Notes on a Building: on remembrance, cultural preservation, and identity

November 21, 2018



Arielle Abrigo

This is the nature of human memory: to note in order to trace; and to trace in order to recall. It is a way of navigating the world; moreover, expressing the self through familiar marks by which identities are made.

Notes on a Building (NOAB) introduces these markings through fragments, wholes, vignettes of sorts, and jottings. It ushers us to a historied journey through a vivid documentation of various structures. A design expert will walk with us in each episode to help us unravel the architecture and design, while touching on the rich past and other interesting points of the featured building. The show aims to raise and sustain awareness about the importance of sustainability in today’s design, and to occupy the thought behind protecting and preserving Philippine heritage sites.

heritage conservation
The top floor of the First United Building, an Art Deco masterpiece by Andrés Luna de San Pedro. Photographed by Ed Simon of Studio 100.

Individuals are largely defined by things present in remembrance, like those approaching ruination, or those already in decay. Remembrance repositions the previous in one’s awareness. It is to value the once devalued. Here, to remember is to understand sustainable development in the context of conservation. Briefly outlining the definition, it is a development that meets all needs and aspirations of the present without forfeiting the ability of future generations to cater to their specific needs. Cultural heritage is amongst those that contribute to meeting today’s needs and aspirations.

heritage conservation
The noonday sun filtering through the Manila Central Post Office. Photographed by Joshua Del Rosario.

Recalling what was stated by urban theoretician Aldo Kossi, he says the city becomes the collective memory of the people living in it. The community identifies with the elements a heritage site represents, therefore, insinuating a feeling of identity. Likewise, keeping Philippine heritage sites can maintain the sense of belonging. Not only does it play a role in defining a landmark within an area, but heritage conservation also offers advancement in this rapidly changing world. It is capable of mapping us back to origin. To destroy a heritage is to form the antithesis of sustainable development.

Aside from notations, NOAB is a platform that opens the conversation about the ecological perspective of heritage preservation and why it is considered an environment-friendly act. The renewal of old structures is beneficial to the planet, and is more cost-efficient than proceeding with demolition.

heritage conservation
The 126-year-old Basílica Menor de San Sebastián in Quiapo, Manila, the first and only all-metal building in the Philippines. Photographed by Joshua Del Rosario.

Recognizing cultural heritage in its full light is in line with the acknowledgement of environmental, social, and economic sustainability. In architecture, these begin with research, but above all, with us noting the reasons why heritage sites should not be removed from memory. Since architecture is a participant in the nationalist discourse, thus it becomes both a cultural artifact and a product of nationalism. Being aware of this means understanding the value of protecting and preserving Philippine heritage sites. With NOAB, architecture is not just an output distinguished through sight and touch. It becomes a strong contributor in forming and instilling national consciousness.

Francisco Mañosa once uttered: “Architecture must be true to itself, to its land and its people.” Translating architecture, and foregrounding it in the image and likeness of its people—whether in erecting new forms, reconstructing, or retaining—is remembrance, and a step closer to articulating the Philippine national identity. B ender

READ MORE: What was Vigan like before the UNESCO Heritage fame?

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