Bring the architect back to City Hall!

Those acquainted with infrastructure say that there are two types, the horizontal consisting of roads, bridges, waterworks, sewerage systems, flood control, land traffic and the vertical which are structures above ground like houses, schools, hospitals, markets, public housing, capitol buildings and public facilities. Engineers construct the horizontal while architects take care of the vertical. Evidently, both have to work in unison and harmony;  both are vital to community and nation-building.

Notably, during the American colonial period, the Bureau of Public Works had an office of architects who designed public buildings, bridges and plazas. When the first batch of pensionado Filipino architects came home, they worked for that Consulting Architects office and designed spectacular edifices some of which have survived to this day.

In 1991,  Republic Act 7160 a.k.a the Local Government Code (LGU Code), authored by Senator Aquilino Pimental was signed into law by President Corazon Aquino. Many administrative functions of the national government were devolved to local government units and positions of provincial, city and municipal engineers were created. However,  Senator Pimental overlooked vertical infrastructure so the position of architect at the local government level became optional (.Sections 443, 454 and 463). I wonder if the United Architects of the Philippines noticed that. Could that be why public vertical infrastructure is hardly pleasing to the eye?

Hope springs eternal, my elders used to say.  House Bill 02681 may yet awaken pride of place.  Titled “ An Act Mandating the Creation of an  Office of Architectural Planning and Design in municipalities, cities and provinces” , its author is Rep. Christopher de Venecia of the 4th district of Pangasinan. The Committee on Local Government received it in August 2022; it had a first reading;  I hope it passes both chambers and is signed into law by President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

Rep. de Venecia said that “ the most progressive and desirable places to live in and visit are designed well… We also know how the best of public architecture makes the pride of country burn in a citizen’s breast. … HBO2681  makes the positions of provincial, city and municipal architects mandatory because our  LGUs need engineers and architects to work together to revitalize, enhance  municipalities, cities, and provinces all over the country, not just in the wealthiest business districts….”

Beyond aesthetics, Rep. de Venecia’s bill stipulates the appointment of the  Building Official who is either an engineer or architect,   mandated to review and approve the plans for all public and private buildings.  To maintain check and balance,  the city and municipal engineer and architect cannot be concurrently the Building Official. However, HBO 2681 allows them to give technical advice to the Bid and Awards Committees and Technical Working Groups.

To further stress the importance of an architect, Rep, de Veneria said,”  Beautifully functioning environments are the result of the collaboration between engineers and architects with many other creative disciplines such as landscape architecture, interior design,  urban design and environmental planning…The architect, by his/her educational skills and training has both the macro perspective and critical eye for detail to be the orchestrator, conductor and performance artist. Because of this experience collaborating and marshaling the efforts of diverse disciplines into a cohesive whole, the architect is equipped to comprehend and appreciate a plan’s potential to impact public welfare and civil life…”

The Heritage Conservation Society wholeheartedly supports HBO2681. We believe that architectural design is a crucial ingredient for the making of our public places and government buildings, and the provincial city and municipal architect used to play the important role of overseeing this.  There was a time when architects were primordial in the making of municipal and provincial infrastructure.  We recall that glorious period when the likes of Juan Arellano, Antonio Toledo and Federico Ilustsre held the position of Consulting Architects of the Bureau of Public Works. Consider the magisterial capitolio of Misamis Occidental in Oroquieta city built in 1939 by the Bureau of Public works, designed by Juan Arellano, the Manila Post Office, the Senate which is now the National Museum of Fine Arts.

Today with few exceptions and with sad irony architects do not design much of our public architecture.  To many eyes including those of tourists, the design quality of our public buildings has been increasingly poor, ugly in fact.

One thinks of all the damage that the absence of the city architect and the absence of the architect’s holistic global perspective have brought to this country in the form of no-design government buildings, the destruction of public spaces, and the demolition of significant heritage structures and sites. Please pass that Bill that will bring the architect back to City Hall. ( HCS statement was prepared by Architect Dominic Galicia who converted the Dept. of Tourism building, formerly  Dept. of Agriculture,  into the awesome National Museum of Natural History,  punctiliously observing heritage conservation codes.