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The Philippine national pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale is at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila

Text and photos by Edgar Allan
M. Sembrano, Contributor

The Metropolitan Museum of Manila is hosting the Philippines' first foray into the prestigious Venice Architecture Biennale, the exhibition "Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City," as it is brought home.
"Muhon" is the country's representation in last year's Venice Biennale 15th International Architecture Exhibition held from May 28 to November 27 at the Palazzo Mora in Strada Nuova.
It was the first Philippine participation in a major international architecture exhibition, a project of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) with the support of the Department of Tourism, Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda.
The Philippines' participation in the 15th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia came at the heels of its comeback in the 2015 Venice Art Biennale after a 51-year hiatus.
Curated by Leandro Locsin Jr., Sudarshan Khadka Jr. and Juan Paolo de la Cruz, the exhibit explores Filipino heritage consciousness from mostly post war buildings in Manila evaluated by architects and artists for their cultural significance and them being cultural identifiers of the residents of the relatively young Manila metropolis, having it been reconstructed following its destruction from World War II.

It also delves into the connections and disconnections these properties illicit in terms of heritage, modernism, and the subsequent developments and redevelopments.

Among those structures and sites that were analyzed and given abstract renderings and architectural mutations are the Pandacan Bridge, Ramon Magsaysay Center, Makati Stock Exchange Building, Philippine International Convention Center, the demolished Manila Mandarin Hotel, Tahanang Pilipino or the Coconut Palace, Binondo-Santa Cruz districts, Kilometer Zero in Luneta, and the historic Pasig River.
These edifices and places tagged as “muhons,” Tagalog for “place-markers,” were selected, surveyed, and examined for reinterpretation by participating artists, architects and architectural firms, which include Poklong Anading, Tad Ermita¤o, Mark Salvatus, Ed Calma, Jorge Yulo, C|S Design Consultancy, Inc., LIMA Architecture, Ma¤osa & Company, Inc., and 8x8 Design Studio Co.
The interpreted sites and structures were mounted into three rooms, “History,” “Modernity,” and “Conjecture,” discussing their state of infancy, present conditions, and future directions.
The homecoming exhibit also plays with the often misunderstood concept that heritage and development do not bode well with each other. It also opens into discussion the lack of awareness on heritage preservation in which significant buildings are either wrongly repurposed, left to rot or worse, eventually demolished.
Locsin explained, “The primary objective of the exhibition is to question the debilitating mindset of a damaged identity ascribed to the conflict between fashion and commercialism, and a desire to conform to a preconceived notion of self and history.”

Cultural diplomacy
The prime mover of the Philippine participation to the Venice Biennale 15th International Architecture Exhibition, Legarda said the exhibition underscores the importance of architecture in responding to human needs.
“Building is not only about creating new structures all the time [but] it is also about revitalizing communities and connecting the present with the past,” she said.
Legarda added that “cities and its architecture, in a way, shape our personal narrative while allowing us to connect as community.”
She explained the exhibit also creates a dialogue on the architectural heritage of the country, the progress Philippine architecture has made in the decades following the liberation, and their protection and conservation.
The senator also urged every Filipino to preserve their heritage and stressed the importance of such events in nation-building and diplomatic relations since “art is a form of cultural diplomacy, which is a soft opener to our political and economic initiatives with other nations.”
The homecoming exhibit was accompanied by a lecture, “The Big Idea,” on November 11, featuring speakers Leandro Y. Locsin, Jr. and Alexander Dominic A. Mayoralgo. The lecture presented “the history, modernity, and legacy of Leandro V. Locsin’s architectural spirit,” and enjoined the audience “to traverse three fundamental threads of thought: ‘Where is Mr. Locsin’s place within modernity?,’ ‘How is his legacy alive today?’ and ‘What is the value in what architects and designers do?’” It also tackled the multi-faceted narrative of the different phases of Locsin’s life, culminating in an exposition of his design process and quest for meaning in architecture.

“Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City” runs from October 27 to December 29, 2017 at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila on Roxas Boulevard, Malate, Manila.

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