Bahai-na-cubo, Bahai-na-bato: Houses of Nipa Palm,
Wood and Stone
If one avoids the common tendency to divide the world into West and
East as if it were a piece of fruit, then the Philippine house can be seen to
belong simultaneously to several different worlds.
Fernando ZialcitaBetween the 17th and
19th centuries Manila witnessed the birth of a new form of construction that
responded both to earthquakes and to the tropical climate: heat
and heavy rainfall. This architectural style combines elements of the Asiatic
and Hispanic traditions. Stone, pottery and wood were the building materials
used over centuries.
The first buildings erected by the Spaniards were
similar to the native constructions and were built of cane and nipa, but
after the many fires that destroyed these constructions it was decided that
buildings and city walls would be constructed from masonry using volcanic
Houses built of stone were fairly fire-resistant but were
too rigid to withstand earthquake damage, while constructions based on wooden
frameworks were more flexible in earth tremor situations. This gave rise to a
synthesis which combined stone with wood.
The 17th century house had
two storeys: a ground floor with very thick walls and an upper storey made of
wood with overhanging balconies, which were closed off with windows whose
panes were made from capiz, a flat translucent shell which is an
essential ingredient of the Philippine style.
Between 1780 and 1880, the
"geometric style" became widespread. The overhanging balcony -the
"volada"-, now extended around the whole of the façade, accentuating the
horizontality of the buildings. During the 19th century, the use of
enormous pillars was reduced to a minimum; false ceilings and wooden walls
with lattice-work on their upper part framed the living quarters.
During the last third of the 19th century the "volada" became an open
gallery decorated with plant motifs; this is the "Floral" style. In 1863
and 1880, fresh earthquakes shook Manila, destroying many buildings;
new rules were established to modernize the traditional methods and
confidence in the stability of structures relied on the multiplicity of their
The Hispanic and the Filipino, in the sphere of architecture just
as in any other, is a logical continuation of native elements, and represents an
advance over the indigenous while at the same time paying homage to it,
accepting it, and allowing it to continue.
Pedro Ortiz Armengo
|View of a tower and part of the village of
Samboangan. Fernando Brambila. Collection of drawings and engravings made
on the Malaspina Expedition. 1789-1794. MN The native Philippine house
was characterized by a pitched roof with two or four angles, supported on
a framework resting on four or more wooden pillars. It raised above the
ground on a platform of earth.
||"Overhanging balconies", closed off with windowpanes
made from capiz, a flat translucent shell which is an essential ingredient
of the Philippine style.|
A private home in
Escolta Street in Manila. Casto Olano. 1871. AHN The blending of east with
west produced beautiful architecture, which became popular during the 17th
century and characteristic of the unique Philippine style; Friar Francisco
Alcina was to term this "mestizo" architecture.
||Groups of dwellings made from nipa, in Mamante in the
Tondo district of Manila. Álbum fotográfico... End of the 19th century.
BN In the Philippines, family homes adapted to locally available
materials and the climatic conditions of the area; the result was a type
of building which was common to the whole of south-eastern
|Private home in Centeno street in the Santa Cruz
district in the city of Manila. Francisco van Camp. SHM Stone-built
constructions withstood fires but were helpless in the face of earth
tremors. In Manila, a mixture of wood and masonry was used in construction
work; roofs were large and spectacular, and overhanging verandahs closed
off with "capiz" shell window-panes were characteristic of this style.
||Building techniques designed to avoid the devastating
effects of earthquakes. End of the 19th century. AHN The earthquakes
that shook Manila in 1863 and 1880 caused a great deal of damage.
Reconstruction of the city was undertaken by civil engineers who adopted
the traditional combination formula, while adapting this to the adverse
|Building techniques designed to avoid the devastating
effects of earthquakes. End of the 19th century. AHN After the ravage
caused in 1880 it was recommended that the ground floor of buildings
should be constructed using a timber framework with multiple ties and that
the external walls should be brick-built.
||Condition of the houses in Quiotán street in the
Santa Cruz district of Manila, after the 1880 earthquake. Francisco van
Camp. SHM After the 1880 earthquake, the Spanish administration passed
legislation to regulate building works; these introduced new techniques
and materials into the sphere of construction and modernized the way in
which building works were
Reconstruction of the
Santa Potenciana palace. Manuel Ramírez Bazán. 1885. AHN Founded in 1589 by
Philip II at the request of Bishop Salazar as a school for the education of
young girls in Manila, this was a magnificent building with its large windows,
balconies and decorative iron grilles.
Ground plan of Santa Potenciana. Manuel López Bayo. 1882. AHN This
palace was destroyed by the 1880 earthquake, and was rebuilt, again as a
residence for the governor; it was to fulfil this role until the end of the
Spanish colonial presence.
|Reconstruction of the Santa Potenciana palace. Manuel
Ramírez Bazán. 1885. AHN In 1866, the building was made the official
residence of the governor, although shortly after the governor moved out
and it was taken over by the military authorities.
Reformation works carried out at the barracks of the civil guard at the
headquarters in Batangas, on the island of Luzon (Philippines). Luis Pereyra.
1896. AHN From 1866 onwards, the Spanish architects and civil engineers took
charge of planning and carrying out works of all types, whether civil or
|House in the San Miguel district of Manila. Album
fotográfico... End of the 19th century. BN Private homes were built
with wide, overhanging roofs which protected them from the sun, high
temperatures and torrential rain.
View of the French inn at La Barranca, in the district of Binondo, Manila.
Album fotográfico... End of the 19th century. BN During the colonial period,
Binondo was the most densely-populated district of Manila; Chinese silks,
Persian carpets, ivory, perfumes, spices and other oriental treasures were
to: Discovering Philippines Index
Discovering Philippines Copyright ©
2004 Robert S. Gardner