Architecture of the Philippines

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The front entrance of Fuerza de Santiago towering 40 metres high.

The architecture of the Philippines is a reflection of the history and heritage of the country. The most prominent historic constructions in the archipelago are from the Spanish, Japanese, Malay, Hindu, Chinese, and American cultures.

The pre-colonial architecture of the Philippines consisted of the Nipa hut made from natural materials but there are some traces of large-scale construction before the Spanish colonizers came but not well documented. An example of this is the pre-colonial walled city of Manila although later after the Spanish colonization, dismantled by the Spaniards and rebuilt as Intramuros. There are also other minor pre-colonial walled cities like Betis and Macabebe.[citation needed]

During three hundred years of Spanish colonialization, the Philippine architecture was dominated by the Spanish influences. During this period, Intramuros, the walled city of Manila, was built with its walls, houses, churches and fortress. The Augustinian friars built a large number of grand churches all over the Philippine Islands.

During this period the traditional Filipino "Bahay na bato" style for the large houses emerged. These were large houses built of stone and wood combining Filipino, Spanish and Chinese style elements.

After the Spanish-American war, the architecture of the Philippines was dominated by the American style. In this period the plan for the modern city of Manila was designed, with a large number of neoclassical architecture and art deco buildings by famous American and Filipino architects. During the liberation of Manila by the Americans in 1945, large portions of Intramuros and Manila were destroyed. In the period after the second world war many of the destroyed buildings were rebuilt.

At the end of the 20th century modern architecture with straight lines and functional aspects was introduced. During this period many of the older structures fell into decay. Early in the 21st Century a revival of the respect for the traditional Filipino elements in the architecture returned.



Architecture during the Spanish Colonial era

Spanish colonization introduced European architecture into the country. The influence of European architecture and its style actually came via the Antilles through the Manila Galleon. The most lasting legacy of Spain in terms of architecture was its colonial parish churches designed by innumerable Spanish friars. Many structures were made from local materials such as coral and volcanic rock.

A church in Bohol province made from coral
Jaro Cathedral Belfry. One of the few freestanding bell towers in the country.

Bahay na bato

In this era, the nipa hut or bahay kubo gave way to the Bahay na bato (stone house) and became the typical house of noble Filipinos. The Bahay na bato, the colonial Filipino house, followed the nipa hut's arrangements such as open ventilation and elevated apartments. The most obvious difference between the two houses would be the materials that was used to build them. The bahay na bato was constructed out of brick and stone rather than the traditional bamboo materials. It is a mixture of native Filipino, Spanish and Chinese influences. Excellent preserved examples of these houses of the illustrious Filipinos can be admired in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.[1] In Taal, Batangas, the main street is also lined with examples of the traditional Filipino homes.


Intramuros is the old walled city of Manila located along the southern bank of the Pasig River.[2] The historic city was home to centuries-old churches, schools, convents, government buildings and residences, the best collection of Spanish colonial architecture before much of it was destroyed by the bombs of World War II. Of all the buildings within the 67-acre city, only one building, the San Agustin Church, survived the war.

Fort Santiago

Fort Santiago (Fuerza de Santiago) is a defense fortress established by Spanish conquistador, Miguel López de Legazpi. The fort is the citadel of the walled city of Intramuros, in Manila, Philippines.

The location of Fort Santiago was also once the site of the palace and kingdom of Rajah Suliman, king of Maynila of pre-Spanish era.[3] It was destroyed by the conquistadors upon arriving in 1570, encountering several bloody battles with the Muslims and native Tagalogs. The Spaniards destroyed the native settlements and erected Fuerza de Santiago in 1571.

Paco Park

Paco Park was planned as a municipal cemetery for the well-off and established aristocratic Spanish families who resided in the old Manila, or Intramuros. The cemetery is circular in shape, with an inner circular fort that was the original cemetery with niches on the hollow walls. As the population continued to grow, a similar second outer wall was built with the thick adobe hollow walls with niches, the top of the walls made into a walkway circumnavigating the park. A Roman Catholic chapel was built inside the inner walls, dedicated to St. Pancratius. The landscape design was done by Ildefonso Santos from 1967 to 1969.[4]

San Augustin church Paoay, Ilocos Norte, July 2005

Augustinian Churches

The order of the Augustinians, Augustinian Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines, built many churches all over the Philippines. These magnificent structures can still be found throughout the Philippine Islands.

San Agustin Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, is the most famous of these churches. This unique specimen of Filipino architecture from the Spanish area has been included in the World Heritage Sites List of the UNESCO. The church was built by the Augustinian friars from 1694 until 1710. It shows the earthquake proof baroque style architecture. The bell tower served as an observation post in 1896 for the Katipuneros during the Philippine revolution against the Spaniards, and again by the Filipino guerillas during the Japanese occupation in World War II.[5]

The interior of the San Agustín Church in Intramuros, with magnificent trompe l'oeil mural on its ceiling and walls

San Agustín Church and Monastery, built between 1587 and 1606, is one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, and the only building left intact after the destruction of Intramuros during the Battle of Manila (1945). The present structure is actually the third to stand on the site and has survived seven major earthquakes, as well as the wars in Manila. The church remains under the care of the Augustinians who founded it.

San Agustín Church lies within the walled city of Intramuros located in the capital city Manila, Philippines. It is the first European stone church to be built in the Philippines designed in Spanish architectural structure. The church also houses the legacies of the Spanish conquistadors, Miguel López de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo and Martín de Goiti who are buried and laid to rest in a tomb, underneath the church.

The church has 14 side chapels and a trompe-l'oeil ceiling. Up in the choir loft are the hand-carved 17th-century seats of molave, a beautiful tropical hardwood. Adjacent to the church is a small museum run by the Augustinian order, featuring antique vestments, colonial furniture, and religious paintings and icons.

It was named a National Historical Landmark by the Philippine government in 1976.[6] Together with three other ancient churches in the country, it was designated as part of the World Heritage Site "Baroque Churches of the Philippines" in 1993.


Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

During the Spanish and American era many lighthouses were constructed around the Philippine Islands. The most Northeastern Lighthouse can be found in Burgos, Ilocos Norte.

Architecture during the American colonial period

The Silliman Hall of Silliman University, found in Dumaguete City, is the oldest standing American structure in the Philippines.

After the Spanish–American War in 1898, the Americans took control of the Philippines until after the World War II. During this period, the Americans constructed many Neoclassical buildings in Manila.

In 1902 Judge William Howard Taft was appointed to head the Philippine Commission to evaluate the needs of the new territory. Taft, who later became the first civilian Governor-General of the Philippines,[7] decided that Manila, the capital, should be a planned city. He hired as his architect and city planner Daniel Burnham, who had built Union Station and the post office in Washington, D.C.. In Manila, Mr. Burnham had in mind a long wide, tree-lined boulevard along the bay, beginning at a park area dominated by a magnificent hotel. To design what would be the Manila Hotel Taft hired William E. Parsons, a New York architect, who envisioned an impressive, but comfortable hotel, along the lines of a grander California mission.[8] The original design was an H-shaped plan that focused on well-ventilated rooms on two wings, providing grand vistas of the harbor, the Luneta Park, and Intramuros. The top floor was a large viewing deck that was used for various functions, including watching the United States Navy steam into the harbor.[9]

The Central Philippine University Church in Iloilo City built in the middle of the 20th century, is a fine and unique example of Malay design and motif with American elements.

Many of these buildings were heavily damaged during the Battle of Manila in 1945. After the Second World War, many were rebuilt. Many buildings in Manila were later designed by the Filipino architect Juan M. Arellano.

In 1911, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Manila Army and Navy Club at the shore of Manila Bay bordering the Luneta Park. The building consists of a grand entrance and has three stories that housed the various function rooms and the hotel rooms. Together with its sister, the Elks Club, it was the center of social life for many Americans for decades.[10]

Emilio Aguinaldo's house in Kawit, Cavite, renovations designed by Aguinaldo himself, the first President of the Philippines, in 1919.

At T.M. Kalaw Street stands one of the remaining structures that survived the liberation of Manila in 1945, the Luneta Hotel, which was completed in 1918. According to Dean Joseph Fernandez of the University of Santo Tomas, the hotel was designed by the Spanish architect-engineer Salvador Farre. The structure is the only remaining example of the French Renaissance architecture with Filipino stylized Beaux-Arts architecture in the Philippines to date.

The Manila Metropolitan Theater is an Art Deco building designed by the Filipino architect Juan M. Arellano, and built in 1935. During the liberation of Manila by the Americans in 1945, the theatre was totally destroyed. After reconstruction by the Americans it gradually fell into disuse in the 1960s. In the following decade it was meticulously restored but again fell into decay. The city of Manila is planning a renovation of this once magnificent building.[when?]

The sculptures upon the façade of the theater are by Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti, who lived in Manila from 1930 until his death in 1958, and worked closely with Juan M. Arellano. Highly stylized relief carving of Philippine plants executed by the artist Isabelo Tampingco decorate the lobby walls and interior surfaces of the building.

In 1940 the Manila Jai Alai Building was constructed along Taft Avenue, designed by architect Welton Becket. It was built in the Philippine Art Deco style. In addition to hosting jai alai, it included the famous "Sky Lounge". Unfortunately, demolition began on July 15, 2000 on the orders of Mayor Lito Atienza.

At the Far Eastern University (FEU) in Quiapo, Manila, five Art Deco structures on the campus were designed by National Artist Pablo Antonio. Three were built before World War II and two, after. Although FEU buildings were totally damaged during the war, the university was restored to its original Art Deco design immediately after. The university was given a UNESCO Asia Pacific-Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage in 2005 for the outstanding preservation of its Art Deco structures.[11]

Art Deco theaters in the Philippines

During the rise of cinema in the Philippines as a form of recreation, several theaters were constructed in the 1930s to 1950s in the Art Deco style designed by prominent architects now recognized as National Artists.

The following are the Philippine architects who contributed and lead to the design of the classic Philippine theaters:

After World War II

United Architects of the Philippines

The United Architects of the Philippines or UAP is the Official Voice for Architects throughout the country. The UAP was formed through the “unification” of three architectural organizations: the Philippine Institute of Architects, The League of Philippine Architects and the Association of Philippine Government Architects. It became the Bonafide Professional Organization of Architects upon receiving Accreditation Number 001 from the Professional Regulation Commission. Thus, UAP was the first professional organization recognized by the Republic.

With the passing of the new architecture law or Republic Act No. 9266, UAP becomes the IAPOA or the Integrated Accredited Professional Organization of Architects.

Examples of Filipino architecture after WWII

Antipolo Church

The image of "Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage" has been venerated in the church of Antipolo for centuries. The old church that housed the virgin was destroyed in February 1945 when the Americans bombed Antipolo as part of the liberation campaign of Manila. In 1954, a new church was built designed by the renowned Filipino architect Jose de Ocampo. This church is of a cupolaed design centered around the image of the Virgin. It functions as the center point of the pilgrimages to Antipolo.

Parish of the Holy Sacrifice

The Church of the Holy Sacrifice is the first circular church and the first thin-shell concrete dome in the Philippines

The Parish of the Holy Sacrifice is the landmark Catholic chapel in the University of the Philippines Diliman. Known for its architectural design, the church is recognized as a National Historical Landmark and a Cultural Treasure by the National Historical Institute and the National Museum respectively. Five National artists collaborated on the project. The building was designed by the late National Artist for Architecture, Leandro Locsin. Alfredo Juinio served as the structural engineer for the project. Around the chapel are fifteen large murals painted by Vicente Manansala depicting the Stations of the Cross. The marble altar and the large wooden cross above it were sculpted by Napoleon Abueva. The mosaic floor mural called the “River of Life” was designed by Arturo Luz.

Bahay Kubo mansion

In May 2008, National artist for architecture Francisco Mañosa, designer of the Coconut Palace, built his own two-storey Bahay Kubo mansion in Ayala Alabang Village, a wealthy suburb south of Manila. With only 3 posts or "haligi", it has five one-inch coconut shell doors, a "silong", Muslim room, sala, and master's bedroom with a fish pond therein.[12][13]

Other prominent Filipino architects


External links

Coordinates: 14°35′20″N 120°58′29″E / 14.58889°N 120.97472°E / 14.58889; 120.97472