When one thinks of landscape architecture in the Philippines, one thinks of the late great Ildefonso Paez Santos, Jr, or IP Santos as he is more popularly known—Father of Philippine Landscape Architecture, awarded the National Artist honor in 2006. His handiwork include the Rizal Park, the Manila Hotel, the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani, and the CCP—this last one done in collaboration with legendary architect Leandro Locsin.
According to Bluprint, Santos is known for his penchant for the “malamig sa mata” aesthetic—while he likes to use concrete, he counters the hard-edgedness of this through his creative way of putting materials, textures and patterns together. “The integration of local art pieces to his landscape was essential—an expression of our culture, as he would say,” adds the design publication. “The use of mass plantings in his softscapes was his trademark, creating a visual feast of colors and textures.”
While we often celebrate the structures that our Filipino geniuses in architecture conjure, we just as often forget to honor the surrounding landscapes that cradle these famous buildings. And so we thought, as we mark World Landscape Architecture Month, maybe a short list of IP Santos’ best works will help us better appreciate the role of a well-designed environment— in relation to the aesthetic and functionality of our landmarks. Celebrating World Landscape Architecture Month reminds us of the importance of the spaces between our buildings, and how a thoughtfully designed environment can inspire not only creativity, or good thoughts, but harmonious coexistence among people.
To help us create the list of outstanding IP Santos projects, we asked premier landscape architect and environmental planner Paulo Alcazaren, and design consultant and former design magazine editor Rachelle Medina to name what to them are the top 5 projects of the esteemed landscape architect.
Medina recalls attending the Leandro Locsin/IP Santos exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila two years ago, and how its curator, noted architect Gerard Lico, mentioned the difficulty of conserving Santos’s works because of their very nature: they’re ephemeral—plants die, buildings change or are replaced. “But even if most of his works are gone or completely changed, the proof that he was such a legend and that his works made such an impact,” says Medina, “is that the memory of place is still very much alive in almost everyone who visited those areas.”
Here then are 10 outstanding, unforgettable works by National Artist IP Santos:
Paulo Alcazaren’s Top 5
1 Paco Park
Outstanding conservation of a heritage space, allowing contemporary uses.
2 Philippine Plaza Hotel grounds
Innovative swimming pool and amenity design that set the standard for hospitality projects in the country.
3 San Miguel Corporation HQ, Ortigas
A prime example of green architecture and landscape.
The San Miguel offices in Ortigas, quite possibly the best looking corporate headquarters in the country. Photo from sanmiguel.com.ph
4 Taikoo Shing Complex, HongKong
Set the trend in Asian landscape architecture for residential complexes from the 1980s onwards.
5 Magallanes Church garden
IP Santos at an intimate scale where he incorporates the artwork of several sculptors and artists into a cohesive whole.
Rachelle Medina’s Top 5
1 Makati Commercial Complex
My memories of Makati Commercial Center in the ‘70s til the ‘90s are so vivid, mainly because it was Santos’s landscaping that tied that whole hodgepodge of buildings together (Quad, Brick Arcade, Goldcrest, SM Makati, Northmall—the buildings looked so different from each other!). The sunburst paving, paired with water features and pockets of public sculptures provided an immensely pleasant walk from SM Makati/EDSA all the way to Sulo Hotel/Greenbelt Park/United Supermarket.
The iconic sunburst pattern on the paving provided a cohesive, overall design throughout the development, but it also visually delineated the physical boundaries of where Makati Commercial center ended. I thought that touch was very, very clever.
2 Nayong Pilipino
Mayon Volcano, the Rice Terraces, a bahay na bato, and a Torrogan House—what’s not to like at Nayong Pilipino? It is the most iconic Santos work, in my opinion. The concept may seem “baduy” for modern times, but this was very helpful to the public in an era when even local air travel was not cheap. And it was all very nicely executed.
3 The original Manila Peninsula waterfalls
I believe that Manila Pen’s IP Santos waterfall was the original #PenMoment. It fascinated me as a child when our car stopped at the intersection of Ayala Avenue and Makati Avenue. It was massive and noisy (when you walked around it) and fitting to its OG Brutalist surroundings. It was so eye-catching and dramatic, especially when lit up at night.
During the Christmas season, they put larger-than-life Joseph-Jesus-and-Mary statues walking across the top of the waterfalls, followed by the Three Wise Men, their feet getting wet. I understand that they needed to replace it, because in the ‘90s, the blue background behind the falls became rusted and discolored.
4 Crystal Springs Resort
Now that it’s summer, my mind wanders to childhood memories of swimming at Crystal Springs in Los Baños. From the highway, you went up a winding driveway lined with trees and lush greenery. The best part was swimming in the pools that were surrounded by huge faux boulders made out of cement, which I thought were real. I remember the structures in the resort looked like Flintstones homes (tastefully done, though) and this delighted me as a kid.
5 The pool area at Puerto Azul
Another former summer delight. But this one was sadly demoted to an Urban Explorers/Abandoned Series YouTube favorite. Again, Santos used the faux boulders to contain the waterfall/water feature in the main swimming pool, only done more elegantly.
There was a bar in the middle (done in the same tropical modern Mañosa style) which you could swim to and sip a rum coke (my drink was a Shirley Temple) to cool off.
The shrubs were kept low and trimmed and appropriate for the tidy row of Mañosa-designed pavilions of Puerto Azul, and the full expanse of well-maintained grass upon approach hinted at the Gary Player-designed golf course in the resort.