Thomasian architect and National Artist for Architecture Francisco Mañosa: Translator of the ‘Filipino’ in Architecture

By Levine Andro Lao

The works of Thomasian architect Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa spell out his fate of becoming a national artist. Think of the EDSA Shrine, the Coconut Palace, and the Davao Pearl Farm: these are among the landmarks, gifted to us by Mañosa, that bring a sense of pride and identity to the Filipino.

To be true, these architectural gems are only testaments to a more important philosophy, which Mañosa has since been advocating. For, long before he became a paragon in the practice of vernacular architecture, he already believed that what we build must blend with indigenous culture. His case has always been aesthetics that is put in practice.

Much of this was presented in an exhibition of his works at the National Museum of the Philippines, which was fittingly titled “Mañosa: Beyond Architecture.” The showcase featured the documentation of the architect’s notable works that span his over 60 years of practice.

In one interview, Prof. Gerard Lico of the University of the Philippines praised the personal principles and the ingenuity of Mañosa, whom he regarded to have revolutionized the use of indigenous materials and the local methods of building houses in Philippine architecture.

Also the exhibit curator, Lico noted that Mañosa concerned himself with complementing the local attributes of a tropical country with the spatial concept of his architecture, which resulted in his reinvention of the bahay kubo.

“For his designs, Mañosa processed sawali, abaca, bamboo, rattan, shells, local textile, and other materials, using new technologies and techniques to find more applications for them rather than merely using them for decorative purposes,” the curator added.

Aside from the use of locally found materials, also characteristic to Mañosa’s designs are high ceilings and large windows, which are architectural provisions for the tropical climate of the country. These were adopted, and have become the trademark of his firm, now known as Mañosa & Co., Inc.

Designs, principles

The Shrine of Mary Queen of Peace, more popularly known as the iconic EDSA Shrine, would have looked differently had Mañosa not designed it.

In a revelation by his wife Denise, she narrated that some decades ago, Jaime Cardinal Sin asked the architect Mañosa to build a church on a site donated by the Ortigas family and John Gokongwei, which was located at the corner of the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) and Ortigas Avenue.

“Bobby’s vision for the Shrine was a ‘People’s Basilica’ with the structural outline of a bahay kubo but on a grander scale—with seven pitched roofs clustered together, framing a statue of the Blessed Virgin,” Denise wrote before revealing that her spouse, in the middle of the meeting, walked out on the project after his first presentation because the committee had initially “preferred a Spanish design for the church.” Perhaps his reaction was to be expected; Mañosa has been known to say “I design Filipino, nothing else.”—a bold statement that reportedly had cost him dearly, for he turned down lucrative offers because the clients wanted some trendy foreign style for their projects.

Denise remembered her husband, even saying, “I believe I am not your architect. I cannot do that to our country or to our people.” He made his point, and the Cardinal listened. The result was a promenade with the towering image of Mary, sculpted by Virginia Ty-Navarro, and an underground church, which is no bahay kubo yet still something that embraces the milieu of the metropolis and reflects the history of the Filipino people.

Another display of Mañosa’s genius is the “Tahanang Pilipino,” (Filipino Home) which was originally for the purpose of housing the visiting artists, who were to perform at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Today, the structure is known as the “Coconut Palace”; its name taken from Mañosa’s innovations on the use of mainly the materials from the coconut tree to erect the grand structure.

Among other notable edifices that mark Mañosa’s artistry are the “nature church” of the Mary Immaculate Parish in Las Piñas and the Amanpulo Resort in Palawan, which earned for him the Asia Pacific Interior Design Award and the Best Beach Resort Worldwide, which are given by the United Kingdom-based Gallivanter’s Awards for Excellence.

UST’s pride

Mañosa was officially declared a National Artist last Oct. 24 in a formal ceremony held in Malacañan Palace. Other newly minted National Artists were filmmaker Eric Oteyza de Guia, more known as “Kidlat Tahimik”; musician-composer Ryan Cayabyab; writer-scholar Resil Mojares; dramatist-puppeteer Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio; Hiligaynon writer Ramon Muzones; and cartoonist Lauro “Larry” Alcala.

Only a Presidential Proclamation can declare a Filipino a National Artist. This award is a national recognition in the fields of Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film and Broadcast Arts, and Architecture or Allied Arts.

Mañosa is a 1953 graduate of the University of Santo Tomas under the BS Architecture program. He is trailblazer in the field of vernacular architecture and, of course, an outstanding Thomasian.

The author, Levine Andro Lao, is a part-time faculty member of the Ecclesiastical Faculty of Philosophy, University of Santo Tomas. He is the Executive Assistant of the Office for Grants, Endowments, and Partnerships in Higher Education, UST. While in college, he was Managing Editor of the Varsitarian from 2008-2009. The Varsitarian is UST’s official student publication.

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