Sunday, February 05, 2012

Manila loses Meralco Head Office in San Marcelino

Old Meralco Head Office as of 7:50 a.m., February 5, 2012 (Architect Dom Galicia)
Meralco Head Office before demolition (Architect Paulo Alcazaren)
It's being described as a travesty as vicious as the demolition of the Jai Alai Building! We just lost the Meralco Head Office in San Marcelino, Manila, an Art Deco gem designed by Architect Juan Arellano in 1936. Its facade has relief sculptures by Francesco Ricardo Monti. The Arellano-Monti collaboration makes the building even more significant.

According to Architect Paulo Alcazaren, the Meralco Head Office is "one of the key urban edifices in burgeoning Manila, the headquarters of the power and transportation company Meralco (Manila Electric Rail and Light Company). It was one of the most modern commercial buildings in Manila before the war and was designed in the Art Deco-streamline style. It had the country’s first air-conditioned office spaces (Carrier). The building’s most distinctive feature was a tall (four-story) sculptural relief by Francesco Monti."

On the Monti work, Architect Manolo Noche notes, "More than any other works by Monti, the 'Furies' is his one big commissioned bas relief that is not religious in nature. This should be declared a national work of art. If lost this is tantamount to artistic murder."

What saddens me even more is our helpless response to try to stop the demolition. It's about time we come up with a list of owners of recently demolished works of National Artists and renowned architects. It's really frustrating!

Alcazaren asks, "Why lose another heritage building? Why don't people see the value in conserving layers of history?" He adds, "[layers] without which we will eventually lose all ties to the past, all hope of a foundation for an urban future, a future that now seems destined to create placeless cites, soul-less buildings, devoid of history, culture or sense of identity, save those imposed by the gods of profit."

The fact that it is happening now, with RA No. 10066 - National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 in place, is totally unacceptable. Maybe our legislators, especially the sponsors of the law, should start asking for answers. Have they given more teeth to an agency that doesn't seem to know how (or want) to use it? We need answers fast! The NCCA needs to file cases now!

Here's a close-up of the Furies by Francesco Monti being demolished as we speak. What are these ladies thinking now? What fury lies in store for Manila? Which side will win? Culture or commercialism? Heritage or the sledge hammer? A sense of place or a senseless, placeless city? (Architect Paulo Alcazaren)

Update (02/07/2012): Now that the dust has settled on the Meralco Head Office demolition and information is now more complete & clear, I realized that architects have a large responsibility in the preservation of our heritage sites. When the owner found out about the value of the structure, they stopped the demolition.

I hope the United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) plays a significant role in the dissemination of RA10066 among its members. If there's anyone who should have understood the value of the structure, it's the architects. While they may not have had anything to do with demolition, they should have informed the owners immediately that there was a heritage building on their property. G&W Architects could have proposed an adaptive reuse of the Meralco Building as facade or entrance portal of the 30-floor all-glass building they were planning to build. At least the building would have had character.

As Dom Galicia points out, "There seemed to be no guidance from their architects regarding the value of Juan Arellano. The owners have stopped the demolition and Paulo Alcazaren is now going to try to convince them to recreate a replica of the facade, and to preserve remnants of the tranvia barn tracks."

Since it is not part of the competencies of the Manila City Engineer and his staff to know what is a heritage building or not (engineers have no training for that I would believe), we are now coordinating with the Institute of Philippine Culture (IPC) of the Ateneo de Manila University, which has been conducting comprehensive and intensive surveys and research on the built heritage of Metro Manila (NCR), to provide the LGU with that list. Too bad it's taking our government institutions so long to come up with a registry. Good thing the private sector is doing its share!
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