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Architect Leif's Article 'Trends in Architecture' as it appears in the June 1998 issue of  U.A.P. Journal

Trends In Philippine Architecture
By Cynthia Asis-Leif

Let's take a drive through a middle class residential development in Metro Manila. I've chosen BF Homes ( Parañaque ) for our excursion. We enter one of the neighborhood associations (created for the illusion of security) and drive through the labyrinth of streets; quickly we are disoriented. Let's be honest; we're lost. We don't know where we are or how we can get to the entrance because there are no landmarks. All of the houses have been built with the same architectural style of molded cornices, arches, pillars, scrolled ironworks, and massive roofs appropriate for the mausoleums of the world's great conquerors.

Believe it or not, these are four different houses!

This form of cookie cutter architecture occurs in many countries, usually to achieve economics of scale by using one architect and one construction company and precut materials. But our Metro Manila neighborhoods have used many architects, many construction companies and materials fabricated onsite. So why has this happened?

During our architectural education, we were frequently rewarded for creativity. However, some might have found it expedient to copy the work of a classmate. And if you copy a classmate, it is safer to choose a work that is not so original that your plagiarism is apparent. Is this what has happened to our neighborhoods? Is plagiarism the answer?

I believe that the answer is a qualified yes. Of course, the works of others has inspired us all, and this is a mild form of plagiarism. My objection is to using all of the same features and details of the house next door. This produces bland homogeneous neighborhoods devoid of personality.

But perhaps one should not judge our colleagues too harshly. Surviving as an architect is difficult. It's competitive; many clients don't appreciate the value of good architecture, and many clients themselves copy the designs of others. Many of us know that if we push for a new architectural style with a client, that we are taking a big risk. The question I ask is: Don't we have a responsibility to our society and to our art, to develop new forms and make certain that they are built? You know the answer. If you don't, read Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" again.

Please excuse me as I get up upon this pulpit and preach………….

We must have the architectural courage to fight for our individual visions of beauty. It's not easy or safe, but it must be done. It is no excuse to say that your client won't like it. Educate them. You can succeed. Just look at what is being done in office skyscrapers. Madrigal Business Park in Alabang has beautiful examples of innovation and creativity. Here there are new forms and new ways to use materials. The new Festival mall (built by American and Filipino architects) is graceful, harmonious with the terrain, and completely different from the massive boxes of most other malls.

Innovation In Alabang

These buildings are a credit to their architects and to their owners. Tell this story to your clients. Tell them that the home they build is a monument to who they are. Speak of art and beauty. If they are Philistines, speak of resale value in a market full of cookie cutter homes. You won't always win, but fight the battle. It's worth winning.

You may contact the author at: che@asis-leif.com



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