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Studio Ong’s Modern Touch Renews The Filipinas Heritage Library

Here’s the behind-the-scenes scoop on the library’s design and architecture

After 26 years since its public opening at the Nielson Tower, and 9 years since moving to the Ayala Museum, the Filipinas Heritage Library embraces the old, the new, and the Filipino in its latest renovations.

The Filipinas Heritage Library is home to many collections of books and audio records that are a representation of Philippine history, art, and culture. According to the Filipinas Heritage Library’s official website, “its mission is to spark and stoke interest in the visual, aural, and printed story of the Filipino.”

Spearheaded by Studio Ong with lead designers Arch. Charisse Ong and IDr. Coleen Ong, the new look of the Filipinas Heritage Library takes on a more modern design whilst still ensuring that the Filipino essence remains present.    The Filipinas Heritage Library is not the first time Studio Ong has worked with the Ayala Foundation, as they had commercial projects with Ayala Malls previously. This already established relationship between Studio Ong and the Ayala Foundation then opened the opportunity for them to work on the Filipinas Heritage Library, as they were tapped by Arch. Mihlgrace Samonteza of Ayala Foundation Inc. right by the time the Ayala Museum’s renovations had kicked off. The foundation was looking for a young team of designers to handle renovations particularly for the Filipinas Heritage Library, and Studio Ong was just the right team they were looking for.

The Filipinas Heritage Library renovation project started as early as the fourth quarter of the year 2019, where the team first began conceptualizing the design of the new library. With regard to the design in general, Architect Charisse Ong shares “As a library that housed one of a kind Filipino books and historical facts, we wanted to be respectful in complementing that through the use of materials, color schemes and finishes but with a modern touch.” After clearing out theirs and the library’s objectives–which were to “​​refresh the look and feel of FHL, increase seating capacity, and synergize with the Museum”–Charisse and Coleen were able to come up with four design points to shape the identity they wanted to give to the library: New-Old, Clever, Intrapersonal, and Filipino.

By New-Old, Studio Ong wanted to achieve an ambiance that felt like you were surrounded by history with the utilization of modern design and architecture. The glass box encasing shelves of books at the center of the library is the main point of the New-Old element, and it was inspired by I.M Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre museum. Bring in Clever and Intrapersonal, where Studio Ong wished to maximize space and prioritize library users. Studio Ong acknowledged that there are different types of library goers with different preferences, so the library has a variety of features such as a meeting room, semi-private area, stadium to the lounge, and phone booths to cater to “diverse types of users who can concentrate better and yet not feel boxed in.” 

With the diversity of library users in mind, as well as after doing thorough research on the library’s spacial layout, Studio Ong was able to create just the right layout to maximize every corner of the floor without compromising the privacy of the library users. The lead designers expressed, “…we understood that functionality is vital. From what would make users have a better stay to what would make Librarians be efficient with their work.” The Clever element can also be presented in the study of the Admin offices, as well as the use of hidden storage units. With regard to preservation, Studio Ong shared that rare collections were prioritized and stored in enclosed glass cases away from the sunlight or natural light. 

The last, and quite possibly the most essential, of the four design points would be Filipino. Studio Ong expressed that this element would be achieved through the warmth of the library, as well as through particular furniture points that evoke the essence of Filipino. The lead designers recognized the use of oak wood inside the library, so they decided to make this their main finish for the library, which also symbolizes the “Filipino’s warmth and hospitality.” The use of round pendant lights in the library is meant to symbolize pearls, a material predominantly found in the Philippines. Vito Selma further shared this about the furniture he included in the library: “We wanted to highlight Philippine material and craft in this beautiful space. Wood is always our main material, but for the project, we incorporated rattan, stone, bamboo, and rice husk… It's all about highlighting what we can find abundantly in this beautiful country.”

Overall, the main aim of the Filipinas Heritage Library’s new design was to create a more inviting, enticing, and comfortable space for library users to immerse themselves in the historical books and records of the Philippines. The achievement of this aim was pushed forward by having almost all stakeholders, “from the Librarians and end users to the Museum’s Design and Construction team,” collaborate in the design process. Studio Ong shared, “We took into consideration their requirements, wish lists, the pros and cons of old library design, processes and flow to ensure that we improve their experience moving forward. We were lucky we had such a collaborative and active group which allowed us to have enough time to understand the nuances of the project.”


You may visit the Filipinas Heritage Library from Wednesdays to Saturdays (10:00 AM - 6:00 PM) at 6F Ayala Museum, Makati Avenue cor. De la Rosa St., Makati City.

Photographs Courtesy of Studio Ong