An architecture for the people


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There is an increasing awareness today about the role of architecture – that it is more than just building and designing, and that it has a social task. This socially conscious task, among others, is creating awareness of people’s needs and mobilizing the latter to come up with alternatives.  Thus, we are today witnessing the coming together of some groups of architects and artists to work on “community-engaged designs,” a concept where people are the “soul” of the spaces.  It is building towards creating empathy.  Like the Greeks in ancient times, setting up an “agora” where people can come together to exchange concerns, incubate ideas, arrive at solutions to problems, or merely socialize.

One who visits the Philippine Pavilion of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia this year would be able to see some kind of fulfillment of that vision. It is our country’s offering – the “Tripa de Gallina: Guts of Estuary. Curated by architect Choie Y. Funk and Sam Domingo, it features the work of the architecture collective, a group of development-oriented architects.

It is inspired by a 7.6-kilometer creek that traverses multiple cities and the focus of the exhibit is a “diagnosis of the water’s condition and a prognosis of the people’s future.” As we know, this had resulted in congestion and contamination of the waterway. Undoubtedly, it is a response to a dire need in the country today – clean, unpolluted water!

This project by a group of architects and community development practitioners is an architectural solution in the form of a 320 square meter space where a bamboo structure was built and which is intended to be a “place of gathering and investigation, for exchange of ideas that can lead to a solution to a problem. The choice of bamboo is intentional as we have some of the biggest and most impressive varieties of bamboo in the country – about 60 species, in fact.

Within that bamboo structure, the Biennale visitor can listen to a soundscape, the sounds of children and other noises of the city. An image of a river warrior with his red boat filled with sacks and plastic bags and showing him cleaning the waterway is also shown. One can also see developments in later years – rural to urban migration and efforts to clean up the environmental damage that had arisen.

But, what is more interesting than archival materials of the historical past is that the exhibit allows us to have a glimpse of an alternative future. In a recent feature written by Pam Pastor in another paper, she cites these observations. “From the bamboo structure flows another projection: a crayon-scrawled estuary, its water clear and blue. Pencil drawn fish swim along a boat bobs past. Lining it are trees and colorful houses, drawn by the children who live along Tripa de Gallina. Those illustrations are manifestations of their aspiration: A neighborhood that coexists with nature, where trees grow leafy and strong and animals can thrive.”

The Biennale exhibit offers a model of the many exciting challenges for our entrepreneurial architects and artists.  By demonstrating how architecture can shape our national identity, and balancing the need for preservation as well as need for modernization.  By helping us envision an alternative future, architecture can be one of our most important partners in national development.