“Plus Ultra” – Geronimo Manahan told U.P. Class ’99

March 16, 2018



Angel Yulo

I never had the pleasure of meeting the late Geronimo Manahan. Not having studied architecture, my opportunities to chat him up in the university corridors or attend one of his lectures were slim. But through the tributes—full of gratitude and tenderness—on my social media feed last month as well as personal recollections, I know he has left his mark in Philippine Architecture.

Here is a man who shaped today’s design principals, architects, educators—mentors of the millennial generation. Dusting off BluPrint’s inaugural issue of 1999, I re-typed sections of Manahan’s commencement speech to that year’s batch of graduates. The article even noted the specific date: April 15. Who remembers being in that room? I envy you.

I’m starting to understand why dean Manahan was well-loved. There is definitely more to dig up in our archives (to be posted another time). But I hope the excerpts remind you why you practice, whether you are of Class ’99 or ’18.

Passage to Architecture

Every day you put your thoughts on paper as scribbles is a day to rejoice. Mark that day not only for celebration, but as a step toward what you aspire for in architecture. Let me help you launch into a vast sea of knowledge with several paths to choose. Mark them well. There will be more beyond. For the youth in architecture, this may be an enlightenment—the commencement of a new path.

For this, you have many to give your thanks—the Almighty, your mentors, your parents and loved ones, your barkada, classmates, and friends. They are always supportive and very proud of your endeavors. Do not forget them for they are your protectors from your detractors. They are your potential clients and conduits to clients. Nurture these connections.


I offer my thoughts to you as an informed elder of the profession. Consider me as your pathmaker in your quest for professional success in the coming 21st century. As your mariner in the “uncharted sea,” I may be able to articulate and synthesize what architecture can mean to you. Be confident. My experiences in architecture, spanning three decades and six years, are indeed long, memorable, and rewarding.

Just imagine how fast technology has changed. In 1956, the architect’s tools were the T-square, the slide rule, the ruling pen, a crow quill, compass, and divider to draft and draw. Today, you have the computer to do your graphics. But you still have to do the drafting and design manually to know the basics.

On the other hand, we old architects have to struggle to learn the new tools of the trade. The gamut of software and Internet terms keep changing every month. This helps our mental calisthenics. For the young ones, it is part of their daily architectural practice.

So read, and read intently on, if you want to know about architecture. Do you want to know what must be done? Do you know how to discern the signs of when you should do what you want with your career in architecture? Do you want to get employed as an apprentice in an architectural firm? Do you want to have a high-salaried position immediately, forgo diversified training, and take the government examinations without preparation? To this last dilemma, I advise you to complete your diversified training so that your chances of passing are great.

Your journey will be difficult. It will be frustrating. The successes will be far and in between the first five years. You will be asked to choose—to decide. Do ask your mentors in architecture questions. Be inquisitive, especially at the job site. You must know more before deciding. You will, at times, be indecisive because you do not yet have the skills, nor have you experienced recurring situations in your growing practice.


In the next millennium, when you are at the height of your practice, the path to economic development will not be through the wanton exploitation of natural resources nor the use of human muscles. As we are beginning to experience, the human mind will be your resource for wealth creation. All creative endeavors will take full account of the new power of knowledge and of the acceleration of information in the development of the global economy.

Our nation, and consequently your practice, will thrive on freer expression. There will be better feedback between governors and the governed. There will be popular participation in the decision making, particularly in design decisions related to shelter systems and livelihood. There will be less bureaucracy.

The fundamentals of local governance, in place since 1991, has created greater independence for the individual, the devolution of power from central authority, and a greater humanization of governing. As a result, towns and cities are developing faster. With the ability of local governments to handle knowledge, watch out for local transformations, particularly in the urbanizing areas.

Twenty-first century living

In the 21st century, we will live in a very complex society. As we approach national urbanization, we will still fear for individual safety. A large majority of our population will still live below the poverty level. The population grows at an alarming rate, but always bear in mind that our natural resources are not expanding.

Pluralism of cultures will prevail. Not one culture or ethics will dominate. As architects, you will be looked upon to be the harbinger of culture into architecture. As sages, you have to do it well.

In the information age, the speed of communication brings in competing cultures, none speaking for the majority. Except in this mind-boggling deluge of information, there will be synthesis and synergy. You, as architects, must select well. With a keen sensibility, you will enjoy the diversity.

Plus Ultra

In the ancient seafaring days, where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet, there were the legendary lighthouses of stone and bronze built by Hercules. They were covered with inscriptions and surrounded by statues which warn: “There is no way beyond me. Beyond me there is no passage for those who enter the ocean from the Mediterranean.” To the ancients of Europe, this was translated to the motto Ne Plus Ultra. “Ne” means “none” in Latin.

In the Middle Ages, the Atlantic Ocean was the “Sea of Darkness,” indicating Medieval Europe’s fear and ignorance of the Atlantic. To the Arabs, the Atlantic was al-Bahr al-Muhit, the “All Encompassing Ocean.” The name and concept have proven extraordinarily persistent over history.

For the classical world, the Pillars of Hercules were not actual pillars of lighthouses, but two mountain peaks on either side of the Straits of Gibraltar, Calpe, and Abila. This was the gateway to the unknown, the Atlantic Ocean, and beyond.

The Arabs of Spain changed the concept Ne Plus Ultra. Here is evidence:

The Catholic monarchs who sponsored Columbus in his voyages lived in Seville, in an Arab palace, the Alcazeres Real. At the end of the 15th century, Seville was the city from where the explorations of the New World was orchestrated. It was also in Seville where Magellan set out his adventures in the Pacific,

Seville was dominated by the minaret of what had formerly been the Grand Mosque. Throughout this architectural complex, decorative tiles made according to the old Islamic technique bear, below a representation of the Pillars of Hercules, the motto Plus Ultra—”There is more beyond.”

The removal of the negative, the two letters “n” and “e,” from the old motto was one of the greatest achievements of the human spirit. This lead to new thoughts and new discoveries which were lost in the 14th century.

Make this lesson in Spain your guide in your journeys for a career in architecture. Your adventures in your “all encompassing ocean” can be less fearsome if you have resolve; if you look out to the future from a vantage of the past; if you learn from those who have gone before you; by being united and not divisive; if you think Plus Ultra—“There is more beyond.”

This journey becomes very promising when done through efforts based on diverse cultures, knowledge, and technologies working in unity to recover common legacies. 

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