A Tribute: National Artist For Architecture Francisco "Bobby" Mañosa Has Died At 88
Photo from Gelo Mañosa on Facebook
National Artist for Architecture Franciso "Bobby" Mañosa has died due to illness yesterday at 88. For over 50 years, Mañosa has devoted his life and career to the development, preservation, and promotion of Philippine neovernacular architecture, and was even at the forefront of sustainable architecture. He was named a National Artist just last October. As we mourn the passing of an icon, we look back on how he brought modern Filipino architecture into fruition.
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You wouldn’t think it at first but music was Francisco Mañosa’s first passion. A self-taught pianist, his passion burned with such ferocity he was determined to make it his life. Fate, of course, had other plans. This little bit of seemingly apocryphal trivia starts to make sense once you become acquainted with what he eventually made his life instead, once you see how that creative fire found new ways to burn. And chances are, all of us, at some point, have become acquainted with his work. You probably know Francisco Mañosa more by his nickname Bobby. But the Mañosa name bears its own pedigree in the world of Philippine design and architecture. More vital than the trophies and the renown, his work has exerted an immediate and tangible presence in the everyday lives of Filipinos throughout the years. The first LRT station is among these works. The EDSA Shrine, too. The Moonwalk Church in Las Piñas. The Ateneo Rockwell Center. The Medical City building. The San Miguel offices in Pasig. The Coconut Palace, quite possibly his most iconic work.
There is a functional sobriety to Mañosa’s work, a classicism and rigor that aspires to the timeless, and achieves it, tempered by a sense of beauty, of playfulness, of, shall we say, musicality. But there is, more crucially, a striving for the endemic at the core of his aesthetic, one could almost call it bullishly nationalistic, a reflection of his love of country and of its culture. In many ways this impetus to make Philippine architecture for Filipinos is a reaction to how more and more Filipinos have been co-opting foreign designs for their homes, to how mongrelized we have become as a culture, not just architecturally. But it has become more than a mere strategic imperative for Mañosa, but pretty much the philosophical bedrock on which he would build and fortify his, and his company’s, aesthetic.
The humble nipa hut, the bahay kubo celebrated in folk song, indigenous to the Philippines in the way many designs are indigenous to their country of origin, would be Mañosa’s prototype inspiration, an organic structure that nevertheless seems conceived with a deliberate architectural discipline out of how it factors in the climate and environment and culture that surrounds and impacts it, and how it endures and persists in all its simplicity more than several centuries later. Mañosa saw a certain elegance and perfection in it. He also saw the future.
To claim, though, that he merely modernized the bahay kubo, may be a bit reductive. Mañosa is credited no less for bringing modern Filipino architecture into fruition, and this is mostly because modernizing the bahay kubo was not so much an end for him but a point of departure. His vision was loftier, more holistic than a mere fusion of materials, and even now that his company is under the aegis of his children, it remains in the grip of this vision, this evolutionary step from one endemism to another, a vision of architecture as a means of upholding and reinforcing a distinct cultural sensibility, a sensibility he believed wholeheartedly was and is ready for the world and second to none. His fidelity to this vision was such that he would turn down projects that refused to align with this. He doesn’t regret any of it.
His most famous creation, the Coconut Palace, may well be the perfect distillation of this vision but it is nonetheless apparent in everything he has done and everything his company still does. Architecture hewn from an artist’s soul and a patriot’s heart.
*This article was originally published in Metro Home & Entertaining magazine.
Photo courtesy of UAP and PIA