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    It’s been 23 years since I’ve moved to Canada from the Philippines.  I remember that the first thing I looked for was a Filipino community paper so I can read some news about the community being new in Calgary.  I never found any Filipino community paper back in 1996. From them on I told myself that [...]

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Page added on February 27, 2012

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Leandro Locsin: Philippine National Artist for Architecture

by Ida Beltran-Lucila

One of  Manila’s notable  landmark is the CCP  Complex. Built on  reclaimed  land, it holds the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Theater, Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), Philippine   Center   for   International  Trade   and   Exhibition (PHILCITE),   and   the Sofitel Philippine Plaza – all designed by Leandro Locsin, making it a virtual Locsin complex.

Leandro V. Locsin (1928-1994) is the 3rd Philippine National Artist for Architecture (1990), after Juan Nakpil (1973) and Pablo Antonio (1976). Most Filipino architects of his time were trained in Europe and the United States, or have taken undergraduate or graduate studies abroad. He, on the other hand, pursued his studies solely  within the Philippines.  A talented pianist, Locsin enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory  of Music to pursue a career in music.  A year before graduating, he shifted to the School  of Architecture in the same university. While pursuing  his architectural  studies, he  worked  as an  artist-draftsman  at the Ayala Corporation. He graduated in 1953  but before  establishing his practice, he designed stage  sets for  ballets. Later on, he would design for the esteemed dance pioneer, Martha Graham.

In 1955, Locsin was commissioned by  the Catholic Chaplain of the University  of the Philippines, Diliman, to design a chapel that is open and with a capacity of 1,000 people. The Church of the Holy  Sacrifice, the first round chapel in the Phils. with the altar in the centre, and the first to have a   thin   shell   concrete   dome,   is   now a   landmark   not   only in   the   university,  but is a declared National Cultural Treasure by  the National Museum  and a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute.

A visit to the United States marked encounters with architects Paul Rudolph, known for his use of concrete and  highly  complex floor  plans, and  Eero Saarinen,  famous for  simple, sweeping, arching structural curves or machine-like rationalism  style.  These two would have the greatest influence on Locsin, as evidenced by his succeeding works.

Locsin’s designs are marked by  his distinct use of concrete, themes of floating volume, the use of native materials, the roof emphasized as the dominant form, wide   overhanging eaves, massive supports, interior lattices and trellises, ornamental  detail contasted with simple forms, and  spacious interiors. His peers have described him  as the “Poet of Space” for  the  way he articulated space using straightforward geometry.

Up to the time of his death, his body  of works include 75 residences and 88 buildings, including 11 churches/chapels,   23   public   buildings,   48   commercial   buildings,   six   major   hotels,   and   an airport   terminal   building.   Aside   from   the   five   structures at the CCP complex, other notable works are: the Philippine pavilion at the World Expo in Osaka, Japan (1970); the original Ayala Museum  (1974); some  buildings at the University of the Phils.,  Los Banos; Ninoy  Aquino International   Airport; and the Church of the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.

Locsin placed  the  Philippines on  the world map in  1969  with  his most recognizable work, the Cultural Center of the Philippines – with its gentle sloping curves giving way  to an enormous box and  a large lagoon  in front,  thus creating  the  impression of suspension. But his largest  and most spectacular  work is the  Istana  Nurul  Iman  (Palace of  Religious Light), the palace of  the Sultan   of   Brunei. The palace has a total floor area of 200,000 sqm, a grand reception hall accommodating 5,000, a throne room  with a capacity  of 2,000, and two mosques crowned by a dome plated with 22-carat gold. Malayan and Islamic   motifs, modern   lines, and  the latest building technology blend in what has been hailed as the new Versailles.

In 1959, Leandro Locsin was one of the recipients of the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Awardees for  Architecture  and in 1992, the Fukuoka Asian  Culture  Prize.  His citation for  the Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prize states:  Mr. Locsin’s works beautifully incorporate such traditional qualities with  the  openness and  vastness of modern architecture. His unique  interpretation  of architectural  features such as lattice and curved lines are eloquently expressed in his modern, Western form of  art. What lies behind this originality is his principle: to synthesize  or to blend Western and Eastern culture. Without this theme, the modern architecture of the West could not have   taken   root   within   the   existing   Filipino   architecture…  His private   life   is   characterized   by continued commitment to other arts and culture. He is a fine pianist, a deeply committed admirer of oriental  art and the visual and performing  arts. When his multi-faceted artistic talent is fully exhibited in architecture, its details display a well-calculated beauty of form, and its appearance reshapes the urban landscape… His phenomenal career is not only evidence of a natural wealth of   talent,   but   also a tribute   to his Filipino   mentors and to Filipino   culture   which in   its colorful variety has been a cradle of genius.

Indeed, significant and symbolic words for a Philippine National Artist – hailed both for advancing our culture and for leaving an astute and creative legacy.

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