While planning the Museo ni Jesse Robredo in Naga City, its architect Gian Paolo “GP” Priela couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. The site selected for the building was a playground he used to frequent as a kid. Dotted with tall trees, the Naga Civic Center in J. Miranda Avenue was a favorite “pasyalan” and leisure spot for many Nagueños. Priela thought if they put up the museum on the site, it will rob the children of a place to play.
But the Bicolano architect and museum committee—composed of people from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and the Naga City LGU—came up with an idea. Instead of simply constructing a building, they created a garden that begins from the ground and goes all the way up to the roof. This way, the greenery onsite are preserved and no tree needs to be cut.
The resulting design is a semi-circular structure with a sloping roof garden, which eventually became one of the unique features of the museum. The façade is nature-inspired as can be gleaned from the use of wood. “We used yakal, which ages beautifully. We didn’t want anything painted,” Priela offers. The open spaces are shaded by lush trees making the area a favored spot for meetups, picture-taking, and recreation.
“At noon, you’ll see tricycle drivers resting under the trees,” the architect tells ANCX. His team also planted grass on some of the open spaces so the area is not entirely concrete. “In the afternoon, kids would be seen playing, going up and down the slope. We didn’t purposely design it that way. But apparently, people saw some use for it. So we’re happy that it’s being used that way. It became a place for the community and not just for the museum.”
It is for these reasons that the Museo ni Jesse Robredo won the Red Award in Placemaking at the Good Design Award Philippines last June 14 at the Ayala Museum. The awards body is a national design excellence recognition program organized by the Design Center of the Philippines. DCP is an attached agency of the Department of Trade Industry (DTI).
According to DCP, the Red Award goes to an idea that showcases “good design with innovation and function in mind.” And good design refers to “how a people-centric approach impacts quality of life as much as technical design excellence.” Aside from “form, function, and newness,” a major criteria for winning the award is having ‘malasakit’ (compassion) or putting a premium on human needs—not only this generation’s but the needs of future generations.
When Priela was approached to design a museum for the Naga native and former DILG Secretary Robredo, he naturally thought of the nicest museums around the world. But he soon realized this would be uncharacteristic of the late Naga mayor who espoused simplicity and frugality.
The museum committee made sure the memorial would be reflective of the life that Robredo lived. For instance, prominently placed in front of the building is not the typical monument where a notable person is depicted as a larger-than-life figure standing on a pedestal. Instead, the Robredo statue wears a T-shirt, shorts and slippers. Priela says it was inspired by a photo of the mayor taken during a Traslacion or the annual procession of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.
“[Mayor Robredo] would join the Traslacion every year. We’d see him wearing tshirt and tsinelas, nakaupo sa bangketa,” shares the architect. “I think people remember him that way. So we thought, instead of putting him on a pedestal, why not let him sit on one of the steps. That’s how the statue came to be.” The museum curator Mark Anthony Glorioso says it speaks of the kind of leader Robredo exemplified—"very accessible to ordinary people.”
Facets of Sec. Jesse
Fifteen days after Robredo’s death in 2012, then-Naga City Mayor John Bongat signed an executive order putting together a committee that will be on top of creating the design of the museum and gathering personal objects and memorabilia attached to the former DILG Secretary. The project was realized thru the NHCP, which funded the project. The structure was inaugurated on August 18, 2017, on Robredo’s fifth death anniversary.
The museum has four galleries. One is dedicated to Robredo’s ancestry, youth and education. Another gallery presents that facet of his life as coworker and family man thru video testimonies. Gallery 4 recalls the last few moments of his life. It also highlights the awards bestowed on him, which include the Philippine Legion of Honor and the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
But it is in Gallery 2 that the museum gets to showcase the man’s legacy as a real changemaker. It is focused on Robredo’s leadership—as Mayor of Naga City for 19 years and as DILG Secretary for two years.
“It shows how [Robredo] transformed Naga from a third class to a first class city,” says Glorioso. “Dito rin makikita ang ‘tsinelas leadership’ niya. Very simple ang pamamahala at hindi niya ginamit ang puwesto niya para magpayaman ng sarili. Ipinakita nya sa mga taga Naga na pwede talagang magkaroon ng pagbabago kung ang isang leader ay matino at mahusay.”
[Photos courtesy of GP Priela and GPAD Studio]