INT'L  CONFERENCE  ON  HERITAGE  HOUSES:  KEEPERS  OF  THE  FLAME
 
MANILA, JULY 17, 2006 (STAR) By Claude Tayag - A house is not just a roof over one’s head. It is a home and testament to the people who live there as they journey through life, collecting not only memorabilia but also countless precious memories through the passage of time. It is a witness to its residents’ way of life, their history, social relationships, reflective of their culture, traditions and interactions with the community. It is a storehouse of a society’s heritage.

In a world where people have little time to reminisce over history, it is significant to look for ways to rebuild what has been thrown on the backburner of everyday survival.

The International Conference on Heritage Houses and Vernacular Architecture held last May 16-17 in Tagbilaran City, Bohol was conducted not just to promote the restoration of grand old houses but to create public awareness of the significance of these structures in preserving and rebuilding national or vernacular identity with the many stories it can tell the youth, the old, and others who hold great interest in understanding societies and culture.

The Metropolitan Museum of Manila, in partnership with Holy Name University, UNESCO, Globe Telecom, Pilipinas Shell, National Commission for Arts and Culture (NCCA), convened experts from the academe and other fields of creative industries, both local and international, to discuss significant issues on heritage houses. Participants from different parts of the country representing the academe, local government units, the construction industry, urban planning groups, private individuals and heritage advocates joined the two-day conference to be reeducated on the value of preserving heritage houses.

The highly successful heritage conference, the first of its kind in the country, attracted 495 attendees, listening, questioning, sharing and processing a range of concerns, opinions and recommendations. There were also relevant tours and social events that showcased selected architectural sites in Bohol and the local cuisine to provide participants concrete experience of the topics presented.

From the 20 covered topics on heritage houses and the processes and issues of restoring, preserving, and saving them, all the participants agreed that, indeed, a heritage house can play a part in revitalizing history, culture and tradition.

1. Baclayon Church (left), located some six kilometers east of Tagbilaran, was built in 1724, the oldest church in Bohol. It traces its origin to 1596 when two Jesuit missionaries came to establish the first Christian settlement on the island. The church is made of stone and boasts a magnificent collection of colonial ecclesiastical art such as its three gold-leafed retablos, statuaries, paintings on wood panels, hand-carved doors and ivory crucifixes. Many of these items are on display at the convent museum.

2. Local musikeros welcome the guests at the wooden 1920s Bastes house in Loboc. It is characterized by carved callado dividers on the second floor.

3. A framed lagang made of nautilus shell, a popular art form in Bohol during the 1920s, forms part of the memorabilia adorning the Bastes house.

4. A sarang or bamboo cage found in the 1930s Sagumba house is used for food storage of torta (similar to ensaymada), breads and other food items. It hangs from the ceiling to keep it safe from rodents. The house is characterized by its unusual rounded corners.

5. The Loboc Church built around 1734 has a unique three-story convento, perhaps the only kind in the country, with seven retablos, ceiling frescoes by Cebuano painter Rey Francia done in 1920, and elaborate decorative stone carvings on its exterior walls. Loboc is considered Bohol’s musical town because of its long musical tradition, exemplified by its brass bands, composers and choral groups such as the internationally award-winning Loboc Children’s Choir. It is said that when the first Spanish missionaries came, they noticed the natives’ natural inclination toward music and introduced catechism through song. Before long, they were begging the missionaries to be baptized.

6. A merienda of native kakanin was served during a leisurely cruise aboard a floating restaurant along the Loboc River towards a waterfall past lush tropical scenery.

7. The Clarin Ancestral House built in 1840 was declared a heritage landmark by the National Historical Institute (NHI). It is typical of the 19th-century style favored by the illustrados during the Spanish period, characterized by massive wooden posts, capiz windows, wide wooden planks for walls and flooring, and steep trapezoidal nipa roof. Owned by the politically prominent Clarin family, it is presently occupied by Olegario Clarin, Jr., now the mayor of Loay town.

8. Dinner at Café Olegario at the Clarin Ancestral House consisting of heritage recipes from the illustrious family. With the opening of the café, the public can now savor the same fare once served exclusively to the most prominent guests.

9. Winding upward through a stone stairway from the Clarin House is the 1822 Church of the Blessed Trinity and its freestanding belfry and three stone buildings located on top of a hill. Like many Bohol churches, the interior is elaborately painted with trompe l’oeil and its ceiling with Biblical scenes. The altars are in the neoclassical style.

10. The Blessed Trinity’s 165-year-old Spanish style pipe organ was operational until after 1945 and the liberation years. But due to neglect and theft of numerous lead pipes, it was abandoned for several decades. In 1997, then Bohol Representative Isidro C. Zarraga initiated its restoration, painstakingly undertaken by Filipino technicians trained in Austria and Germany. Enriqueta Butalid, wife of former Bohol governor Rolando Butalid, played us several pieces by Handel and Purcell.

11. Victorino M. Manalo, Metropolitan Museum of Manila director, spoke on how restoring and saving heritage houses can help communities through creative industries. Creative industries are those that utilize creativity as the main resource. For instance, heritage houses can be incorporated into cultural tourism. These architectural legacies can reflect the culture and traditions of the people who once lived there, making them excellent venues to showcase the history of the place and the relationships they had with their environment.

By reusing such dwellings, for example, as heritage inns, it is not only the past that is illuminated, but more so, the people who currently run them can make a decent living and further employ others to help maintain the structures. Not only do heritage houses generate income for people but more significantly, saving a legacy promotes and builds a sense of identity and pride in the community — especially the younger generation which may be in search of its Filipino heritage.

12. Dr. Fernando N. Zialcita, director of Cultural Heritage Program of Ateneo de Manila University, discussed ancestral houses as havens amid rapid change. From his experience in restoring their ancestral Nakpil-Bautista house on Hidalgo Street in Quiapo, he related what meaning one house can have for the community as a whole. For some, it is the beautiful architecture, one more interesting spot to visit in the rowdy but colorful Quiapo district. For others, it is finding a connection to the life story of its former residents, taking pride in the contribution of heroes to the Filipino nation. Perfect strangers from different walks of life volunteered to help. Even ordinary folk, having no relation to the heritage home owners, much less having set foot in any of the houses, find satisfaction in seeing such grand old mansions because they form part of their landscape. They know they are home when they see them; it bolsters pride in the neighborhood.

13. Conservation architect Augusto Villalon (holding microphone) expounding on not just saving a house (structure) but also its context in relation to a lifestyle. These days, many are aware that architectural heritage is a record of our past that should be saved for our future generations. However, saving old houses is the easiest part of conservation. There are technical procedures that guide us in the process. What is more difficult is conserving the life that takes place inside these old structures — the language, literature, music, food and everyday things that give tradition so much meaning and character. We have learned that tradition is a living thing, therefore not only should the architecture be conserved but their traditional lifestyle that is firmly in place. The challenge is to make tradition relevant to the 21st century.

14. Architect Jose F. Ignacio of the UP College of Architecture presented how he documented the heritage houses of Batanes back in 2004. According to him, the typical representation of a traditional Ivatan house is a house made of stone, lime and wood with a thatch roof made of cogon, a structure resembling houses found in European hinterlands. It clearly depicts the effects of the harsh climactic conditions on the islands and the efforts of the Ivatans to adapt to a rigorous tropical environment. It tells the story of how the indigenous communities built compact and sturdy houses for protection against ravaging typhoons and the cold Siberian winds.

15. Although a set lunch was served at the conference venue, Loay Mayor Olegario Clarin, Jr. met up with historian/gourmand Martin "Sonny" Tinio, Carmen McTavish and this writer, driving us to a quick getaway lunch at MiraVilla, where Sonny had heard they serve all kinds of seafood, including not-so-common shells. Not to be outdone, we ordered six kinds of the live bivalves prepared in different ways (soup, three kinilaws, grilled, sashimi) and gusó, a fresh seaweed salad. Above is a kinilaw of taklobo shell.

16. Driving down a narrow street behind the Tagbilaran cathedral is Sitio Ubos, a lone street located below a cliff that winds its way from the old seaport past eight to ten grand residences-cum-commercial establishments and goes up the hill where the town center is located. Historians Marianito Jose Luspo spoke on the history of Sitio Ubos and Sonny Tinio expounded on the contents of the Casa Rocha-Suarez, one of the oldest houses in this strip built in the early 1830s. It is an example of balay nga tabla or wood board house typical of that period. The biga or corbel-ends supporting a lintel (horizontal beam) in the photo offers a fine example of an architectural detail used during that period. Architect German Torero gave an onsite lecture on the intervention work done on the house and his findings.

17. The original signboard of the trading store located on the ground floor of the Casa Rocha-Suarez forms part of the museum display today. The Rocha sisters Concepcion and Filomena ran the store in the 1920s and distinguished themselves as bakers, winning awards for their famous puff pastry hojaldres.

18. Omeng and Lanie Esguerra, new proprietors of the Antonio Rocha house just next door to Casa Rocha-Suarez, known as balay nga tisa for its tiled roof, graciously opened their second home for us to view. Omeng is perhaps the best period furniture maker in the country, whose shop bearing his name "Osmundo" is located in Glorietta 4, Makati. He has restored the house and furnished it with his masterpieces.

19. The welcome dinner held at Bohol Tropics Resort Club was sponsored by the Tagbilaran City government with a presentation of a modern quasi-ethnic performance by the Holy Name University’s pride, the award winning Diwanag Dance Theater and Cultural Troupe. Their interpretation of "Aumon," a shaman’s ritual of purification, was choreographed by Nińo Winston Sendrijas.

20. In the early morning of Day Two, an executive committee meeting was held at the Holy Name University attended by the organizers and guest speakers.

21. A power breakfast catered by Vicky Wallace of Bohol Bee Farm of freshly baked breads, waffles and muffins, honey-glazed ham, omelets and, of course, honey from the farm.

22. Cliffhangers: Starting off the foreign speakers on examples of heritage houses programs abroad was Maria Toledo, representing the Fundacion March of Spain, explaining the history of the Casas Colgadas (hanging houses) in Cuenca, Spain and its Museum of Spanish Abstract Art, which, by the way, was set up by the late Filipino artist Fernando Zobel de Ayala with the donation of his singular collection of Spanish abstract art some 40 years ago.

Today, it is one of the most well known museums in Spain and one of the most successful phenomena of Spanish contemporary art. Achieving national and international importance, the museum had a very notable local impact on Cuenca, making the city an important center of intense cultural activity and international tourism. And it all started with the dream of one man.

23. Malaysian architects/restorers Lawrence and Lin Lee Loh presented their long and arduous struggle to save an extremely dilapidated 110-year-old inner city mansion they acquired in 1990 in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. The Cheong Fatt Tze "Blue" Mansion, dazzling in its original indigo-blue, has since become the mysterious Orient’s best-preserved paradigm Chinese courtyard house. Painstakingly restored by meticulously applying extensive research on the architecture, traditional artisan skills and materials to the restoration are its 38 rooms, five granite-paved courtyards, seven staircases and 220 vernacular-timber louver windows.

The winner of UNESCO’s Asia-Pacific Heritage 2000 Award for Conservation, the building’s eclectic character is a reflection of the times at the end of the 19th century. It has had enormous impact and influence on the preservation movement in Penang – and serves as a model for the restoration projects throughout the city of Georgetown and indeed, the broader region. Now serving as a hotel with 16 themed suites, log on to its website www.cheong-fatttzemansion.com for a virtual tour and reservations.

24. Beatrice De Durfort of Patri-moine Sans Fron-tieres (Heritage Without Borders) spoke on heritage projects in Europe, in parti-cular that of Voskopoje in war-ravaged Albania, and their economic impact. Founded in 1992 with the support of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, the PSF is dedicated to preserving endangered or neglected cultural heritage sites and issues worldwide and following crisis situations such as natural disasters, war and conflict.

In the photo is a mural in St. Kolli where the best extant Neo-Byzantine paintings are found. The St. Kolli church in Grabova of Gramsh, one of the cult monuments of Middle Albania, besides its architectural value, has especially become known for its frescoes and icons realized in the 18th century by the Cetiri brothers from Grabova.

25. On the issues on Philippine heritage houses, Ricardo L. Favis, a native of Vigan, UNESCO Consultant for Culture based in Bangkok, tackled Vigan’s uniqueness in its historic townscape which is an architectural blend of Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, native and even Japanese influences. One hundred and ninety three historic structures built from the early 1800s to the American era have survived the passage of time and war. As in typical colonial towns, the religious and administrative centers, such as the cathedral, capitolio and the municipio, surround the main public park.

The ancestral houses of Vigan, tightly strung along the narrow Crisologo Street of the old Mestizo District, were built by Chinese taipans who monopolized the trading of locally hand-woven abel fabrics, indigo dye, gold from the Cordilleras and tobacco. Known today as Vigan-style house, these massive brick-and-plaster houses with red tiled roofs and imposing doorways, grand staircases, broad narra floorboards and piedra china, sliding capiz windows with ventanillas and cool azoteas demonstrate the artistry and craftsmanship of the 18th-and 19th-century native artisans who developed an architectural style adapted to the earthquake-prone tropics.

Vigan was included on the World Heritage List of Cultural Properties primarily because it has maintained its ancient urban plan. It represents a unique fusion of Asian building design and construction with European architecture and planning. It is also an exceptionally intact and a well preserved example of a European trading town in East and East Asia.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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