The Philippines recently received its first-ever award from the prestigious Venice Biennale since it first joined the exhibition in 1964. The recognition was for the exhibition “Structures of Mutual Support,” a stunning wooden structure inspired by the concept of bayanihan, the Filipino tradition of mutual support, following the biennial architecture fair’s theme of how people can live together.
Filipino architect Sudarshan V. Khadka Jr. and the Norwegian architect Alexander Eriksson Furunes collaborated with the community in Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm from Barangay Encanto in Angat, Bulacan. The two men held workshops with the members of the community, asking them what kind of structure would most benefit the people in the area the most.
The result is a stunning library and hangout that also conforms with that unique and largely favored Filipino architectural quality, “maaliwalas.” It was built by skilled workers within the community and around Angat. Afterwards, it was dismantled, packed and shipped to Venice for the biennale, echoing the bayanihan image of a traveling house.
This is the first time a National Pavilion from Southeast Asia has gained an award in the Venice Architecture Biennale, which the Philippines only started participating in in 2016, following the country’s renewed participation in the Venice Art Biennale the year before (the Philippines stopped joining for 50 years).
The country’s national participation at the Venice Biennale is a collaborative undertaking of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Office of Deputy Speaker and Congresswoman Loren Legarda.
Out of 60 National Participations, the Philippines was given the Special Mention as National Participation at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition conferred by La Biennale di Venezia for its “exemplary community project that creates a rich archive and experience of collaborative construction practices.”
Only two countries were honored with this important award aside from the Philippines.
The international jury was chaired by influential Japanese architect y Kazuyo Sejima and composed of Sandra Barclay (Peru), Lamia Joreige (Lebanon), Lesley Lokko (Ghana-Scotland), and Luca Molinari (Italy).
The awards were presented to Architects Khadka and Furunes last August 30, 2021 at Ca’ Giustinian, the headquarters of La Biennale di Venezia. Furunes thanked the organization for “recognizing that bayanihan and dugnad can be real alternatives to how we can live together. The way we build is really the way we live. So this is really important to us.” Dugnad is a lot like the bayanihan concept in Norwegian, a concept of helping out and communal work. Khadka accepted the award on behalf of their collaborators, the GK Enchanted Farm community in Bulacan, and thanked the NCCA, DFA, the Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale and Congresswoman Loren Legarda who is the main proponent of the Philippine participation.
“What is important is that we can tell the world that existing practices of our nation, such as bayanihan and our strong sense of community, can be solutions to the world’s most pressing issues,” Legarda said in a statement. “It is with anticipation we wait for the exhibition to return to the Philippines, back to the GK Enchanted Farm community, where it will no longer be a piece for the exhibition but a built object, if not an evolving organism, its value to be defined by community and enjoyed by its members.”