Five University of Santo Tomas architecture graduates reimagine downtown Iloilo, Philippines
Our team is composed of five recent B.Arch graduates from the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines – Aramis Corullo, Paula Casia, Gellaine Burgos, Althea Poblete, and Angelo Landicho. We graduated last June of 2020 but are currently in a career pause due to the unfavorable work landscape. The team initially got together for a prior international competition (IAAC 8th Advanced Architecture Contest), where we placed third last August, all in the spirit of spending our time productively while in quarantine. Aside from our personal resolve for continuous learning, the team’s bigger goal is to spearhead a culture where young Filipino designers, especially those in the field of architecture, actively participate more in the global scene.
We were all members of the Heritage Conservation Society back when we were in university, so there’s definitely a shared love for architectural heritage within the group. Gellaine [Burgos], who was born and raised in Iloilo (arguably the country’s richest city in terms of heritage and also our chosen site), is especially keen on this field and was central to our entry, having finished her thesis on a similar topic. Around the time of launching of the competition, heritage conservation became a sensitive topic in the Philippines when one of its more iconic heritage structures was demolished to make way for a condominium development. This was only a microcosm of the widespread neglect for heritage in the country and this is what primarily propelled the team to join the competition. We wanted to shed light on the issue on a bigger platform and hope that the public echoes the same positivity when it comes to finding a new purpose for these old buildings.
While working with a team can be a strong suit, it comes with the extra challenge of communication and being on the same page with the other members when making design choices. Due to the current pandemic, we all live far away from each other and can only communicate online. That and the poor connectivity in the country proved to be a nightmare to deal with, especially since we were partially reliant on online references like maps and images to recreate the entire 16-hectare area around Calle Real. Fortunately, Gellaine lived in the locale and had access to the location, as well as important data that she gathered during her thesis.
Design-wise, the biggest challenge was definitely the scope of our proposal. Albergo Diffuso is not a project one would instantly consider doing, especially given a month of production. Still, we felt like this was the right answer to the problem in Calle Real. We were all new to the concept of having multiple buildings act as one, but employing that concept to six already-existing buildings made it much harder than it already was. It was [also] certainly not easy to condense such a huge project into only five illustrations. We experimented with the presentation and decided to integrate exploded sections with surrealism to display the new and adapted interiors with the archaic facade while showing human activity the same way normal architectural perspectives would. The title “The Hotel is Broken” is actually a play on both the oddity of the project and the way the buildings were visually deconstructed for the presentation.
We hope that people would see adaptive reuse as a great way to conserve heritage structures while accommodating the current and future needs of their surrounding community, especially in a country like the Philippines where there are a lot of neglected heritage buildings. What’s worse is that more and more of these valuable buildings are being demolished to pave for newer and taller structures. It is true that buildings need to keep up with the times. However, it is our role as architects and planners to make sure that the history and identity of our cities will not be forgotten. We hope that through our output, we were able to start a conversation and get Filipinos to see value and possibilities for these structures.
As the year comes to a close, the team is looking to launch an online collective that would help young Filipino designers, especially architecture students, equip themselves with design and visualization ideas that would help elevate their ability to take part in international competitions such as this as a means to respond to relevant and challenging matters in the modern times.