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Building and Soul

Heritage Conservation as a profession of devotion
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The architectural heritage conservation practice throughout today’s world is both pervasive and dynamic. As the world gets older, there is a need to provide a sense of identity and continuity for future generations, and more and more people endeavor to gather ideas and take action—especially solutions—in insuring them this. Architect Markel Luna is one of the people leading this discussion in our country. As a purveyor and lover of the arts (an architect, songwriter, and a professor), he dreams of raising a breed of architects that’ll regard architectural heritage conservation as not just as a mere practice, but a profession of devotion.

Ar. Markel Luna at the Main Archway of the Inner Walls

It is a work of passion, grounded heavily on the love for our country and its history. During the interview, Architect Luna was more of a professor than an architect. Instead of showing off and explaining in detail some of his impressive works and projects throughout his years of practice (which we got to squeeze in as a sidebar), he decided to educate and inform people about heritage conservation and why it’s important to us and our country.

Consolidated Balusters of the Inner Walls

A More Solid Foundation

“Heritage conservation goes beyond just preserving and restoring a building.” the Paco Park heritage conservationist started explaining that there are many ways and forms as to how one could possibly conserve and attempt to conserve our architectural heritage such as rehabilitation, restoration, reconstruction, preservation, and adaptive reuse.

Research also plays a big role in heritage conservation. “You need a systematic and logical approach to conservation. You cannot decide to conserve a building based on a whim.” A Conservation Management Plan (CMP) is a document that helps develop the maintenance strategy for historic assets, sites, and places. It explains the significance of the asset and examines how any future use, management, repair, or redevelopment will be carried out in order to retain its significance. Having drafted several of this, he knows fully well how important proper documentation and research are in his field. “When we were tasked to do the CMP for a church in Bohol, we took the time to not only get to know the history of the structure but the community using it too,” He shares how his work grants him the serenity to sleep at night knowing that he’s making a difference in people’s lives one building at a time. “It is what keeps us going. A sense of purpose and a grander realization of our role in nation-building.” Architect Luna smiles.

Part of Paco Park & Cemetery’s rampart, during restoration works

Why We Need to Conserve

Not only natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods affect important historical landmarks, changes in the environment, pollution, and ‘irresponsible’ tourism pose a threat to them too. Several of the world’s landmarks are rendered off-limits to the public due to the degeneration that has been caused by uncontrolled visitors, and historic buildings are often mismanaged and left for decay. Heritage structures and sites are representations of the past and several times it becomes hard to understand why exactly we need to spend time, energy, and money to preserve these. And in a world blinded by new and towering structures that can be built in months, how does one prove that conserving old sites is still as important as building new ones? Architect Markel names a few of his many reasons why.

Architect Markel Luna
The St. Pancratius Chapel, with the fountain at the foreground

Legacies of our Ancestors and Custodians of Memories

Heritage structures and sites are living monuments and record certain events from the past. They are our tangible connection to the past and celebrate the existence of our ancestors. These “custodians of memories” are gifts from our ancestors to this generation. The former strived to build structures that will last so they can pass it on to their children and their children to their own, and so on. Conserving these, then, is no less than giving due respect to their hard work and perseverance.

Symbols of Philippine Culture

Heritage structures and sites are symbols of our country’s culture and history. Many of our heritage structures and sitesprovided comfort and places for worship (Philippine Baroquechurches), sustained life (Banaue Rice Terraces), and now remind us of the atrocities of war and colonization (Intramuros). They are a reflection of the Filipino’s steadfastness, spirituality, love of life, and resilience.

Monuments to Filipino Values

Architectural structures and sites are our extensions. Through our Architectural Heritage, we learn about what we’re made of. They are deeply connected to our moral standards; thus, we are reminded to uphold and strengthen the values that our forefathers have instilled in us, assuring that the Filipino Spirit shall be kept alive by future generations.

“You need a systematic and logical approach to conservation. You cannot decide to conserve a building based on a whim.”

Consolidated Moldings and Repointed
Stones of the Inner Walls

Providers of a Sense of identity and belongingness

Heritage structures and sites are reflections of our roots. Deeply associated with our forefathers, they give us a clearer understanding of what we are as a race, and how we are as social Filipino individuals; They are Reminders of what have transpired in the past, sources of priceless lessons: from political decisions that destroyed us, to effective solutions that benefitted the whole nation; thus, we are given the opportunity “to enhance and emulate the good” and the chance “to rectify and avoid the bad”.

Our architectural heritage can positively contribute to a community and can be a potent driver for community action. Every historical structure or site has an important story to tell and these stories have inspired many people to strengthen their conviction and commitment to fight injustice and oppression. We’ve seen groups file petitions before the Supreme Court, seeking the demolition of any new structure that will ruin the “visual dominance” of heritage structures, sites, and monuments in our country, which proves that Filipinos are slowly reconnecting to their heritage.

Because it adds character and distinctiveness to an area, our architectural heritage is fundamental in creating a ‘sense of place’ and a distinct ‘spirit of place’ for a community.It can have a very positive influence on many aspects of community development. D+C


WORDS: Lean Panganiban
IMAGES: Estan Cabigas

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