Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ramón Magsaysay Center

The Ramon Magsaysay Center during the 80s. © Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation

The Ramón Magsaysay Center is an eighteen-storey edifice built in honor of Philippine President Ramón Magsaysay, who died in a plane crash in Cebu in 1957. The brutalist edifice is located at Roxas Boulevard facing the famous Manila Bay and its sunset. The center currently houses the Asian Library and the offices of the Ramón Magsaysay Award Foundation, the governing body of the Ramón Magsaysay Award, Asia's Nobel Prize.

The RM Center during the 1970s. Viewed from Roxas Boulevard. Note that the Silahis International Hotel/Grand Boulevard Hotel is in its construction progress. © Flickr/rubiopr27

Built in 1967 at the corner of Roxas Boulevard and Dr. Joaquin Y. Quintos St., the Ramon Magsaysay Center was designed by Arturo J. Luz & Associates, in consultation with Italian-American Pietro Belluschi and Alfred Yee Associates, both from the United States and pioneers in designing pre-cast and pre-stressed concrete building structures.   

The Ramon Magsaysay Center was the first structure in the country to sport column-free structural concept. The design used pre-cast and pre-stressed beams like a tree rooted on the ground. © Arkitekturang Filipino

That early, the building designers decided to adopt the use of a novel structural system -- the pre-cast, pre-stressed concrete beams and multiple in-place floor slabs and wall panels. The main column of the building is the cast-in-place concrete shear wall core (Moment Frame) over deep concrete piles. This structural system is resistant to lateral forces due to earthquakes or wind load. In effect, the building is designed like a big tree with the columns as its deep-rooted trunk that sways with the wind and the movement of the ground. For elegance and engineering integrity, secondary pillars were installed all covered with travertine cladding.

Ramón Magsaysay Center viewed from below. © That Happy Day  

The center's pre-cast and pre-stressed concrete beams which acts like a trunk rooted on the ground. © Urban Roamer

The Center's spacious reception hall. © Karl and Dianne Sarte

A statue of President Magsaysay placed on the lobby of the building. ©

The credo of President Magsaysay. © Urban Roamer

The exterior of the Ramón Magsaysay Center was designed to withstand the salty environment that surrounds the building. It was clad with travertine marble slabs embedded in the frame of the building. These types of materials require minimal maintenance but still gives an elegant view of the building.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Jones Bridge

The Jones Bridge during its prime years. © Flickr/John T. Pilot

Have you ever wondered why Manila was called names such as "Queen of the Pacific", "Pearl of the Orient", "Venice and Paris of the Orient", "Paris on the Prairie", and "Most Beautiful City in the Far East"? It is because of its architectural beauty, a melting pot of cultures from Europe, America and Asia thus create a fusion of east and west. Bridges were part of Manila's architectural beauty, one of the was the ever-beautiful Jones Bridge. Jones is not just a bridge, it's the bridge for it is considered as "Manila's Queen of all Bridges".

Jones Bridge's most famous photo, alongside with other Arellano masterpieces such as the Post Office Building and the Manila Metropolitan Theatre© Arkitekturang Filipino

The Jones Bridge was a neo-classical (but more of a beaux-arts) bridge designed by the great Juan Arellano, who also built a number of prominent structures in Manila, namely the Post Office Building, the Old Legislative Building (now the National Museum), and the Metropolitan Theatre. The bridge spans the Pasig River which connects Burgos Drive at one end, and at Plaza Cervantes on the other. 

The Jones Bridge during the 1920s. Note that the construction of the Post Office Building has just started. © Arkitekturang Filipino

The Jones Bridge replaced a much smaller bridge a few meters from the present site. The old Puente de España was built in 1875 during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines. During the American occupation, the bridge was widened so it could accommodate more traffic. Then in 1914, non-stop rains damaged the bridge's piers. In 1916, the Americans commissioned Juan Arellano, who was then a member of the Bureau of Public Works, to design a bridge.

Jones Bridge during its construction. © Arkitekturang Filipino

Workers installing the steel frames of the Jones Bridge. © Arkitekturang Filipino

The construction of the new bridge started in 1919 and was completed in 1920. The bridge was inaugurated in 1921 as Jones Bridge, in honor of the American lawmaker William Atkinson Jones.

The Jones Bridge is reminiscent to those of Paris, particularly the Pont Alexandre III. ©

An illustration of the gilded piers, balustrades, lampposts, and arches of the grand Jones Bridge. © Arkitekturang Filipino

Aside from its ornate piers, arches, and balustrades, there were four (4) pillars with statues adorned the bridge. The famous of all the statues was the La Madre Filipina, or "The Filipina Mother". All the statues were commissioned by Juan Arellano to sculptor Martinez.

La Madre Filipina. © Nostalgia Filipinas

Jones Bridge facing north, going towards Binondo. Note the two pillars adorning the bridge. ©

Jones Bridge looking west towards Manila Bay. The Post Office can be seen on the left side and the Binondo and Escolta business area on the right. © Flickr/John T. Pilot

The Battle of Manila brought destruction to the entire city, including the Jones Bridge. The bridge was bombed by the Japanese Imperial Forces in to delay the advance of the American forces. After the war, it was rebuilt through the Philippine Rehabilitation Act. The bridge was rebuilt still under its original name, but not its original neo-classical design.

Jones Bridge after the war. A temporary bailey bridge was installed to connect the two points of the city. ©

After the war, the bridges four pillars were placed throughout the city. The most famous, the La Madre Filipina, was placed at the Rizal Park. The two other pillars were reportedly seen at the Court of Appeals Building in Manila, and the other one is nowhere to be found.

Jones Bridge at the present time. ©Flickr/risadlp

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Manila City Hall

The Manila City Hall at night. © Panoramio/jsantiago

Civic and government edifices built during the American occupation would always stand out, as it reminds us of the importance of these institutions. The Manila City Hall is one of the key government buildings constructed in American Manila. 

The Manila City Hall during the Japanese occupation, circa 1942. Photo taken from the walled city of Intramuros. © Flickr/Beyond Forgetting

The Manila City Hall during its construction stage, taken from the Legislative Building along P. Burgos Drive. © Manila Nostalgia/Ingrid Donahue via Lou Gopal

The Manila City Hall was designed by architect Antonio Toledo and was built in 1939. The city hall is adorned by a hexagonal tower with three clocks on three of its facets. After its completion, the building received negative reviews for its lack of aesthetics, lack of entrances and how the clock tower was placed.

The elevation plan for the Manila City Hall's iconic clocktower© Arkitekturang Filipino

The City Hall's courtyard during the Japanese occupation, circa 1942. © LIFE via Arkitekturang Filipino

Sadly, the City Hall was not spared from the ravages of war. During the Battle of Manila, the city hall was heavily damaged from shelling. 

The shelled city hall viewed from Burgos Drive. ©

The city hall after the Battle of Manila in 1945. © Flickr/ Beyond Forgetting

Manila City Hall's tower bombed out by artillery shells during the dying days of the war in the capital. © Tumblr/MLQ3 

After the war, the city hall was rebuilt through the War Reparations program of the United States and was criticized due to the shape of its floor plan which looked like a coffin or a shield of the Knights Templar. According to urban legends, it was made to look like a coffin to pay homage to those who died during the Battle of Manila.

The city hall's clocktower as viewed from the courtyard. © L' Heure Bleue

The courtyard. © Senor Enrique

One of the city hall's balconies facing the National Museum and Taft Avenue. © The Hippie Mum

Manila's iconic clock tower in the present time. © Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, May 5, 2013

San Agustín Church, Museum and Monastery

San Agustín before the powerful 1880 earthquake. © Life (Photo retrieved from Goldwin + Vina)

Women go crazy when they hear this church, saying that it is their dream wedding church. Because of its elegant interiors, this is the place of choice for weddings. For many, this is truly the most beautiful church, not just in Manila, but in the entire Philippines as well. Dubbed as the 'Wedding Capital of the Philippines, the San Agustín is the oldest stone church in the country.

The location of the San Agustín inside the walled city.

Concealed inside the 64-hectare walled city of Manila is the San Agustín Church. The church was a monument to the Spanish conquest of the Philippines. It was the first church to be built by the Spaniards in Luzon after relocating the capital from Cebu.

The church courtyard is adorned by several granite sculptures of Chinese lions, given by Chinese converts to Catholicism. The layout of the church is in the form of a Latin cross. It has fourteen side chapels and a trompe l'oeil ceiling painted in 1875 by Italian artists Cesare Alberoni and Giovanni Dibella. Up in the choir loft are hand-carved 17th-century seats of molave, a tropical hardwood.

The church contains the tomb of Spanish conquistadors Miguel López de Legazpi, Juan de Salcedo and Martín de Goiti, as well as several early Spanish Governors-General and archbishops. Their bones are buried in a communal vault near the main altar.

Tombs of some of the well-known scions in Philippine society. ©

Tombs of Spanish-Filipino industrialists Don Jacobo Zóbel Zangróniz and Don Antonio de Ayala. © Flickr/Jun Acullador

 The mortal remains of the Adelantado Don Miguel López de Legazpi interred in San Agustín. © Flickr/The Traveler Who Likes To Stay At Home 

The present San Agustín is the third structure erected on the same site. The first was made of bamboo and nipa, and was completed in 1571. It was destroyed by fire in 1574 during an attempted invasion of Chinese pirate Limahong. The second structure was made of wood and was again destroyed by fire in 1583. The fire started when a candle touched the drapes during the funeral of then Governor-General Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa. In 1586, construction of the final structure started based on the designs of Spanish architect Juan Macías. The third and final structure was made of adobe stone which was quarried from nearby towns of Binangonan, San Mateo and Meycauayan. 

The San Agustín still bearing its other belfry, circa late 1700s. © Arkitekturang Filipino

San Agustín became operational in 1604 and was declared complete in 1607 and was named Iglesia San Pablo de Manila. In 1762, the British forces invaded Manila during the Seven Years War, which involved Spain and Great Britain. During the British occupation of Manila, San Agustín's valuables were looted.

The interior of San Agustín's nave viewed from the choir loft. © Augustinian Churches and History

In 1854, Spanish architect Luciano Oliver was commissioned to renovate San Agustín. Then in 1875, two Italian painters Cesare Alberoni and Giovanni Dibella were commissioned to paint the ceiling of San Agustin. The two painters used the trompe l'oeil style where in a painting would look like a 3D figure.

  San Agustín's ornate and Renaissance-like trompe l'oeil ceilings. The ceilings were painted by Italians Dibella and Alberoni. © Flickr/Juan Paulo

"Sedate and direct to the point, the facade follows the style of High Renaissance. The symmetrical composition is prefixed by pairs of Tuscan columns that flank the main door of the two-tiered facade. The vertical movement of the paired columns is adapted at the second level by equally paired Corinthian columns. At the second level, mass and void alternate in a simple rhythm of solid walls and windows. The two levels, emphasized by horizontal cornices, are then capped by a pediment that is accentuated with a simple rose window.

Some of the trompe l'oeil details found inside San Agustín. ©

The facade’s hard composition is held together by two towers; unfortunately, the missing left belfry further exaggerates the lackluster facade. It was taken down after a destructive earthquake hit the church in 1863 and 1880, splitting the tower in two.

The trompe l'oeil dome at the transept crossing looks like the Renaissance churches in Europe. ©

The facade has a touch of Baroque by the ornately carved wooden doors that depict floras and religious images. Baroque is also evident in the carved niches that quietly reside between the paired lower columns. The church is bequeathed with Chinese elements in the form of fu dogs that emphatically guard the courtyard entrances." (excerpt from the Heritage Conservation Society)

Large glass chandeliers adorned the church's interior. The chandeliers were installed in the 19th century and were imported from France. © A Muse Astray

San Agustín measures 67.15 meters long and 24.93 meters wide. Its elliptical foundation has allowed it to withstand the numerous earthquakes that have destroyed many other Manila churches. It is said that the design was derived from churches built by the Augustinians in Mexico. The façade is unassuming and even criticized as "lacking grace and charm", but it has notable baroque touches, especially the ornate carvings on its wooden doors. 

Inside the nave, glass chandeliers adorned the church's interior. According to Fr. Pedro Galende, O.S.A., curator of the San Agustín Museum, the chandeliers were purchased and imported from France during the 19th century. The chandeliers survived the 1863, 1880 earthquakes and recently survived the Battle of Manila in World War II. 

In 1863, a devastating earthquake hit Manila which led to the destruction of most buildings. Only San Agustín was left undamaged. Then in 1880, a series of powerful earthquakes struck Manila. But this time, the earthquake left San Agustín with a huge crack on its left belfry. The belfry was eventually repaired, but soon after, it was permanently removed as it appears at the present time.

San Agustín after the devastating 1880 earthquake which left a huge crack on the left belfry. © Arkitekturang Filipino

In 1898, San Agustín became the place of surrender of the Spanish troops after the mock battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War.

San Agustín with its left belfry removed. © Intramuros Manila

47 years later, San Agustín became a target of artillery pieces. During the final days of the Battle of Manila, the Japanese retreated inside Intramuros and used it as a defense barrier because of its thick and high walls. Long before the war, Intramuros was considered a 'holy city' because of the number of religious institutions situated in the 64-hectare city. San Agustín became a hospital and an internment camp.

The pews in the nave of San Agustín are in a mess. The church became a hospital and later an internment camp. © Flickr/dennis_raymondm19

After the liberation, all of Manila was reduced in rubbles. Important districts of the city were gone such as Sta. Cruz, Binondo, Ermita, and Tondo. Intramuros was the most devastated district with almost all buildings wiped out. Only San Agustín was left standing.

American GIs pause for a prayer in front of San Agustín during the Battle of Manila. © LIFE (photo retrieved from

San Agustín after the liberation. San Agustín was the only structure in Intramuros left standing. © Flickr/John Tewell

In 1993, San Agustín along with other four churches was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its contribution to Philippine history. 

San Agustín as it looks in the present time. © Philippine Weddings