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Discerning the Architectural

Image of FILIPINO
FORM LANGUAGE

GRACE N. NALDA
Bachelor of Science in Architecture
University of the Philippines College of Architecture
1.1 General Field of Study

After centuries of colonization, the Philippines is declared to be a free country for more than a century
now. Yet, it seems that our colonizers have left footprints that have some bearing on view of
architecture in the Philippines. Technology in mass media and construction has severed its ambiguity.
Our architecture slowly morphs to join a homogeneous field of globalization risking our cultural
identity. This is sourced out of the many international-styled buildings that we see in leading cities
whether in Luzon, Visayas, or Mindanao. While people favor trends in globalization, there are a few
researchers who brave themselves demystifying this Filipino character. Some have already argued its
demise and some, even its nonexistence. This again is something worth exploring.

The National Symposium on Filipino Architecture and Design (NSFAD) contributes knowledge that
may lead us to understand our very own architecture, through research. Some of its proponents draw
conclusions that Filipino architecture is found in space though no particular language through form
was illustrated.

1.2 Specific Focus

The lack or loss of definite form language of Filipino architecture is the subject to be dealt with. In the
belief that our architecture goes beyond the materials being used and its spatial embodiment in the
built environment, the goal of this study is to inflame awareness on the possibility of true Filipino
architecture. It seeks recurring architectural features that are perceptive of our culture. It finds out
physical patterns that engage senses hinting again Filipino architecture. It figures out spatial
arrangements that are common in many designs. It searches potential aesthetics that are
recognizably Filipino.

To come up with a more reliable output, the study limits itself to domestic architecture. With the family
being the major shaper of our society, allusion to our culture is easily generated. However, for
reference purposes, minimal citation of non-domestic architecture will take place.

1.3 Statement of the Problem

The question of Filipino architecture seems complicated. What with the many culture our history has
encountered, we may only expect various influences. Most Asian countries boast with the
distinctiveness of their architecture. We easily recognize their identity through it. A common example
is the concept of Japanese Zen. Japanese architecture emanate marks of that are unique from other
Asian countries even from its immediate neighbors. This brings us to an effort to know our own. This
study investigates domestic architectural distinctiveness in the local context. Is Filipino architecture
really found only in the boundaries of space? Are there common patterns to aid in strengthening our
claims of our own architecture? Are there traces of our shared idea of space and aesthetics that
distinguish us from foreign architecture? If there are, what are these patterns that create form
language?

1.4 Development of Rationale

buildings will not be able to come alive, unless they are made by all the people in the society,
unless they are made by all the people in the society, and unless these people share a common
pattern languge, within which to make buildings, within which to make these buildings.

With AWARENESS IN ARCHITECTURAL IMAGE of FILIPINOS being the core, the study
encompasses the recurring concept of space and aesthetics of Filipino authors. Image may be known
as a three-dimensional and/or a visual element. In cultural terms, it is a characteristic that ties-in a
group of people with commonalities. It is also dependent on the behavior and activity settings that
may be relative to time. The concept of awareness and image stems from Kevin Lynch s Images of a
City, wherein the idea of districts create an inspirational manner of viewing the problem of the study
easily. This paper aims to uncover possible architectural forms that recur in many local architecture. It
hopes to fortify and promote consciousness on our different culture that may be embodied in designs
authored by Filipinos themselves. With this in mind, our study might be able to guide further studies in
discovering what may have always been with us a Filipino architectural image. To know our own
architecture gives light to our identity. This character is comparable to recognizing our existence.

1.4 Methodology

References pertained to by the Design Class will be collected. References will include past studies
and surveys related to local architecture. It will involve the concept of Pinoy Zen and house
preferences. Relevant pictures or photographs from books will be collected. Observation and
experience of the authors will also be a basis for the study.

After gathering data, analysis will precede. It will dwell heavily on spatial and aesthetic aspect of
domestic architecture. Though this does not mean exclusion of non-domestic architecture. When
necessary, systems of analyzing domestic architecture from previous studies will be used. One
example will be the method of structuration. Consultations will likewise take place. Conclusions will be
derived from the results.
1.5 Hypothesis

In a pattern of spatial configuration, there is usually a common trend through form that can be found
in a particular architecture such as the Japanese zen. If a form language consequently results from a
pattern language, it can be assumed that Filipinos can have their own form language. This can be
true when we are able to prove or show the culture and patterns of the Philippine society. This will
hence be mentioned in the study. After which, when an acceptable level of patterns in space and
aesthetics is collected, form language can be sourced out of it.

1.6 Introduction

Christopher Alexander created hundreds of pattern language in a global context. It is revealed in his
book A Pattern Language . This language is extremely practical. It is a language that we have
distilled from building and planning. It can be used to design houses for oneself, with one s family.
And it can be used as guide in the actual process of construction.

Most of studies on Filipino domestic architecture or architecture in the Philippines dwell on spatial
patterns and configuration. Form language has not been appropriated in many of these researches.
In order to move the pace on views on Filipino architecture, another step is taken by providing a
pattern language that manifests form. These recurring patterns have been frequently observed in
many domestic architecture and it is through these that possible forms can be derived. Such forms in
turn create related patterns that have been observed and are then noted. A union of such hence
generates a potential architecture that is distinctly Filipino.

References that involve views on space are crucial to coming up with form. Since no definite Filipino
form yet has been described in previous references, the author appropriates a form language in the
Filipino context.
Spatial Configuration

There are four major spatial requirements that cater to Filipino


space. Since Filipinos are known as sociable people, their
houses center on entertainment, accomodation and interaction.
This common area involving the living and dining is connected to
all other parts of the house. It is linked to the personal spaces
which include the sleeping area and toilet and bathe. Likewise,
the work area that is usually composed of the service and utilities
is located adjacent to the same common space. Outdoor and
transition spaces are also linked to it. In some cases however,
the garage can serve as both common area as will be later
explained. It is also sometimes connected to the service.

Links and Transition Spaces

The Filipino family being aware of its membership of a bigger


community known as baranggay creates spaces that provide a
link between the internal and external environment. It creates a
visual and social connection between the family and its
neighbors. It symbolizes welcomeness and hospitality, and
accentuates accessibility. And comes in a form of a porch, a
patio, a terrace a balcony or a verandah. In some cases where
there is lack of such a provision, these links come in different
forms. For example a window opening to a roof or the sidewalk
in front of the residence may double as a tambayan . With or
without an addition of miscellaneous or furnitures, the space do
not lose its sense of connection with the neighboring
environment. Other examples of elements of link in terms of
accessibility are typical entrances shown below.

In traditional houses these space are enhanced through thatched


canopy that provide space for leisure. In contemporary houses it
is often used as a conversational space.
Convertible Spaces

Being known as social people, Filipinos are fond of gatherings


and celebrations such as fiestas, ïnuman or simply family
reunions. Sometimes with the lack of space or the convenience
of the outdoor atmosphere, there are other areas that are
temporarily altered to suit these purposes. The most common is
the carport.

Carports are easily convertible spaces. Its adjacency relative to


other social spaces is appropriate for this purpose. And its level
of privacy is fit to the function. This is best located near the
terrace, living or dining room where accommodation of guests or
people takes place. This outer part of the house must
accommodate a number of people and not only for two. Hence,
consideration of the area size will be helpful in creating comfort.

Most of the time, Filipinos use an open plan for their house. This
is an indication of both permeability and convertibility of space
due to different interior elements used in between spaces such
as visually penetrable walls that allow conversation of function
both for entertainment and living.

Integrated Living and Dining

Permeability between the living and dining area is high. Unlike


other cultures, instead of separate rooms, these spaces become
integrated areas. The dining, family, living room (and sometimes
kitchen and breakfast nooks) overlap functions. These areas are
the most fused and communicating . Filipinos are fond of
entertainment and eating (like merienda ). And sometimes one
area can serve for both entertainment and dining. Two spaces
become one and generate a setting for communication. The
place can be delineated through half walls, dividers, or furniture,
a change in floor levels or even by orientation of furniture.
Anthropometrics

Filipinos seem to have sentimental attachments to material. This


could be because of the experience or memories that go with
these things. Or perhaps, the practicality of possessing useful
objects could be another reason for accumulation or
accommodation. Nevertheless, in most spaces, particularly the
bedroom, there is apparently a trend in the area that is left free
from stocking. The space, no matter how big or small needs to
accommodate for these things in such a manner that they are
not very much far apart (in contrast to minimalist designs) nor too
close that would create inconvenience in movement and
circulation.

As shown is an approximation of the area for moving within a


particular room. It is therefore best that particular dimensions of
rooms be sized accordingly to common Filipino equipment or
furniture such as bedroom furniture sizes that follow Filipino
anthropometrics. Another example is the typical bench that is
frequently found on porches or on outdoor transition spaces.

Difference in Floor Level

Division of spaces is done through difference in floor level. This


create a psychological demarkation between two spaces
allowing an amount of exclusivity of function without completely
losing interaction between users.

Varying floor heights define Filipino spaces. They are also used
as elements of approach or transition giving an inviting
atmosphere from outside. As for interior spaces, split levels are
usually defined by a few steps (often, three or four) functioning
as invisible walls. This allow for visual and acoustical
accessibility. Such characteristics signify Filipinos favor for
social interaction. This difference in floor level is usually
designed in such a manner that two spaces are not completely
separated by height. This means that varying heights do not
exceed a level by which two people will be deprived of visual
communication. This is probably the reason why most steps
usually are composed of not more than four steps before another
common space is reached assuming an average ceiling height of
2.7 meters.

Split levels have long been a tradition for Filipino houses. The
bahay kubo is elevated by stilts; its function is to provide a silong
to shelter livestock such as chickens. At the same time it helps
control heat and serves as protection from wild animals. Today,
though caring for chickens and keeping from wild animals is no
longer of need, it leaves the purpose of thermal control and
space seggregation. Still, it leaves a mark of Filipino culture.

Accessibility

Filipino s high value for permeability gives a unique character to


its elements of access and circulation such as doors. Access
being described here are those of the interiors. In most
household, wall partitions need no doors. If there is, it is usually
open. In many provinces for example, rooms do not require
permanent door swings. Curtains as partition would already do.
Would there be any door, (especially in common areas) it would
usually be open. These describe a smooth flow in circulation.
Areas are conversant with each other and more penetrable.

Elements of Security

Safety and protection is of value to any culture. In Filipino


context, this is expressed in a different way. The issue of
creating a space that is permeable yet has security
considerations fashions Filipino house. Although there are
different ways of treating this problem, the most common is
through window enclosures.

Window treatment comes in a form of metal or bamboo grills,


styled in a decorative pattern. It functions both for protection and
aesthetics. Fine lines are used to permit exterior view from the
inside and allow better air flow. The fineness of this element
creates contrast to the wall area.

Outer spaces such as veranda or terrace may also hold the


same idea and effect. Fine grills made of fine bamboo, wood or
metal may enclose these spaces.

For residences that have the luxury of securing spaces through


fencing, the house can be enclosed without losing interior and
exterior interaction. This is done through the use of movable
sliding doors that open to larger spaces, appropriate for external
communication.

Ventilation

Local climate is a major determiner of form in any country.


Tropical countries have distinct ways of countering heat. While
neighboring countries integrate water elements within the
perimeter of the house, Filipinos have consistent ways of treating
the natural environment. The use of ventanillas is a common
passive cooling technique that has been carried on through the
years. Today, this has taken on a somewhat different form.
Similar to it is the use of louvers.

Louvers are common wall treatment applied on tropical


countries. It controls heat likewise shows a Filipino character of
permeability also in terms of acoustics and sometimes visual.
Louvers can be found in interior and exterior spaces not only in
residential buildings. This comes in simple and decorative form
but quite functional. Not to mention its ability to admit light
penetration enhancing the concept of flowing and maaliwalas
spaces.
Lighting

While louvers allow for both thermal and lighting control, glass
and new translucent or transparent materials are now being used
as an alternative for lighting and aesthetics. Employment of such
an element though provides a conventional appearance that
assumes Filipino form. This element is often found directly above
doors or windows. Done in a rectangular shape, these light
sources are often found in contemporary houses.

Privacy

Although Filipinos are known to be sociable, there is still a level


of privacy that can be observed. Building standards encourage a
window height of 0.90 meters. This is being followed by many
Filipino architects. The reason behind it is not quite definite. But
if it would be for the purpose of thermal control, a lower window
sill height would be better. This therefore leads to a
consideration of a degree of privacy.

It is a wonder whether this is done simply in obedience to codes


or because Filipinos want to have a view of the outside without
having the outside to view them fully.

Outdoor Laundry

A way of communicating Filipino appreciation of the exterior


environment is through their laundry work. In a barangay, It is not
a wonder if you see a manual water pump or tubig poso being
used in the neighborhood.

Foreign countries normally would do their laundry in the


basement or in a designated part of the house. In the
Philippines, inspite of the convenience of having the ease of
washing, do their laundry in the outdoors.

Perhaps, the grounds for this could be the lack of internal space,
unique drainage system, the presence of other people or simply
the pleasure of enjoying sunlight. Still, even the wealthy have
their outdoor laundry in their very own backyard. This could
mean that space is not after all the only reason.

Natural Environment

Despite the outgoing culture of Filipinos, their love for nature is


not lost. While Asian countries bring in the outside landscape
and incorporate water features internally, Filipinos have a
different way of integrating concepts of nature. Instead of literally
bringing the outside in, they provide schematic designs that allow
for viewing the natural outdoors. The terrace, balcony or even
the rooftop are ways of obtaining such pleasures. If not, they
provide for spaces that will accommodate potted plants or
hanging orchardries. Meaning, compared to neighboring
countries, provisions are artificially stitched to evoke a natural
ambience. Apparently, nature is being viewed as an object of
design or entertainment and pleasure and not completely as a
pretense of an organic part of forest .

Movable Furnitures

Filipino houses are composed of spaces that are flexible,


multifunctional, permeable and mostly integrated with each
other. Spaces are indeed not limiting. Inside these spaces are
elements that create such unlimiting functions that somehow
appear as embellishments in Filipino interior spaces.

It can be argued that only space defines Filipino architecture. But


this does not mean that there is no true Filipino form. It is the role
of this space that provide for these furniture for the users that
mold the Filipino form.
Bangko or Bench

The spirit of community between family members and the


neighborhood is implicated in furniture favored by Filipinos.
While many household today use individual chairs or stools for
dining, in the province (Leyte for one), long seats (sometimes
without a back rest) are being used. This caters to a greater
seating capacity suited for large families. The essence of it is
similar to a sala set which is yet another element for living
rooms.

What then does this mean? It may be that dining or breakfast


nooks are not only seen as places for eating. It is betterly known
as a place of engagement, conversation and leisure like the
living. It is meant to be a place not for a single person alone but
for a group.

Anywhere in the neighborhood where there are mini-stores or


tindahan , we can easily find a bench that are sometimes fixed,
and sometimes not.. This is a nother example of a social space.

Religious Images

Filipino values are dictated by traditional beliefs. This can be


seen in fiestas and even in architecture. In a block, you will find
at least one house or corner lot that has a grotto containing an
image (usually of the Virgin Mary or a Saint). This acknowledges
the Christianity of a family, since many Filipinos are Christians.

In the absence of a grotto, wall fences sometimes put up framed


images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, or Santo Ni o. They come
in different rectangular sizes but hold the same meaning. This
form of expression is located in outer portions of the residence.
As for the indoors, most families have their own altars located
near the entry or at the central part of the house.

Making space for these images are vital to spatial hence form
considerations, so that spiritual values of Filipinos are not taken
for granted and are given due significance and attention.
1.8 Summary and Conclusion

Form delineates and quantifies space. It may be argued that


Filipino space is not only purely contained in a form. It is a
combination of enclosed and unenclosed space that flow
through. This however does not mean the absence of form. A
variety of scales may define form. It could be through rectangular
enclosures in a carport, or as detailed as louvers.

Built forms such as domestic architecture are products of space


and forms. For them to work, it must base its arrangement on
behavioral patterns that are specific in a Filipino context. These
activities are drawn from a culture that is dynamic through time.

Somehow, a common language remains the same in the past


years, and others are constantly developing into forms that are
attuned to a changing time. This is an indication of a culture that
keeps its values and beliefs and likewise continuously maturing
with the resources available through time. These resources may
involve physical and social elements.

By understanding the essences of the elements in a domestic


architecture by way of analyzing its spatial requirements,
function or beauty as manifested in form, criticism or
appreciation of a specific architecture can be sourced. These
open doors for improvement in planning, designing, and building
that are done in a Filipino environment.
1.6 References

Alexander, Christopher. (1977) A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York: Oxford
University Press

Cabalfin, Edson Roy G. Pagbabalangkas/Paghuhulma ng Tanong: Usaping Nasyonalismo,


Pagkakakilanlan at PostColonial Sa Paglinang ng Arkitekturang Filipino. Quezon City: Kolehiyo ng
Arkitektura Unibersidad ng Pilipinas

Concepcion, Leonardo. (1967) Architecture in the Philippines. Manila: National Museum

Klassen, Winand. (1986) Architecture in the Philippines: Filipino Building in a Cross-Cultural Context.
Cebu City: University of San Carlos

Lico, Gerard Rey. (2002) Experimental Moments . BluPrint, Volume 3. p 68, p 82

Lichauco, Daniel A. (1995) A Comparative Analysis of Western and Philippine Spatial Systems: Towards
the Development of Philippine Architecture . National Symposium on Filipino Architecture And Design.
p3-11

Perez, Rodrigo D. (1989) Folk Architecture. Quezon City: GCF Books


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