In A Country Centered Around Churches, Arch. Roy De Guzman Is One Of The Few Liturgical Architecture Experts
This passionate architect and professor hopes to grow liturgical architecture in the country, one retablo at a time
In 2015, there were at least 85 million Filipinos or around 82% of the total population who identified as Roman Catholics. This is why religion and faith has always been central to the Filipino culture.
Many of us have photos of our baptism, dressed in layers of lampin and held in the hands of our ninang and ninong. Most grew up with memories of Simbang Gabi and the smell of cooking bibingka and puto bumbong wafting through the church doors. Sundays have always been spent inside the local parish, donned in our best conservative outfits and flanked by our family members and neighbors. Millions of Filipinos start their lives and culminate it inside the church—from baptism to first communion to marriage.
But while churches have almost become a second home to us, Filipinos, it’s still rare to have professionals like architects or engineers specializing in the construction, upkeep, and restoration of churches. It’s for this reason that we were piqued by the work of Arch. Roy De Guzman, a UAP-Outstanding Young Architect of the Year 2017 awardee, an architectural history lecturer, and founder of RDG Architects + CTi Builders—an architectural firm that specializes in designing liturgical spaces.
We talk to this inspiring young man and find out more about how he has dedicated his life to pursuing his love for history and his passion for liturgical architecture.
Starting on the path to liturgical architecture
Churches have always fascinated Roy, who spent a lot of this time as an architecture student discovering and learning more about the history and architecture of churches.
“I have been interested in heritage churches since my college days,” says Roy. “When I have a free day or when there is a student convention, I would sometimes drive alone or with my friends to visit heritage churches. My professors and classmates know I am a history geek, and at that time, social media like Instagram and Facebook were not as established yet. It was only on flickr.com and FEU library books that I encountered information and resources. Even with gadgets, you’re lucky if you have a DSLR and can upload in flickr.com with a purchased premium account.”
“Even before graduating, I was endorsed by Ar. Lorelei de Viana, then our dean at FEU, to work formally in the National Museum of the Philippines. There I was involved with several projects—declared National Cultural Treasures such as the Guian Church in Eastern Samar, Loboc Church, and Loon Church in Bohol before the Bohol earthquake and Typhoon Yolanda in 2013,” Roy adds.
Eventually, all of these fascination and work with church history and architecture led him to creating a Franciscan Monastery design for his thesis, which was awarded Best Thesis.
Working with sacred spaces and churches was not all research, as well. It’s as much as a way of life for Roy, who spent a lot of time with priests to understand the needs of the clergy who use the space, and the intricacies of religious design.
One of the most important work that led to his formation as a liturgical architecture was his work with Architect-Priest, Rev. Fr. Alex O. Bautista, with whom he had intense training and exposure in detailing for sacred spaces.
“He taught me a lot in terms of comfortable anthropometry for the firsthand users—these are the priests, nuns, and lay ministers inside the church. Even sizes of cabinets for sacramentals, sacred books and liturgical vestments, he gave justice to standard design. Of course, the liturgical considerations were ingrained in his method of training me. My training grounds were the churches and sacristies of the Parish of Our Lady of Mediatrix of all Graces in Lipa, Batangas; the Sanctuary Shrine of Saint Josemaria Escriva in Gerona, Tarlac; and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Peter in Tuguegarao, Cagayan Valley, for which we created a Master plan,” said Roy.
Creating a firm that specializes in liturgical architecture
By 2016, Roy knew that he had the expertise, the skill, the knowledge, and the network to start expanding the work that he does. So, with a gaming laptop, an A3-sized printer, a good foreman friend in the person of Kuya Nato, and moral support from his parents, he set out and created RDG Architects + CTi Builders.
With the help of his network, his seniors in college, the people he would meet in seminars and liturgical workshops, he began to find more work, help more churches, and grow his firm. Roy found that for him, every project he did taught him something, which he carried with him to the next one—failures and challenges included.
One of Roy’s specialties is working with retablos, which are a focal point in many churches. These retablos are placed on the mayor or on the transept, commonly attached on the walls with niches on its façade to house religious imageries or statues. These altarpieces are more than just grand art and architecture designs; they are filled with symbolisms themselves, used to convey religious ideas or meanings dedicated to the specific parish, or represent a miraculous event.
One of the retablos they worked on was the retablo at San Agustin Church, which shows how much meaning and history can be preserved in a single retablo. Their documentation about the retablo reads: “Each retablo is interconnected through Heavenly Jerusalem symbols that defines the passion, philosophy, and view of the icon on each niche. The conscious effort to apply and review the ornamentation and style of each retablo relieves the idea of immersing oneself through culture and history. San Agustin Church defines the Art of Love in different aspects and views that gives the audience the meaning of evangelization.”
While Roy’s work spills over to heritage conservation and restoration, Roy humbly admits that he is not yet an expert on that niche. For now, his specialization on liturgical architecture enables him to dabble in different aspects of architecture, heritage structure documentation, morphology mapping, and assets analyses that will be crucial to restorations and conservations of churches. Think of it as in-depth research and building a historical and structural bible of the church’s structure—all the details like altar tables, altarpieces, and doors included—to understand better each church, and so that future restorations and efforts at conservation will be easier accomplished, mostly after wear and tear or typhoons and natural disasters ravage the church.
Apart from rigorous documentation, of course, Roy’s firm also designs and builds church interiors, facades, and altarpieces. Their work with the Ermita Shrine Sanctuary is inspired from the transition of art deco and post-war modernism in the Philippines, and was designed by Carlo Santos Viola, who also designed Iglesia ni Kristo and Capuchin churches.
Roy admits that his process when he works is simple: “I always pray, especially in front of the Blessed Sacrament. I’m also very optimistic when it comes to researching and nag-eenjoy lang ako sa ginagawa ’ko.”
Establishing a legacy
Right now, Roy is also a professor of Architectural History at FEU, where he gets to not only share and talk about what he loves the most, but also mold aspiring architects to follow their own paths—whether that’s liturgical architecture or not.
“I took a different path in the local practice of architecture, so I always advise my students to explore and find their niche in the very diverse architecture practice,” said Roy. “Lagi kong sinasabi, ‘Try a different path. Hindi lahat sa atin magiging designer, contractor, urban planner, or a full-pledged architect. Our profession offers a wide variety to practice.’”
This is also why Roy wants to continue his education and exposure to liturgical studies and classical architecture abroad. He believes there is more to see and learn in the world of liturgical architecture—including his dream churches abroad such as the Sagrada Familia by Don Antoni Gaudi, Goa Church in India, and Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the US—so that he can apply all the learnings in his future projects here.
“I want to retire sharing my knowledge in the academe and probably train future church architects and designers,” said Roy. “We don’t have a formal school or academic program in the Philippines related to liturgical design or intensive Classical architectural training, not even architectural standards for church building design. Hopefully magkaroon na rin dito.”
And maybe—with his heart and passion in the right place—Roy will be the one to start that revolution in liturgical architecture that he dreams of in the country.