Spanish Colonial Period Architecture in the Philippine Context

Arch 16 taught me that, generally speaking, there are two main concepts affecting architecture – context and culture. The pre-colonial architecture clearly showed the manifestation of these factors in the layout, structure, design, settlements, and fortifications of the early barangay. Architecture, to be successful, should give consideration to the context in which it shall be applied or built, and to the culture of the people settled in that area. During the Spanish Colonial Period, the conquerors built many structures, replacing the ones made by the natives. The question now is whether the Spanish Colonial Period town plans and structures, as applied from the Laws of the Indies, are appropriate for the Philippine context and culture.

First, when we studied context in architecture in Arch 16, we focused mainly on the climate factor. The Philippines has a hot humid climate and the architecture in this kind of context should ideally maximize the shade and minimize the heat capacity so as to attain the main objective of cooling the body. Perhaps this is attained by the Arquitectura Mestiza, which is a hybrid of Philippine and Spanish design. The bahay na bato has features that allow proper ventilation and the materials used address to our country’s conditions. However, the bahay na bato, which is a like a bahay kubo with the stone walls acting like a “curtain” on the ground floor, was already a product of several trials and errors. This means that the original houses built by the Spaniards were easily burned down by fires and torn down by the frequent earthquakes in the Philippines. Fortunately the designers came to realize that “pure stone” houses aren’t right for the Philippine context. This shows that Spanish design doesn’t always work everywhere because context affects architecture.

Aside from housing, the Spanish rulers also influenced the country’s architecture through the general town plans or layout. The Laws of the Indies shows careful consideration of the climate of the location regarding this matter. Some ordinances emphasize the need for proper orientation so as to maximize the cool winds.

Although the architectural plans during the Spanish era somehow address the context, the next thing is to determine if these address the Filipino culture as well. The Spaniards were determined to Christianize the country. They built several Catholic churches by carefully trying not to offend the culture of the Filipinos. The Laws of the Indies shows how the Spaniards didn’t want to force the natives into converting. Rather, they wanted to persuade them through proper planning and through the beauty of their churches. Culture affects architecture, and even the planning done by the Spaniards were affected because they had to reach out also to the culture of the locals of a specific place.

The Spaniards had the authority over the things to be built in the land of the Filipinos. Thus, their design and concepts may have the tendency to be biased to them. According to what we learned in Arch 16, architecture defines who we are. Should the planning be in the hands of the Spaniards, the resulting architecture may reflect who they are, not who we are as Filipinos. Should the architecture reflect them, it might not be very successful because the Spanish context is far different from the Philippines’. However, in my opinion, the Spanish Colonial architecture is not absolutely Spanish style. They had the chance to adapt to the Philippine context and culture in order to truly reach out to the natives and make their plans appealing to them so as to acquire their acceptance and support. They grabbed that chance and therefore came up with architecture that addresses the Filipino climate and culture.


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