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Designing a creative city for Baguio’s crafts industry
by Hanna C. Lacsamana

ARTS AND CULTURE HUB -- The Museo Kordilyera, part of the culture and arts complex of the University of the Philippines Baguio, is the first structure to rise from the school’s campus expansion.  -- Ofelia C. Empian

After all the changes and developments in Baguio 109 years since American urban architect Daniel Burnham discovered and planned it as a vacation center, one thing that hasn’t changed is the passion of its people for the city that was. Call it an obsession, but any true-blue resident, even an avid tourist, would not hold back a narrative of their “love of Baguio,” with the inevitable “Agkape tayo ketdi” any time of the day, and never grow tired of the discourse.

In most of these talks, nostalgia would often drive home a bitter truth: Baguio City can no longer hold on the original blueprint Burnham had prepared. As we see it now, “beautiful Baguio” remains just too attractive – old and emerging urban woes and all – to be loved only by 25,000 people. With an area that will not grow any larger, taking everything in remains a challenge for the local government and the constituents that both wanted to achieve “sustainable development,” without losing their heritage and the benefits of a vibrant and livable city.

And the well of passion is not going to dry out any time yet after it was designated Unesco Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art in October 2017, becoming the first city in the Philippines to join the Unesco Creative Cities Network (UCCN).

The distinction, among others, has opened opportunities for the city to succeed in other fields of creativity and brought up the need to deeply look into these fields that in some ways are undervalued and were not really made a development prime mover.

Among media arts, film, design, gastronomy, literature, and music recognized under UCCN, design (which includes architecture, industrial, fashion, graphics, and animation) is viewed to be one of the lesser-appreciated fields in the city, primarily in the planning and building of structures and public works. This is despite the city’s unique environment – an aesthetic piece by itself. Contrary to some  expectations, the present Baguio is being assessed as lacking a banner design that defines its identity. While a construction industry flourished and transformed the city from a sleepy yet charming little town into its current continuously expanding state, its 21st century design standards are said to be below par.

Recently, the power of creative design spoke for itself in the ongoing physical transformation of the University of the Philippines Baguio, which is coming to fruition after years of intensive preparation in its aim to provide long-term conducive learning environment for arts and social sciences.

The learning institution is unveiling the completed campus transformation next year, giving UP Baguio a distinct identity and, at a larger perspective, offering to the City of Baguio a possible template for sustainable development anchored on a well-planned, innovative, and functional design of its environs.

The art of waiting; Unfolding of a masterpiece

UP Baguio is becoming the envy of other campuses in the entire UP system and a magnet for other learning institutions, tourists, and Baguio residents, courtesy of its emerging re-imagined campus. As UP Baguio Chancellor Raymundo Rovillos puts it, although the building process has been taking longer than the usual, the impatience especially among its campus community members is turning into awe, as their campus development that began in 2012 gradually unfolds embodiments of ground-breaking architectural expertise, which maximized the campus’ unique environment and limited setting.

As the product of their long and intensive planning – involving stakeholders’ dialogues and collaboration, innovation, and a common goal – nears completion, the entire UP Baguio community is exuding a sense of pride in having a creative campus that they can call their own, and inspired and determined more than ever in achieving their vision of becoming the premier culture, arts, and sciences center in Northern Luzon and in the country.

Thinking out of the box to put it all in: Integrated campus in limited space

As one of the fastest growing constituent universities of the UP system in terms of academic and infrastructure development, UP Baguio, upon the assumption of Rovillos as chancellor in 2012, has been positioned to excel in the arts and sciences through a three-pronged theme: indigenous studies, sustainability science, and governance.

Rovillos said the school, however, never had a comprehensive plan on development, which had only been sporadically done in the past.

The school finally crafted a 112-page “continuing” campus master plan based on the principles of “good design leading to a healthier, more productive, and creative campus, sustainability and introduction of alternative energy, preservation of existing ecology and wildlife, and future-proof development or minimal maintenance requirements in the future.”

Its articulated goals are “to plan for campus growth by developing a program for future facility needs and development; create a well-designed campus that is environmentally and economically sustainable; build a consensus and opportunities for multi-sectoral, inter-college, and interdisciplinary collaboration; better utilize existing building and facilities; and provide guidelines to direct the future physical development of the campus.”

The problem: UP Baguio has barely six hectares of land area – certainly not enough to fit all infrastructure and open spaces identified in the master plan.

90 Design Studio, a Baguio-based firm led by Aris J. Go tapped in 2012 by UP Baguio to conceptualize the plan, assisted the university in addressing this challenge through creative use of space.

Rovillos said approving the ideas of 90 Design Studio had not been difficult, since the firm shares what UP Baguio had in mind, among which is maximizing the use of existing and new facilities by providing multi-functional spaces and buildings. This allows for the design of existing and new open spaces that encourage congregation and interaction.

They also agreed on employing green campus principles, which meant designing for minimal impact on the natural landscape and existing flora and fauna, use of natural light, having an efficient waste segregation system, and use of other forms of available renewable energy.

Museo Kordilyera, one of the two buildings that comprise the UP Baguio’s cultural hub, is the first structure out of complex to make an outstanding statement last year. It is designed to serve as “an entrance pavilion that connects it to subterranean exhibition spaces,” allowing it to be integrated into the existing campus. Shortly after it opened to the public, its innovative design provided a unique but not-doing-away-with-culture presentation of repositories of Cordillera culture and scholarly studies, landing the museum as nominee for the 2017 Haligi ng Dangal Awards of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, finalist in the Culture-Cultural Spaces category of the Kohler Bold Design Awards 2017, and recently awarded the 2018 MADE Anthology Architecture Award-Institutional Category.

Also part of the cultural hub is the College of Arts and Communication Teatro Amianan, now also completed. It is a micro theater structured with timber and designed to fit a highly constrained site in the campus. It also allowed for the inclusion of an art center and a student gallery.

The school’s old Psychology building is now the Kolehiyo ng Agham Science Research Center, a partly underground structure situated in between buildings, creating an “open squad.” This arrangement establishes daylight and natural ventilation access for the buildings, further improving the interior quality of these buildings. Among other features, the building has a relaxation space and a light well that create for users a connection to the outside and improving access to daylight. 

The firm also designed the layout of a rainwater harvesting facility, a German techno-logy that uses solar-powered pumps, for the entire campus in a cost-efficient way.

Most of the structures prominently make use of timber, which has lesser carbon footprint, and passive ventilation in facilities where it is applicable.

To be able to house all the facilities required in UP Baguio’s master plan on limited space, Go explained that they created an interesting mix of the facilities needed in one setting, working with the available space.

What to do, for instance, when the school needs a park/open space, a gallery, and a theater but there was not enough space?

“We arranged them all together in one structure, placing in a gallery, offices, a bookshop in one level, the theater above it, raising the ceiling, and above that we placed the park,” Go said.

“It is designing by trying not to say ‘no it can’t be done,’ right away. Say yes to everything and try to work around all the competing requirements.”

In another case, Go said they were able to save on space by arranging functions in multi-levels, at the same minimize impact on natural landscape, when they decided against rebuilding the school’s HKP Gymnasium on another site.

Instead, they redesigned the old gym building into four floors, raised the level to allow construction of a standard-sized gym and added a futsal field above it, a fitness center on the first floor, and faculty offices on the third. Since the building is located on the most depressed area of the campus, a footbridge was installed from its rooftop, connecting it to the adjacent Agham building.

All the other buildings, where applicable, were arranged so they would not be crowding each other but are still interconnected.

“I think all we did here are first of its kind. It’s really thinking outside of the box in terms of design,” Go said.

Helping solve Baguio woes via the innovation and imagination center

Rovillos said they are also building an innovation hub, called Innovation and Biodiversity Research Center. It will be an interdisciplinary hub where the disciplines from Thesis, Biology, Mathematics, Social Sciences, and Management will come together to develop a project that is focused in contributing to solutions for the problems of an urban area like Baguio.

“The idea is for the structure to become a sort of a center for research and development and innovation of products that can be useful to our society, using imagination or creativity,” he said.

These ideas and technologies may assist in addressing problems on garbage, traffic, and air pollution, among other urban woes. The center’s products can be in the form of applications and startups that will feed into industry or market, or which they can be new enterprises.

This year, UP Baguio opened new courses on design, in response to Baguio’s Unesco creative city declaration. “It’s a synergy. We are in the middle of the expansion (and then the city had this distinction). I really wanted UP Baguio to be at the forefront of these creative city efforts because this is the best way we can contribute to Baguio, and we have the faculty complement. We don’t have courses that other universities have, but we have Fine Arts and Social Sciences that we could bring into the discussion. We now have courses on design thinking as a general tool for our creatives,” Rovillos said.

Innovating without doing away with tradition

Rovillos said in acknowledging the need to improve, the school believes in ha-ving parallel moves: conserving heritage and introducing something new. Having been doing researches in Cordillera culture, he said UP Baguio should be expected to be very passionate about plans for changes.

“It has been our comparative advantage. We should be the first to exemplify respect for culture and heritage,” he said. In Museo Kordilyera, he said they were able to portray that “the new should not destroy the old, rather it should complement it. If we will be guided with cultural sensitivity and the desire to preserve the heritage, we believe it can be done.”

Creating an identity for Baguio as a creative city for design

Rovillos, who is also one of the prime movers of the newly formed Baguio City creative council said, “We agree with Go in not only building structures for its aesthetics and functionality. We want to see structures that are more appropriate with the character of the Baguio as a pine and upland city, or those that adjust with the environment.”

To realize this, Rovillos stressed the need for involving all stakeholders and agreeing on a common goal. Then tap local resources and listen to expertise, “not only those that we got used to.”

He added that it helps tapping brilliant, young minds.

“You cannot know everything as an executive, so when it comes to planning, get the best architect or engineer, and have a full, longer view of the vision for the city, not short-term ones. Have a roadmap, have a development plan. Make it a participatory project so people would take it to heart, be proud of it, and have sense of ownership,” Rovillos said.

“We have a lot of talents and great minds in the city who know the sensibilities of the constituents. But we also have to listen to people from outside our home, otherwise we will degenerate and not grow as an institution or as a city,” Rovillos said.

SITE RESPONSIVE MICRO THEATER -- The under construction Teatro Amianan of the University of the Philippines Baguio’, near Museo Kordilyera, is built from an existing small shed. It will also feature an art gallery. -- Ofelia C. Empian

Nostalgia in the drawing board: Designing a future Baguio

Go, who prefers letting their works speak for itself, shared that their 14-year-old firm’s vision is to make Baguio a better place – a world-class city in terms of design in all its aspects – and be part of creating a history for this generation.

“It is our waking dream, at least my dream, to make Baguio the best city in the country. I want that when you come to Baguio, you feel that you are not in the Philippines.

We can make most of Baguio because of its climate, because of its difference from the lowlands. People here I think are well suited because they are very passionate, but that passion has to be translated into action. Madali tayong magiging city of design,” he said.

Definitely, economic advantages should be considered, but Go believes these should be a byproduct of people really doing well. The problem, in his opinion, is that most are aiming very short term.

The process, he suggested, should start among Baguio designers, who should strive to improve, make the public understand and appreciate the value of design, and aim for high levels of design standards symbolic of their time, not just a sort of a blast from the past.

Go said he observed that while people recognize the need to change, “most are so stuck in the past that they could not move forward.”

“Every Baguio Day, we always show pictures of old Baguio. What do we think can we show of the present to the next generation? If we look back and get stuck there in the past, what if we can’t move forward? Then we would not be able to do something new, which we need because that’s progress,” Go said.

He said nostalgia among Baguio people, including himself, is very strong, which is not bad, as it in itself has value. “We recognize that, because I’m all for heritage preservation. But I want to create heritage as well, because it creates for us our identity.”

This case was very evident in UP Baguio, where they wax nostalgic about the theater. “We had to go beyond that. We had to assess it objectively, and convince them objectively about needing to move beyond aesthetics, which should be defined by the function,” he said.

He said there should be balance between heritage preservation and making one’s own legacy, such that you preserve the past and make your own future without having to be caught up by the past.

“It’s the 21st century. We should make history for ourselves, so that when the future look back at this generation, we would know we have contributed in the whole narrative of architectural history and design that defined our generation. We should make something the future will find worth saving,” Go said.

He said an honest assessment of the city compared with South East Asian cities alone would reveal that Baguio’s design standards are very low. The city, as he observed, does not even have a design industry, and people have very low appreciation of the value of good design.

He believes a design revolution is called for, where all of the designers start designing everything so that people would recognize the value of design in all its aspects.

“When you design something, you create a thing of value, especially if it is very aesthetically pleasing. Once you create value, it will have an equivalent economic value not only in the present time, but also in the future. Once majority of people recognize this we have a design revolution,” Go said.

“The goal of education is to make the next generation better than the previous one. But in our case, the way it is, we are not better than the past. We have not improved from the ‘70s. In fact, I think we are even getting worse. The problem is in the design, and yes, implementation is also part of it. But if it’s designed really well, executed well, we will be okay.”

The city, he suggested, needs a master plan, but it should not be just a master plan for the sake of creating one, but one that looks more to the future. Above all, if the city has something to restore from the past, it is the people’s sense of community.

“It should be all-encompassing, all-inclusive,” Go said.

Baguio people, it would seem, have a lot to discuss about for its creative city goals. Agkape tayo ketdi.

-- Ofelia C. Empian



Other news
:: The school’s role in shaping young talents
:: Baguio City moving beyond 109 through culture and creativity
:: Adding Cordillera culture into Baguio’s cullinary industry
:: Preserving the Ibaloy culture through School of Living Traditions
:: Literature thrives in a city above the clouds
:: What is a Baguio film: A docu in the making
:: Woodcarvers, weavers, & Baguio’s crafts industry
:: Steering policies to sustain Baguio as a creative city
:: Creative Baguio title slips prospects into the creative community’s mind
:: Baguio’s folk and country sounds

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ABC360
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Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Montessori, Inc.
Philex Mining Corporation
Police Regional Office – CAR
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SN Aboitiz
Tony Boy Tabora
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