15 Iconic Structures Of The Philippines

Engr. Emilson C. Gole Cruz
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Renowned scientist Neil de Grasse Tyson once said that culture is most present in a country’s art and architecture; it’s what makes a country its own, it’s what sets it aside from others.

The Philippines has had its share of cultural diversity, having been exposed to foreign cultures in the past. These foreign powers influenced more than just the lifestyle of the Filipinos, and more so, changed the way Filipinos appreciated beauty, including aesthetics of architecture. Architecture in the Philippines today is the result of a natural growth enriched with the absorption of varied influences. As a result, the Philippines have become an architectural melting pot of ideas.

Over the years, Filipino architects and builders have successfully contributed to the enhancement of the Philippines’ scenery through man-made structures that have been part of our rich history or edifices that have been built just recently. We have produced some amazing architectural structures that can be considered as national gems, not just for their aesthetics but also for the way they molded the country into to what it is today.

University of Santo Tomas Main Building

University of Santo Tomas is the Philippine’s oldest university and the first earthquake resistant building in the country. In 1920, Roque Ruaño was assigned to draw up plans for the UST Main Building. During the years 1922 and 1923, the plans were finally completed and construction began in 1924.

The structure is a rectangular building having a dimension of 86 meters long and 74 meters wide with two interior courtyards or patios. The most significant feature is the fact that it is actually made up of 40 separate structures independent from one another with the only opportunity provided by pre-cast stab flooring. But some locations of the separations are now difficult to determine exactly because of the numerous cosmetic changes the interior of the building which has undergone over the years.

The first classes were held on July 2, 1927. Since then, the Main Building has been the focal point of the campus. It is where all succeeding structures revolved. After its opening, the Main Building, specifically the clock tower, served as the city’s Kilometer Zero until it was replaced by the Rizal Monument in Luneta.

In 2010, a year before the quadricentennial anniversary of the University, the National Museum of the Philippines declared the Main Building, along with other important structures in the University, as National Cultural Treasures.

Manila Cathedral

The Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is the cathedral of Manila and basilica located in the historic walled city of Intramuros.

The cathedral was originally a parish church in Manila built by Juan de Vivero, a secular priest, and was dedicated to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Back then, it was simply made of nipa and bamboo. It was then under the Archdiocese of Mexico in 1571, until it became a separate diocese on February 6, 1579 upon the issuance of the papal bull, Illius Fulti Præsido by Pope Gregory XIII. The cathedral was damaged and destroyed several times due to destruction caused by war, fires, typhoons, and earthquakes. The eighth and current structure of the cathedral was completed in 1958.

In 2012, the Basilica was closed under the orders of Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales for another major repair. The renovation, which was completed in 2014, upgraded facilities with LED lighting, sound systems which are digitally operated, and a structural foundation which are carbon-retrofitted.

Manila Cathedral also holds religious artworks and sacred relics of popes and saints, and serves as resting place for the remains of former archbishops in Manila.

Tanghalang Pambansa, Cultural Center of the Philippines

Tanghalang Pambansa is the flagship venue and principal offices of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin, its design was based and expanded upon the unconstructed Philippine-American Friendship Center. The Tangahalan is a primary example of the architect’s signature style known as the floating volume, a trait can be seen in structures indigenous to the Philippines such as the nipa hut. It houses three performing arts venues, one theater for film screenings, galleries, a museum and the center’s library and archives. Being a work of a National Artist, the brutalist structure is qualified to be an important cultural landmark as stipulated in Republic Act No. 10066

Construction began in 1966, with Alfredo Juinio serving as structural engineer. Originally called the Theater of Performing Arts, it was completed and inaugurated in 1969. The façade of the Tanghalang Pambansa is dominated by a two-storey travertine block suspended 12 meters high by deep concave cantilevers on three sides. The rest of the structure is clad in concrete, textured by crushed seashells originally found on the reclamation site. The building is built on a massive podium, and entry is through a vehicular ramp in front of the raised lobby and a pedestrian side entry on its northwest side. In front of the façade and below the ramp, there is an octagonal reflecting pool with fountains and underwater lights. On the main lobby, three large Capiz-shell chandeliers hang from the third floor ceiling, each symbolizing the three main geographical divisions of the Philippines: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. At the orchestra entrance, a brass sculpture, The Seven Arts by Vicente Manansala welcomes the audience into the main theater. From the pedestrian entrance, Arturo Luz’s Black and White is displayed as spectators enter the little theater or ascend to the main lobby through a massive carpeted spiral staircase.

Miagao Church

Located in Miagao in Iloilo, the church’s over-all architectural style falls under the Baroque Romanesque architectural style. Its ochre color is due to the materials used in constructing the church: adobe, egg, coral and limestone. The church’s foundation is 6 meters deep and the massive stone walls at 1.5 meters thick are intensified through the use of 4 meter thick flying buttresses as protection to the Moro invader.

The façade of Miagao church consists of an ornately decorated bas-relief in the middle of two huge watchtower belfries on each side. The bas-relief is a mixed influence of Medieval Spanish, Chinese, Muslim and local traditions and elements, a unique characteristic of the church façade. A prominent part of the façade is a coconut tree depicted as the tree of life where St. Christopher holds on. St. Christopher is dressed in local and traditional clothing carrying the Child Jesus on his back. The rest of the façade features the daily life of the people of Miagao during that time including native flora (like papaya, coconut and palm tree) and fauna.

National Museum of Fine Arts

Arguably the best example of neoclassical architecture in the Philippines, the building was originally designed by Bureau of Public Works Consulting Architect Ralph Harrington Doane and Antonio Toledo in 1918. It was built under the supervision of the construction firm Pedro Siochi and Company and the building therefore became known as the Legislative Building. The Second Regular Session of the 7th Philippine Legislature was formally opened on the inauguration of the building on July 16, 1926. In 1935, the Commonwealth of the Philippines was proclaimed, and the inauguration of President Manuel L. Quezon were held outside the building. The building became known as the National Assembly Building.

In World War II, Japanese forces in Manila bombed and destroyed the building in February 1945. It was rebuilt by the U.S. Philippine War Damage Corporation to the same dimensions but with less interior and exterior ornamentation in 1949. The building became known as the Congress Building, and continuously served as home of the Congress of the Philippines until 1972 with the declaration of martial law. The building was then turned over to the National Museum of the Philippines in 1998.

On September 30, 2010, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared the building as a “National Historical Landmark” by virtue of Resolution No. 8, A marker commemorating the declaration was unveiled on October 29, 2010.

San Sebastian Church

The Basílica Menor de San Sebastián, better known as San Sebastian Church, is a Roman Catholic minor basilica in Manila, is an example of the revival of Gothic architecture in the Philippines, and is the only all-steel church in the Philippines. It was designated as a National Historical Landmark in 1973 and as a National Cultural Treasure in 2011.

In 1621, Bernardino Castillo, a generous patron and a devotee of the 3rd-century Roman martyr Saint Sebastian, donated the land upon which the church stands. The original structure, made of wood, burned in 1651 during a Chinese uprising. Succeeding structures, which were built of brick, were destroyed by fire and earthquakes in 1859, 1863, and 1880.

In the 1880s, Esteban Martínez, the parish priest of the ruined church, approached Spanish architect Genaro Palacios with a plan to build a fire and earthquake-resistant structure made entirely of steel. Palacios completed a design that fused Earthquake Baroque with the Neo-Gothic style. His final design was said to have been inspired by the famed Gothic Burgos Cathedral in Burgos, Spain.

The prefabricated steel sections that would compose the church were manufactured in Binche, Belgium. In all, 52 tonnes of prefabricated steel sections were transported in eight separate shipments from Belgium to the Philippines. Belgian engineers supervised the assembly of the church, the first column of which was erected on September 11, 1890. The walls were filled with mixed sand, gravel, and cement. The stained glass windows were imported from the Heinrich Oidtmann Company, a German stained glass firm, while local artisans assisted in applying the finishing touches.

Manila Metropolitan Theater

The Manila Metropolitan Theater is a Philippine Art Deco designed by architect Juan M. Arellano and inaugurated on December 10, 1931.

The Metropolitan Theater façade resembles a stage being framed by a proscenium-like central window of stained glass which carries the name “Metropolitan” with flora and fauna motif surrounding the label. This helps bring in light to the lobby. It was highlighted on both ends by the curving walls with colorful decorated tiles in resemblance with the batik patterns from Southeast Asia. There are also moldings of zigzag and wavy lines that go with the sponged and painted multi-colored massive walls. The wall that framed the stained glass is a segmented arch with rows of small finials on the upper edge of the wall. Located in the entrance are elaborate wrought iron gates which are patterned into leaf designs and various lines. Accenting the ground level are Capiz lamps and banana-leaf formed pillars which go alternately with the theater’s entrances. Standing at the back is a huge vertical box decorated on the sides by geometric motifs. The ceiling profile of the auditorium was reflected in the exterior through stepped vaults.

The main auditorium projects a different character as compared to the building envelope’s ornamentality. A sequence of gradually lowered arches made of local wood, enhanced by panels with colorful motifs. These motifs were a combination of mangoes, bananas, and foliage painted by the brother of Juan Arellano, Arcadio. On top of the proscenium are figures symbolic of Music, Tragedy, Poetry and Comedy. Resembling bamboo stalks are the tapering lamps of translucent glass which surround the theater space. The focal point is the rectangular stage adorned with mango fruits and leaves motif.

Manila City Hall

The Manila City Hall is located in the historic center of Ermita, Manila. It is where the Mayor of Manila holds office and the chambers of the Manila City Council. It was originally intended to be a part of a national government center envisioned by Daniel Burnham in the 1930s.

During its heyday, the Manila City Hall was criticized because of monotony, lack of entrances and the clock tower location. But after years of its continued existence, the critics praise the design for its original intent. As other people may view it as a casket when seen from an aerial standpoint, it was intentionally formed to look like a shield of the Knights Templar which symbolized that the country is under the influence and protection of the Roman Catholic Church.

The building sits on a trapezoidal shape of the lot in between the Legislative and Post Office buildings. Due to the monotony of the building envelope, one cannot distinguish the principal facade from the main entrance properly. The south entrance has a balcony emphasized by three arches resting on Corinthian columns while the north rear has the same design treatment with the east and west sides, but has pediments all throughout and a tall, hexagonal clock tower capped by a dome.

Coconut Palace

The Coconut Palace, also known as Tahanang Pilipino is a government building located in the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex in Manila. Designed by Filipino Architect Francisco Mañosa, it was commissioned in 1978 by former First Lady Imelda Marcos as a government guest house and offered to Pope John Paul II during the Papal visit to the Philippines in 1981 but the Pope refused to stay there because it was too opulent given the level of poverty in the Philippines.

The Coconut Palace cost 37 million pesos to build and was partly financed by the coconut levy fund, which was set up to be used for the welfare of coconut farmers. It is made of several types of Philippine hardwood, coconut shells, and a specially engineered coconut lumber. Each of the suites on the second floor is named after a specific region of the Philippines and displays some of the handicrafts these regions produce.

The palace is shaped like an octagon while the roof is shaped like a traditional Filipino salakot or hat. Some of its highlights are the 101 coconut-shell chandelier, and the dining table made of 40,000 tiny pieces of inlaid coconut shells.

Araneta Coliseum

The Smart Araneta Coliseum, known as The Big Dome, is an indoor multi-purpose sports arena in the Cubao, Quezon City. It is one of the largest indoor arenas in Asia, and it is also one of the largest clear span domes in the world. The dome measures approximately 108.0 meters making it the largest dome in Asia from its opening in 1960 until 2001 when it was surpassed by the Ōita Stadium in Japan with a dome measuring 274.0 meters.

The Araneta Coliseum was constructed from 1957 to late 1959, and designed and built by Architect Dominador Lacson Lugtu and Engineer Leonardo Onjunco Lugtu. From 1960 to 1963, the Coliseum received international recognition and was recognized as the largest covered coliseum in the world. Today, it remains one of the largest clear span domesin the world with a dome diameter of 108 meters] It occupies a total land area of almost 40,000 square metres (430,000 sq ft) and has a floor area of 23,000 square metres (250,000 sq ft).

The coliseum opened on March 16, 1960, with Gabriel “Flash” Elorde boxing for the World Junior Lightweight crown against Harold Gomes. Additional improvements were made in 2012, including the renovation of the Red Gate entrance and the Green Gate side facade, and the replacement of Upper Box level seats, thus increasing its seating capacity.


San Miguel Building Corporation

Long before green buildings became vogue, the architect Francisco Mañosa took inspiration from the country’s indigenous landforms and geography in designing the headquarters of the San Miguel Corporation.

Constructed in 1979, the structure is a reflection of its time. Mañosa’s search for Filipino architecture tradition anchored on the philosophy of the bahay kubo, the humble symbol of the rural Filipino that is culturally and environmentally sensitive to its setting.

It is said that Mañosa integrated the Banaue Rice Terraces into the design concept of the San Miguel Corp. headquarters. With the use of modern materials such as glass, steel, and concrete, the structure turned into a masterpiece that stood on a well-manicured landscape imagined and executed by National Artist for Architecture Ildefonso Santos, considered to be the father of Philippine landscape architecture.

San Miguel Corp. moved into its new office building in 1984. The angled office windows complement the greenery that surrounds the building. With the windows fixed at an angle, it helps deflect the glare of the sun just as it tries to minimize the heat entering the building.

Church of Gesu – Ateneo

The Church of the Gesù is located at the Ateneo de Manila University campus in Quezon City .The landmark was designed by Jose Pedro Recio and Carmelo Casas. The edifice’s massive triangular structure symbolizes the Holy Trinity, as well as the three-fold mission and vision of the school. Its shape and design are also meant to suggest the outstretched arms of the Sacred Heart, and the traditional Filipino bahay kubo . The site has a total area of 10,200 square metres and seating capacity for 1,000 persons. The church is situated on Sacred Heart Hill, a small hill overlooking Bellarmine Field, believed to be the highest point in Loyola Heights. The peak cross and carillon of the church can be seen from Katipunan Avenue, which borders the campus to the west.


On September 30, 2001 the cornerstone of the church was blessed and laid. The church dedication liturgy for the church was celebrated by Cardinal Jaime Sin on July 31, 2002 and attended by several distinguished guests, including former Philippine President Corazon Aquino.

Inside the Church’s western entrance is a semicircle of stained glass depicting the Stations of the Cross. At the center of the semicircle is the church’s holy water font. It is placed on a hole on the floor with rim surrounded by the rays of the Jesuits’ seal. The stoup itself is an upright brown stone, with a depression on top acting as the basin and the outlet for the water covered with a clay plate with the Jesuit seal. The water circulates over the sides the basin, therefore the water is not stagnant and does not contain any debris, unlike other water font.

Grand Mosque of Cotabato

The Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid, also known as the Grand Mosque of Cotabato, is the largest mosque in the Philippines. The mosque is located in Barangay Kalanganan II in Cotabato City, and was funded by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei at a reported cost of US$48 million. It is also the second largest mosque in Southeast Asia after the Istiqlal Mosque of Indonesia.

The Sultan Of Brunei, funded the construction of this mosque with his own personal money to help the emerging Muslim population in the Southern Philippines. The mosque was designed by a Christian Architect Felino Palafox.

Zuellig Building

The Zuellig Building is an office skyscraper located in the Makati Central Business District owned by the Zuellig Group and developed by its real estate arm, Bridgebury Realty Corp. It was the first Platinum level LEED Core and Shell building in the Philippines upon its completion in 2013.

The Zuellig Building was designed by international architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, in cooperation with local architectural firm W.V. Coscolluela & Associates. Facade design was done by Meinhardt Hong Kong Pte. Ltd., while Structural, Mechanical & Electrical, and Fire Protection engineering & design was provided by Meinhardt Philippines.

The signature curtain wall glazing system employed utilizes a ceramic frit pattern for its distinctive exterior aesthetic. The dual pane low-e glazing in conjunction with the fritting ensures minimal solar gain and energy loss whilst simultaneously flooding 90% of the interior office space with natural daylight. The integral frit pattern takes inspiration from local organic motifs while reinforcing the vertical aspect of the tower. A smart building control system that utilizes sensor controlled lighting systems in combination with efficient HVAC systems has helped to reduce the buildings overall energy consumption by 15% when compared to conventional office towers. Grey water recycling and rainwater collection are projected to save nearly 29 million liters of water annually.

Philippine Arena

The Philippine Arena is a multipurpose indoor arena at Ciudad de Victoria, a 140-hectare tourism enterprise zone in Bocaue and Santa Maria, Bulacan. With a maximum seating capacity of 55,000, the Philippine Arena is the world’s largest indoor arena. It is one of the centerpieces of of the Iglesia Ni Cristo for their centennial celebration last July 27, 2014.

In 2011, Korean firm, Hanwha Engineering and Construction won the contract to manage the construction of the Philippine Arena. The groundbreaking ceremony for the Philippine Arena was done in August 17, 2011. The initial design concept of the Philippine arena is inspired by Narra tree, the mother tree of the Philippines, and the root of the Banyan tree. The roof was inspired by that of a Nipa Hut. Populous, a global mega-architecture firm, designed the arena through their office in Brisbane, Australia with structure’s architectural style of Modernist.

The arena has been master planned to enable at least 50,000 people to gather inside the building and a further 50,000 to gather at a ‘live site’ or plaza outside to share in major events. The seating bowl of the arena is a one-sided bowl and is partitioned into two parts, the upper and the lower bowl each with approximately 25,000 seating capacity. The lower bowl is the most used part of the building and the architectural design allows for easy separation of the lower bowl from the upper tier, by curtaining with acoustic and thermal properties. A retractable seating of 2,000 people capacity is also installed behind the stage which is used by the choir of the Iglesia ni Cristo for events of the church. D+C


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