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Art Deco buildings thrive on FEU campus

Special marker to be installed on Jan. 25

By Margaux Ortiz
Inquirer
First Posted 04:41:00 01/15/2007

Filed Under: Awards and Prizes, Architecture, Schools

THE STRUCTURES serve as a reminder of a prosperous time in the 1920s, when technology was king and the future was boundless.

Weathering time and the devastation wrought by World War II, a cluster of five buildings -- borne out of a renowned architect?s extraordinary creative talent and a pioneering private educator?s vision -- has been recognized for preserving a special architecture and style.

The buildings, bearing the distinctive Art Deco architecture of the 1920s, still stand proudly on the Far Eastern University (FEU) campus in Manila.

The university was given a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Asia Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage in 2005 for the outstanding preservation of its Art Deco structures.

?The UNESCO award was created to recognize private institutions that managed to preserve heritage buildings which are more than 50 years old,? FEU Center for Studies on the Urban Environment (SURE) executive director Joel Oaña told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an interview.

Designed by National Artist for Architecture Pablo Antonio, the five structures are the Nicanor Reyes Hall, FEU East Asia College of Engineering and Computer Studies, the Law and Nursing Building, Auditorium/Administration Building and the Science Building.

After studying architecture in London, Antonio was one of those who introduced the Art Deco style in the Philippines, according to Oaña.

?The Art Deco movement started in Paris in the early 1920s,? explained the FEU official who is also an architectural designer and researcher.

He said the new style was the movement?s answer to the neo-classical architecture predominant during the time.

?The old style was patterned after Greek and Roman temples characterized by huge pillars and ornate designs,? Oaña said, citing the Post Office building and the National Museum in Manila as examples of neo-classical structures.

The Art Deco style, in contrast, was characterized by rounded corners, clean and basic geometric forms, grooves and elements from Egyptian art.

?It essentially depicted the advent of progressive modernization and technology: Borrowing and adapting the streamline forms of cars and other technological products that were gaining popularity during that time,? Oaña said.

The new style also reflected the designs of big ships -- including railings and portholes details. The ?steamship? style is evident in the Nicanor Reyes Hall, FEU?s flagship building, according to Oaña.

?Art Deco, which was how people envisioned the future, flourished just before the Great Depression,? the FEU official added.

Upon completing one of his major early works, the Ideal Theater on Rizal Avenue in Manila, Antonio was commissioned by FEU founder Nicanor Reyes to construct a school building that would eventually house the university?s library and Institute of Accounting, Business and Finance.

Reyes, who obtained his doctor?s degree in accounting at Columbia University in New York, had just returned to the country to establish a school for Filipino accountants.

?He wanted to empower Filipinos to become professionals because most of the accountants during that time were foreigners,? Oaña said.

The Nicanor Reyes Hall, constructed in 1939, thus symbolized the newfound progressive ideas of Filipino educators during the American era.

Antonio later designed four more buildings: the Girls? High School Building in 1940, Boys High School Building in 1941, the Auditorium and Administration Building in 1949, and the Science Building in 1950.

The Girls? High School, a tropical adaptation of the Western Art Deco style with its thin concrete slabs running parallel to the window tops, was later transformed into the FEU East Asia College.

The Boys? High School, a mirror image of the girls? building, eventually became the Law and Nursing Building.

The Science Building, on the other hand, exemplified the transition from the Art Deco style to the post-World War II International Style. While Art Deco?s architectural geometry was still evident, the building design was simplified to suggest the sleek, taut surfaces of the new style, according to Oaña.

Other structures on the FEU campus bearing the ?International Style? of the 1950s include the FEU Chapel, the FEU Hospital, and the Arts and Sciences Building.

Apart from its prized buildings, the university also takes pride in its landscape architecture, which focuses on the Nicanor Reyes Memorial Square and its collection of bronze sculptures by National Artist Vicente Manansala.

Oaña said prominent artists Fernando Amorsolo and Carlos ?Botong? Francisco were also commissioned to work on paintings that were later displayed at the university?s Administration Building and chapel.

?The university has been able to preserve its buildings because as a private institution, it places a sense of importance in the structures as part of the Filipino people?s heritage,? the FEU official told the Inquirer.

Apart from the UNESCO award, the university will also display a special marker recognizing Antonio?s exceptional works on Jan. 25.

?The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) will install the marker in recognition of the architectural legacies of National Artists like Antonio,? Oaña said.



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