The most beautiful provincial capitols in the Philippines
Provincial capitols, or kapitolyos, have a long and storied history in the Philippines. When the Americans took control of the Philippines after 1898, they were one of the first structures built.
“If you can imagine a province in the early 20th century, where not much is there, the biggest structure is a church which is a product of Spain,” said Arch. Gerry Torres, a professor of architecture and former Dean of the School of Design and Arts at the De La Salle—College of Saint Benilde.
“When the Americans came, they also wanted to put up a structure that would rival the church. You have to remember that architecture, throughout history, has been used for propaganda. It is a practice by rulers to use buildings to impress people.”
The provincial halls that were built in the Philippines borrowed almost exclusively from the neoclassical style. The capitols came from the concept of the US State Capitol, and hence, our kapitolyo.
“Before these buildings, there was no such thing as a stately capitol,” said Torres.
“The closest building was the ayuntamiento, which was usually in the bahay na bato style. There was little concrete yet — design was based on construction practices that people knew.”
Most government structures built before the American period were somehow modest affairs, rarely exceeding three floors in height, blocky and rectangular, facing the plaza. In their first colony the Americans introduced a new typology using the vocabulary of the neoclassical, which had its roots in 18th century England and carried over to the States. The government building was now raised on a platform, had a pedimented front with a colonnade and ornamentation inspired from Greek and Roman models. The new style was meant to impress and establish power, as a contrapunto to the Baroque churches but also to inspire, teach and generate trust in the new government.
More than city halls, kapitolyos have to also serve a ceremonial function — state dinners, official receptions, even society balls. Visiting dignitaries would be received here by the governor of the province.
“In the design of provincial capitols, the nuances of image and politics were considerations. It is not limited to government functions, there must be a certain presence, symbolic of aspirations, a grandeur even. One of the rules established for the planning of capitols is that it must be set back from the road with a park , to make it more stately,” said Torres.
Note: What follows is a brief survey of selected provincial capitols chosen across the country. Comments by Arch. Torres have been based purely on the exterior aesthetic of the building — function and layouts are not taken into consideration.
This is a graceful building with all the neoclassical elements present and correctly executed. The massing of volumes is elegant, prominently featuring the imposing row of columns of the central block. It is set back with a plaza, which makes you appreciate better the facade of the building. The acroterion-like moldings on the parapet avoids a flat straight line and provides detail and contrast to the side walls which are largely unadorned, as well as provides some details to the windows. It is but fitting that this building was once, if briefly, the seat of government in 1944.
Latter additions are the side buildings with bas reliefs which were carefully designed to enhance and complement the original 1924 structure and avoid touching it. A good case of historic preservation but I have yet to see a post-Yolanda image.
This kapitolyo is a beautiful, well-proportioned, symmetrical building. The scale does not overwhelm but with just the right amount of embellishments to give it some interest yet retain its dignity — a quality that a provincial government would want to convey to its people. The medallions and the two figures in the center pediment gives the facade a clear point of interest, bringing the eye upward, focusing on the slightly angled pediment that contrasts with the horizontals and the row of dentils below it. The Corinthian columns are gracefully executed, and nicely framed with two pilasters on its sides. I just hope the intergalactic-style lampposts on the sides will be removed. It might be better to have greenery in front instead of a tiled plaza which could be slippery during rain, and unbearable under the noonday sun.
Stately, dignified, austere — these are qualities that come to mind when I see this building. The steps in front raise the building to an appropriate height, which adds to its stature. The side wings are applications of tropical design with shaded porticos on the ground level and balconies with large windows. The use of indigenous fauna like the santan hedges and the palmeras on the side is clever as they require very little upkeep and is visually appropriate for a building in the tropics. This building is a study in restraint.
This building makes me want to go to Misamis! With its fluted pilasters the central block is the main focus of the building and its height, while the platform raised one story high sets it off elegantly. The lower side wings recalls Palladio and is a good example of scale and balance. The pilasters are a nod to the colonnades of the neoclassical with an interesting application of metal wall screens above the facade entrance, and on the sides, representing various laborers of the province. Designed by the great Juan Arellano.
Art deco meets Frank Lloyd Wright meets the Bauhaus. This building boasts a beautiful interplay of volumes. Finished in 1950 when the tenets of the Bauhaus had already influenced architecture, the pared down aesthetic lends itself well to the bravura in design. The entrance structure is nicely framed with a post and lintel configuration which extends to the steps of the stairs and emphasizes the central axis. Symmetrically placed, the wings on the side were purposely left simple to highlight the central portion of the façade, which plays with verticality and deep recesses. An imbedded trim relieves the blocky volumes. This building has, through the years, because of its good bones, retained its beauty, proving that with correct design and respect for its integrity, a building can remain a classic.
The kapitolyo in Bacolod is an outstanding example of the neoclassical typology and was said to have been the choice of Leandro Locsin as the most beautiful in the country. Finished in 1935, this building features the application of the elements of the Neoclassical and the Beaux Arts to a tropical setting. The elevated central structure, approached through a curving driveway is imposing yet graceful and balanced on the sides by office wings with large arched doors and balconies designed to welcome the breezes. Imposing Corinthian columns, statues that adorn the parapet, a row of acroterions crowning its facade, balconies with full height doors and extraordinarily rendered metalwork are among the design elements that make this building a classic of Filipino neoclassical architecture. The double-height lobby served as a reception hall for official events and social gatherings. The park in front sets off the building strategically with a rectangular lagoon that features on both ends statues designed by two icons of Philippine sculpture, Francesco Monti and Guillermo Tolentino. Largely left untouched and centrally located in the city, this building provides visual links to the history of the province.
This is a great example of the Modernist style applied in post-war Philippines. The roof looks like one of the early prefab concrete products in the market and the use of bris soleil panels in the center, popular in post WWII Philippines gives it a focal interest, applied in a restrained manner. The horizontal direction of the sun breakers, the triangles that outline the roof, and the vertical panels and posts of the entrance gives the building a pleasing play of contrasts, using construction materials that were introduced in the 1950’s. I hope the Rizal government will preserve this building, as it as an important example of the post-war chapter of our architectural history.
This version of the kapitolyo is scaled down, yet it still retains a certain grandeur and refinement that is brought about by the careful arrangement of planes and volumes, the gradual variations of massing, expert proportioning, and the restraint in its ornamentation. Designed by Tomas Mapua, the first licensed architect, this building proves that stateliness is not necessarily about size. The plaza sets it off beautifully, and even the porte cochere, which looks like a latter addition, blends well with the original, and more importantly, does not touch it.
Another example of the modernist style, or at the very least, some application thereof. The most prominent part of the building are the rows of boldly designed arches around the building, accentuated by its deep recesses and nicely contrasted with the cantilevered entryway. The corners of the buildings are like abutments to an arcade and the contrast in color and texture effectively terminates it. An interesting and bold example of the modernist style that we seldom see anymore. I hope this building will be preserved as-is. The insertions of the questionably named Indian trees (Mast tree, ‘polyalthia longifolia’) within the arches gives color and texture but may hinder ventilation and light.
Magnificent with its golden domes, this kapitolyo is well-proportioned, symmetrical and grand. The careful application of Islamic elements is reflective of local culture making it a provincial capitol that is true to its roots. The prominent frame around the entrance is a nod to the pishtaq of mosques with geometric patterns that adhere to the Islamic rule for geometry as ornament, as opposed to figures of humans or animals. The golden domes provide stark contrast to the rectilinear shapes of the towers, with the open balconies recalling Mughal India. The sloping towers offer interesting punctuations to the corners of the building.
Surigao del Norte
This building looks like a 19th century interpretation of a Roman temple applied to a government institution, which is quite appropriate because the lexicon of the neoclassical came from Greece and Rome. The building elements are applied beautifully, starting with the elevation of the central volume framed by symmetrical stairs, with pilasters instead of columns, and crowned by a double row of acroterions for ornamentation and perforated panels that provide patterns, and I suppose, some light and ventilation to the interiors. The wings on the side are of a smaller scale, yet is attached to the main building in a way that does not disrupt its graceful lines, and with its open balconies, gives it a tropical flavor.
This building works in its simplicity, good proportions and with its large windows and deep overhangs, the appropriateness of its design to its environment. Gables create some interest on the sides of the building but the central part which features an extended porch over a porte cochere might be more interesting with a gable, too. Good case for simplicity in design that works.
Modest but well proportioned. While a roofed third floor may be a latter addition, this provincial capitol can be an example of how a heritage building may be adjusted for contemporary needs. The top floor features the same graceful arched windows of the possibly original ground level as well as its height, making the whole a pleasing sum of its parts. Kudos to the architect and the governor who has been sensitive enough to retain the integrity of the original structure by seamlessly incorporating the old and the new. The beautiful monument of Rizal fronting it is a pleasing element.
With its deeply curved façade, prominent statuary, a curious triple door entrance with a contrasting finish, its imposing dome as the central attraction, side wings that are sedately rendered and steps that lead off to a wide avenue, the building has a stately air that the neoclassicists aspired for in their design of institutional structures. The original building is expansive, with symmetrically placed three-storey wings. Latter additions makes it an even grander edifice. Again, by the great Juan Arellano who was seemingly exploring the Art Deco with this project.
Recalling the villas of Palladio, the symmetrical frontage of this building with a central pedimented front, bookended by similar elevations but with arched windows, gives this building a sense of grandeur, even if there are only two floors. The width of the facade with the triple pediments makes it imposing, with arches on the ground floor that are beautifully proportioned and that contrast nicely with the open balconies. The plaza in front and the two fountains on the sides are welcome additions to the design, and the pediment, with its sculptures, adds interest and gravitas to the facade.
Is there a kapitolyo you feel like we missed? Let us know in the comments below!