TAO Introduces Historic Preservation to Network Partners

TAO-Pilipinas introduced historic preservation to its network partners through a workshop held on March 5, 2013 at the Mapua Institute of Technology in Intramuros. Dubbed as a “Dialogue on Historic Preservation”, the workshop was organized in collaboration with Bakás Pilipinas, a non-profit organization based in the US that promotes the preservation of historic architecture and sites in the Philippines. The Mapua School of Architecture, Industrial Design and the Built Environment co-sponsored the workshop.

Network partners

Some of the participants in the workshop which includes network partners and invited guests

Some of the participants in the workshop which includes network partners and invited guests

Attended by close to 60 participants, the workshop was carried out to respond to the results of a survey on heritage conservation that TAO-Pilipinas conducted among its NGO network partners last December. In that survey, several of its network partners expressed a need to learn more about heritage conservation as it relates to community development and urban poor issues. Among those who attended the workshop were representatives of Community Organizers Multiversity (COM); Philippine Partnership for Support Service Agencies (PHILSSA); Foundation for the Development of the Urban Poor (FDUP); Urban Poor Associates (UPA); and Socio-Pastoral Institute (SPI). Participants from the academe likewise attended, representing PUP College of Architecture and Fine Arts; UP College of Architecture; UST College of Architecture; and the UP Archaeological Studies Program.

Program and speakers

TAO-Pilipinas tapped Bakás Pilipinas as resource person. The survey results were shared with them and they designed a day-long program with topics covering the various learning needs identified in the survey. The program was divided into five major topics: Introduction to Historic Preservation; Preservation of Architectural Heritage; Preservation of Intangible Heritage; Urban Heritage Conservation; and Disaster Relief for Heritage Properties.

Presenters consisted of the Bakás Pilipinas team, namely Roz Li, retired former Principal of Li/Saltzman Architects; Cristina Paterno, Executive Director of San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Fund; Pascale Montadert, Anthropologist Consultant; and Trix Rosen, Architectural Photographer. They brought to the workshop valuable knowledge and expertise gained from years of experience as historic preservationists.

Preservation projects

Roz Li leading the team of Bakas Pilipinas in educating the workshop participants about historic preservation

Roz Li leading the team of Bakas Pilipinas in educating the workshop participants about historic preservation

Roz Li led the team in presenting the different aspects of historic preservation. She discussed the significance of historic preservation, the criteria for determining historic structures and sites, and the scale of intervention. She explained the different types of intervention from the no-intervention approach to reconstruction and replication. She gave examples of historic preservation projects to highlight these various interventions. She stressed the need to establish the preservation philosophy of a project to determine the appropriate type of intervention to be done.

Many of the projects she presented were those undertaken by her firm, including landmark preservation projects in the New York City metropolitan area that have received preservation awards. One of the most interesting projects that she featured was the Tenement Museum in New York, a tenement building which housed immigrant families in the 1860s-1930s that has been restored as a historical landmark. The building reflects early 20th century living conditions and is considered as a three-dimensional museum of housing laws development in New York City.

Ms. Li highlighted historic preservation as an interdisciplinary field, entailing the involvement of historians, architects, archaeologists, conservators/conservation scientists and anthropologists. These diverse expertise are needed throughout the preservation process, especially in the steps prior to the restoration of a historic building or site.

Urban heritage conservation was also discussed by Roz Li. She explained the various levels of landmark designation and highlighted the role of NGOs in community-based preservation projects, giving several examples of successful urban preservation projects in the US. She likewise featured projects that addressed disaster relief for heritage properties and the various funding strategies that can be tapped for preservation projects.

Save San Sebastian

Cristina Paterno talked about the on-going conservation effort at San Sebastian Church

Cristina Paterno talked about the on-going conservation effort at San Sebastian Church

Conservator Tina Paterno presented the investigative work being done for the restoration of San Sebastian Basilica which is the initial project of Bakás Pilipinas. The basilica, a religious and architectural landmark, is an all-metal structure built in 1891 and has survived 11 major earthquakes. Ms. Paterno identified deferred maintenance and inappropriate repairs as the major challenges to conservation. In the San Sebastian project, she showed the deterioration and damage from severe corrosion and water leaks. She presented the historical research, photo-documentation and laser scanning of the whole structure that have been done as part of the diagnostic survey as she stressed that “the treatment or repair will only be good as its diagnosis”.

Intangible heritage

Anthropologist Pascale Montadert talked about the preservation of intangible cultural heritage or ICH. She explained the areas covered by ICH (oral traditions, performing arts, traditional crafts, social rituals, festive events, etc.) and the challenges to its preservation. She stressed that communities themselves must recognize their intangible cultural heritage and should decide for themselves what is their heritage. Further highlighting the challenges to preserving indigenous culture, photographer Trix Rosen showed a photo-essay of her journeys to Kalinga, Cordillera region in the 1980s and in the 2000s. Rosen’s series of photographs of the Kalinga tribal landscapes, peoples, and vernacular architecture documented the changes that have taken in the villages she visited in between a 20-year period. Ms. Rosen also gave tips to participants on the photographic documentation of historic sites and buildings, showing how photos can capture the character-defining features of a place.

Break-out sessions

After the presentations by the resource persons, the participants were divided into focus groups to discuss the challenges related to preservation affecting their work. Six groups were formed and each group shared the results of their discussion to the plenary. Among the issues that came out included the elitist perception about historic preservation and the need to broaden the public’s understanding of it. Political will of government officials in supporting preservation was also highlighted, with the proposed reclamation projects that will alter the famed Manila Bay scenic views given as an example.

Archaeologists mentioned artefacts looting, vandalism, and control over privately-owned lots with heritage structures as among their challenges in preservation. NGO workers and community organizers on the other hand shared the challenge they see in the social acceptance of preservation projects by urban poor communities as these may be seen as less space for them in the cities and their struggle for basic needs takes priority over preservation initiatives.  The need to explore opportunities for adaptive reuse of old structures for urban poor housing was therefore identified. Other challenges that the design professionals pointed out were the availability of materials to authentically restore heritage structures and the lack of research and focus on the interior design of heritage structures. These were all noted by the Bakás Pilipinas team as inputs for future capacity building efforts.

The team of experts from Bakas Pilipinas (L-R: Cristina Paterno, Roz Li, Trix Rosen, Pascale Montadert)

The team of experts from Bakas Pilipinas (L-R: Cristina Paterno, Roz Li, Trix Rosen, Pascale Montadert)

The workshop closed with brief remarks from Ms. Ana Marie Dizon, a member of TAO-Pilipinas’ Board of Trustees. Ms. Dizon expressed hope that the participants appreciated and will share the relevance of historic preservation and that the workshop would usher in similar awareness-building activities among the NGO network.

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