Coming back to Las Casas

It’s been a while since I actually got out of the city to do some architectural sightseeing! After the months week’s whirlwind of activities, the circumstances aligned to allow me this little nugget of reward: HCS-UST invited me to join them for a day at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a heritage resort by the New San Jose Builders. After all the chances I could’ve gone back and take a peek at my undergrad thesis topic/ project/ site, this is the first time in five years that my schedule allowed it.
Let me just frame how I suggest one should look at this living museum: it is not a conservation project. Do not go there if you want to get into the nitty-gritty of Fil-Hispanic planning, architecture or interiors. Take into consideration the following:
  1. It is a kind of museum where artefacts are made to fit the site as the owner/ developer sees fit because it’s a mixture of plucked houses rationalised into a collection. Meaning most of the houses there are not in its 100% original form because they need to make sense as a whole.
  2.  The development is a reconstruction of our imagined past, our collective memories. A lot of what you will experience are based on photographs, research and artistic intuition.
  3. We could say that it is not a real, perfect picture of our historical past but rather the essence of it. It’s like you’re in a real-scale movie set where some pieces are authentic and most of it imagined. The physicality of it all makes it look and feel real, even if it’s just facade. You will be seeing a lot of missteps in planning and standards.
  4. This is Acuzar’s vision of what Manila could have been: a Paris of the Orient. It helps you be proud of an imagined past we never had.
The place has seen a lot of changes and is continuing to evolve! I personally love the idea of saving houses that have a great story to tell. The owner, Mr. Jerry Acuzar is fulfilling his vision. As an architect, I could appreciate the effort being brought to this heritage resort. Some of the structures there would not even be seen by my generation in a reinterpretation of its glory if it hadn’t been for this. Some were such in a horrific state before it was brought down piece by piece and reconstructed on the Bagac, Bataan site.
The development has surpassed what I once proposed (although I should say that I’m not directly responsible for the planning or design of it all). It’s just so surreal. The next time the family wants to go there, I would want to have a better camera with me! It’s so frustrating to be in such a photogenic place and NOT HAVE THE RIGHT THINGS WITH ME.
See, it’s not only the place nor the architecture that I see its contribution to society. It’s also the craftsmanship, artistry and the construction methods being employed/ experimented here. During the construction of Hotel de Oriente, they pooled talented people from all over the Philippines who could finish the interiors of the convention centre. They even trained amateurs to make tangible culture. It would be awesome if they had master classes on woodworking, pre-casting and even sculpture making. Last I heard the group was disbanded after the APEC event in Las Casas. It was expensive and exhaustive to maintain.
There’s an entirely new wing where I could see experimentation of permutations of the Filipino aesthetic. It’s quite exciting because our cultural past is having new interpretations that can only happen there. I need to go back and take photos, even make studies on the processes. I’m interested in architectural experimentation of detail and forms! Historically speaking, some of the new additions weren’t even possible during the time it was supposedly done. I have not seen these details in any books or photographs. I would like to believe that the designers and builders here are having a perfect environment to play with what they have. Materials, artistry and methods of construction. It’s not perfect but the intent is there.
It’s not for us to really judge how they want to go about reinterpreting the Filipino past. It’s their money and resources but of course there could always be room for improvement. You’re just visiting Acuzar’s architectural wonderland and it’s totally up to you what you want to see.
Thank you to the Historical Conservation Society for inviting me here! The group was so much fun to be with ❤
HCS Las Casas
Our badass group photo: A recreation of that Heneral Luna scene

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