Friday, August 7, 2009

Foremost Filipino architect Francisco “Bobby” Manosa sings ever in praise of the functional “nipa hut”

By Nancy T. Lu

If Francisco “Bobby” Manosa, the famous Filipino architect who was very recently named by Philippine President Gloria Arroyo as one of the seven national artists of the Philippines for the year 2009, has one song on his lips, it is “Bahay Kubo” (My Nipa Hut).

As the keynote speaker who was invited to address the Asia-Pacific Space Designers Association (APSDA) Congress in Taipei back in 2005, he enthusiastically sang this song, familiar to every Filipino since childhood, with the other Philippine delegates at a social event.

Actually Manosa’s decades of successful architectural practice sing in praise of the functional “bahay kubo (nipa hut).”

“I just want to design Filipino,” he declared after giving his architectural service to at least 300 residences, 40 churches of different faiths as well as 20 resorts and hotels. “I want to innovate and invent designs that can identify with the Filipino.”. (“Designing Filipino: The Architecture of Francisco ‘Bobby’ Manosa” is the title of a coffee table book about him and his landmark projects.)

Those who listened to his talk in Taipei then were fascinated with his Coconut Palace, also known as the Tahanang Pilipino (Philippine Home or Residence). He tapped indigenous materials like coconut, bamboo, rattan, capiz and narra to build the guest house for international performing artists next to the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Folk Arts Theater. The project, which the former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos commissioned on reclaimed land in the Manila Bay area, was completed after 14 months some 31 years ago. In the post-Marcos era, he designed the monument to people power and the Edsa revolution – the Edsa Shrine with its underground chapel.

Manosa’s own unique home is a showcase full of the functional features of the Philippine native house. Philippine tourism officials, in fact, like to show it off as a Philippine tourist attraction to visiting VIPs.

Manosa’s father was a Harvard graduate who became the dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Santo Tomas. When Manosa graduated from high school, his father called him aside to ask him what he intended to take up in college.

“When I said, `Piano,’ he stared at me in disbelief,” recalled Manosa. “`Are you kidding?’ he asked. `There is no future in it. So I said, `Violin.’ `Don’t talk to me,’ he said. `Talk to your mother.’”

His mother finally conveyed his father’s message and it was to choose between architecture and painting. He opted for architecture. His father, if he were still alive today, would certainly be very proud of him for he has emerged a true champion of the cause of Philippine architecture.

Throughout his college years at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), he was the classmate of another renowned Filipino architect – Leandro “Lindy” Locsin. As the students were seated alphabetically, the two sat next to each other throughout their UST years.

According to Manosa, students in his time learned through research. They opened American books and read about world architecture.

“Lindy admired Le Corbusier while I marveled at the work of Frank Lloyd Wright,” said Manosa. He appreciated the heavily-decorated work with tropical inspiration, which Wright did on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. According to Manosa, Wright tried to keep the natural environment. Wright’s low and spreading prairie houses with rooms running into each other somehow inspired Manosa in his projects, too.

Manosa pointed out that love of music is what he has in common with Locsin. “He plays piano classics while I go for jazz,” revealed Manosa.

In trying to design Filipino, Manosa has been going against the tide of building American bungalows, Swiss chalets, Spanish villas and Mediterranean houses, among others, over the years. He has not only fallen back on the “bahay kubo” (nipa hut) with its practical high-pitched roof and slatted bamboo flooring as well as the “bahay na bato” (house of stone) built by the Spanish colonizers in the Philippines hundreds of years ago but also learned directly from the squatters in the building of homes.

A couple of years ago, Manosa, ever open to ideas from different sources in his creative exercises, playfully designed for his son a house with the bedrooms on the first floor, living and dining spaces on the second floor and a garden on top. This way, the garden is really spacious. This is supposed to be how Filipino squatters build their shanties in the big cities.

During his Taipei visit, Manosa hinted at his building plan for his daughter’s new home. An architectural scale model of the project still veiled in secrecy already existed then, according to him. He described it in this puzzling way: “Tahanan na siya, wala pang bubong. (It’s already a house but there is still no roof.)”

Almost chuckling, he remarked that his daughter, an interior designer, was then on the road to owning the only house without a roof in the very exclusive Ayala Alabang subdivision in Metro Manila. The persuasive architect convinced his daughter to accept his extraordinary design, which he had offered as a father’s gift gratis et amore. (This meant that he would not charge her for his professional service.) Her daughter would pay for the construction. Anyone making an educated guess would imagine the project to be a contemporary residence incorporating with great creativity traditional Filipino features.

Wikipedia describes his Bahay Kubo mansion in Ayala Alabang (as of May 2008) as having “only 3 posts or ‘haligi’, 5 one-inch coconut shell doors, 2nd floor, a ‘silong’, Muslim room, sala, and master's bedroom with a fish pond therein.”

Manosa, who is in his 70s, is often asked which of his many projects he considers his landmark design. This time, he threw back a question during the Taipei interview: “How many landmarks can you build in a lifetime? My landmark design is my next one.”

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Nancy Lu. Just got interested in Manosa because he finally agreed to an interview with my student, whose thesis is on the Coconut Palace. He was very helpful & enthusiastic. He even gave her a copy of his coffee table book. It's just too bad he got dragged into the National Artists Awards mess.