtured his brilliance.
The fascination for the Filipino architect, who passed away in 1994, began when the Swiss first laid eyes on the CCP. “I was struck by the abstraction of its silhouette. I first wondered whether it was a building or a sculpture because it was so radical, with almost no hints as to what you usually need for categorizing an object, like windows or a roof,” the author told Mel Patrick Kasingsing of Kanto.com.ph in an exhaustive interview in April.
Girard’s admiration would only get deeper when he found himself around the towering and inherently Brutalist Locsin Building in Ayala Avenue. “I discovered the duality that becomes apparent when you move within the [CCP] building or inside the office building base—these indoor spaces are highly organic style-wise. There is a strong contrast between the radical, abstract exteriors and the organic interiors, which caught my interest and made me want to learn more about the man behind these structures.”
Doors easily opened for the Swiss national as soon as he set out to do his research, beginning with a very significant introduction made by the noted photographer Neal Oshima to Andy Locsin himself, son of Leandro. In his Kanto interview, Girard says the younger Locsin “generously opened the vault that contains the archives of his father’s work, provided me with office space and an assistant, basically giving me the tools necessary to help me work on his father’s legacy.”
The unprecedented access Girard was given opened the foreigner’s eyes to just how extensive Locsin’s portfolio is and how remarkable the works that bear the architect’s imprint. Studying his structures allowed the foreigner’s eyes to take note of the things that might have skipped a local’s attention, being too close to the buildings and their histories.
“One striking observation about Locsin’s work is how he anchors his buildings in the environmental settings in which they are situated,” he told Kasingsing. “The buildings don’t just start with the built structure. They are often part of a continuous flow, an entry experience without interruption, accompanying visitors from the outside to the inside. Perhaps this is a reaction to the country’s colonial past, which attempted to impose ‘culture’ in the form of buildings, irrespective of context. Locsin’s architecture is smooth and welcoming.”
The book also places Locsin’s career and achievements as having been helped by the fact that his practice happened during the time when Manila was rebuilding itself after the war. “The reconstruction, as well as technical innovations and favorable political and economic conditions, made it possible for him to design a wide range and large number of projects,” explains the book description.
Kasingsing, a Locsin fan who also runs @BrutalistPilipinas on Instagram, is one of the fortunate few who already owns a copy of “Leandro Valencia Locsin, Filipino Architect” (it will soon be available locally via artbooks.ph). He describes the Girard tome as “a proper design monograph” and, as compared to the 1977 coffee table book, is completely about the architect. “Readers are also introduced to the major themes present in Locsin’s work,” he says. “And how amidst all his designs what he is also after is a way to express Philippine culture, history and identity by means of space and placemaking.”