Early this year, the architecture community was abuzz with proposals when they heard that the City of Manila was finally renovating that strip of underpass that thousands of people pass through each day. The Lagusnilad Underpass—connecting Intramuros to Manila City Hall—was infamous for being dingy, crowded, and “commercial” with stalls selling Divisoria goods, side by side with people, mostly students from Intramuros schools, and workers from the city hall.

For years, it remained in a sorry state that entering the newly renovated underpass, which was formally opened by Manila Mayor Isko Moreno today, Aug. 24, was like walking in a different world. We were so accustomed to what Manila looked like, that we didn’t realize it could be this good.

Entering from either of the two entrances, you’ll be greeted with vertical gardens filled with healthy potted plants. Let’s hope it stays the same way, even after political “winds” have changed.

GREEN ESCAPE A patch of green, as seen in the vertical gardens at the entrances, provides a slice of relief in this part of the city

The ceiling of the underpass is filled with wooden slats, giving the entire underpass a contemporary vibe, with pin lights and mood lighting strategically placed to provide the best illumination. There are also CCTV cameras to make the underpass experience a safe one, 24/7.

The highlight of the underpass is a giant art mural depicting the country’s history, with heroes from Lapu Lapu to Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal. It is a commendable effort and it plays its part well as a background for selfies and groufies. Soon, when the time comes when physical distancing is a thing of the past, crowds would surely fill up the space, making that art mural a trendy—and trending—background for IG snaps.

HISTORY WALK A giant art mural depicts Philippine history and heroes (All photos by Johannes L. Chua)

What’s also delightful is the visually appealing giant back-lit photos of the city’s famous landmarks—Luneta, Manila Cathedral, National Museum, San Sebastian Basilica, among others. It serves both ways—as a background, again, for selfies, and as a promotional tool to invite others to visit these places, too.

TOUR GUIDE A series of photos shows popular tourism and historical sites around Manila

More than the history and the tourism aspect of the newly renovated Lagusnilad Underpass, it is its nod to heritage that’s laudable. Directional signs leading to Intramuros, to Manila City Hall, or to SM Manila, are given the baybayin translation. This kind of effort, even if it seems “little” in the eyes of some people, just proves that there can be a healthy mix of old and new, of looking back just to move forward.

Overall, the new underpass may not yet be fully complete (there’s a mini bookstore that would soon open), but its design and look may be the design goal—and benchmark—of each and every other underpass that would be renovated from now on.