Making architecture relevant to the times

(Coffeebreak, December 17, 2015)

Over the centuries, architecture has pushed the concept of building design to the hilt, bringing about innovation and creativeness in integrating aesthetics with efficiency in building space utilization. It has also introduced the use of materials made lighter and cheaper by technology that enabled architects to challenge traditional concepts in design, some of which defy the forces of physics.

But these advances in architecture, however, have largely neglected fundamental needs of people, especially the poor. Most, if not all, of the highly-acclaimed breakthroughs in architectural design appeal to the wealthy. Office skyscrapers, hotels, stadiums, homes big and small and monuments dominate the conversation about architecture. Few, if at all, involve design innovations that benefit the poor.

An Ilonggo architect is about to change that perspective in the field of architecture.

Just recently, Architect Guillermo “Gimo” Hisancha has embarked on a novel project to thrust the profession to the forefront of disaster response and promotion of maternal health care.

As Head for Public Health Work Programme of the Union of International Architects (UIA) for Region VI, Hisancha has launched a national design competition for multi-use emergency and maternal/birthing facilities among Filipino architects to help governments deal with large-scale problems confronting their constituency.

“The idea has been met with enthusiasm and support from national architects organizations in the whole of Asia and Australia when I presented this before a regional conference two months ago in Thailand,” Hisancha said.

In his position as Head for Public Health Work Programme of the UIA, Hisancha, who had served a total of 18 years in public service, first as municipal councilor, and then as municipal vice mayor, of the Pavia LGU, is one of only two Filipinos who are incumbent officers of the worldwide organization of architects.

It is a recognition of his outstanding contributions to his profession, particularly with his involvement in legacy projects in the city and province of Iloilo, that have made his name a symbol of excellence.

Casa Real

CASA REAL: A legacy architectural work by Architect Guillermo Hisancha

Perhaps his best-known project is the restoration of the Casa Real, the official name of the old Iloilo Provincial Capitol, to its original design more than a century ago. No less than President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III led national and local officials in the inauguration of this heritage structure as part of the Independence Day celebrations on June 12, 2015.

That single project will permanently etch Hisancha’s name as part of the official history of the province.

Hisancha on Casa Real staircase

Architect Guillermo Hisancha on the staircase of the restored old Iloilo Provincial Capitol, now known as the Casa Real.

Apparently impressed with his restoration project, the Iloilo provincial government, along with the National Historical Commission, then commissioned him to prepare the architectural design for the conversion of the old Iloilo Provincial Jail in the Capitol complex into a regional museum.

The construction work for the regional museum is now ongoing.

Not so well known, but no less significant, are his designs for a multi-purpose disaster shelter for a barangay in Pavia in cooperation with a U.S. based NGO and an orphanage for girls in Iloilo City.

With his new position of international influence, Hisancha wants to leave a lasting imprint on the lives of millions of people, not only in the Philippines, but also in other parts of Asia.

As he searched deep into his experience and knowledge, he realized there are problems that remain unaddressed even as nations are confronted by worsening natural calamities such as typhoons.

In addition, a research project undertaken by his daughter, Raiza, while she was studying at the University of the Philippines-Visayas, opened his eyes to an area where architecture can make an impact on maternal health care.

This is how he came to conceive the project for the design, and ultimately for the fabrication, of multi-use emergency disaster and maternal/birthing facilities for far-flung barangays.

His colleagues in the Asian/Australian region expressed full support for the project and urged him to build the prototypes in the Philippines. “Other UIA country member organizations want to adopt our designs once we pick the winners,” Hisancha said.

Basically, the facilities he intends to build will be mobile and could be deployed at short notice to areas hit by natural calamities and require emergency facilities to provide relief to affected individuals.

For the maternal health and birthing facilities, Hisancha said he wants to address the Millenium Development Goal (MDG) of the United Nations for zero maternal and child-birth deaths on account of inadequate health facilities.

He was aghast upon knowing that tens of thousands of mothers die, often along with their babies, because they live too far away in the mountains from the nearest hospital or birthing facility.

“Most of the mothers don’t get to reach the medical facility alive,” he noted with sadness.

This is the reason Hisancha is excited with this project that the United Architects of the Philippines, which adopted his proposal, will take a lead role in using the expertise and creativeness of its members to soften the impact of disasters on their lives and help mothers survive with their babies.

Hisancha has shown a rare passion on how to use his profession to help people. His reputation is more than enough for him to just focus on big-ticket projects and reap material rewards that are due him as a talented and creative architect.

But more than the accolades, Hisancha is more interested in exploring new and innovative ways on how to make architecture relevant to the needs of the times. He possesses superb leadership that can enhance the respect and admiration of the general public for architects.

Without fear of contradiction, I am sure Hisancha will soar to greater heights. From a “probinsiyano”, he will be catapulted to national and international prominence. This early, I can carve that into the face of a granite stone.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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