The most beautiful city halls in the Philippines
(Updated 7/22/14 16:10 — Danao City Hall)
City halls are a curious case — as the seat of local government, they are supposed to embody the goals, aspirations, and spirit of a city. For many, city halls are a center of activity and of daily life. But they also host a wide variety of activity, from typical city matters to not exactly above-board business dealings. Some host regular masses in their lobbies (looking at you Makati City), while others act as centers for discussion and debate. Whatever the case maybe, city halls usually come to reflect the personality and character of a city.
But have you ever wondered how well your own city hall stacks up against those from other parts of the country? The Philippines is an incredibly diverse nation, and with that comes a variety of styles and approaches in representing each local government.
In our survey of city halls across the country, we talked to Architect 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, for his take on city halls, what they represent, and his thoughts on the different seats of power across the country.
Consider this as City Hall Criticism 101. Class is in session.
“City halls represent the city and its ideals, an abstract aim that must nonetheless take form,” said Torres.
“To a certain extent they need to be carefully designed, dignified if not stately, and well constructed, so as to last for more than a generation and beyond the terms of office. But it must also be a highly functional building as they hold a whole host of activities, including those that happen under the radar.”
What should city halls look like?
As Torres explained, city halls don’t need to adhere to any specific template, although a tradition of government and civic building means that they usually follow two typical styles: modernist or neoclassical, or a combination of both.
“It’s hard to shake-off the neoclassical because it has been ingrained. It’s what we grew up with. If done properly, it is something that is timeless in its appeal. The Parthenon circa 500BC and from where the neoclassical got most of its forms is still thought of as one of the great buildings on earth, and so there is something there that is truly enduring.
“But a case can also be made for introducing contemporary elements to a neoclassical design. You cannot get away from the fact that demands on buildings have changed since the neoclassical style was introduced in the country — new spaces and functions, utilities like air-conditioning, mechanicals, computers, security systems and all the modern technology requirements that a city government houses means that there is also a need for buildings that respond to contemporary needs.”
“For new city halls, architects can still adhere to the neoclassical design while incorporating modern elements — perhaps with columns made or finished with a different material, more liberal use of windows or windows designed to look like columns. But no matter the style, the rules of mass, proportion and scale of the neoclassical still applies, guided by Protagoras’ ‘Man is the measure of all things.’”
Note: What follows is a brief survey of selected city halls chosen across the country. Comments have been based purely on the exterior aesthetic of the building — function and layouts are not taken into consideration.
Bais City Hall
A beautiful single storey building built in the Mission style with a near symmetrical façade and a graceful entrance with restrained details. The addition of a second level to the building facade could have been done better so as to retain the symmetry and the rhythm of the arches. It has however, retained enough of its original design to still be a remarkable building.
Taal City Hall
A real beauty with good proportions, symmetry and balance. Thankfully it looks preserved although the ground level seems to have been raised, altering the height of the arcade. Still, the building’s relative preservation will serve well for their UNESCO World Heritage Site application. It has a restrain to its design and the use of materials, which can prove that a beautiful building doesn’t have to be expensive. You can do this building today, and it will still stand out. The statue of Rizal in front adds a nice touch.
Calape City Hall
What a nice surprise! It’s the first time I’ve seen it. This is a building that has to be preserved. Future generations can learn a lot from its neoclassical applications, from the well proportioned Doric columns, the mass of its entablature, the play of simple volumes and the details of its mouldings. There is a grandeur to its design, which is surprising for a small building. It’s siting is incredible, the way it is set back, almost like a gem amidst a simple but well manicured lawn.
Laoag City Hall
Brick is becoming interesting because it’s a material that is hardly used today. Its use in this building is a reflection of the Ilocos region, where churches were made of brick because of the absence of adobe, as taught by the Spanish friars. The arches are gracefully designed, and provides a good contrast with the columns. The central part with a porte cochere extends effectively to provide protection from rain as with the wide eaves of the roof. I hope those are doors that can open out into the balconies.
Manila City Hall
Designed by Antonio Toledo and constructed in 1939, this example of a late application of the neoclassic offers some fine features. The clock tower is a Manila landmark and the entrances and courtyard balconies feature well executed statues and reliefs. The entrances are classical in the correct way and are incredibly beautiful. However the way it is maintained today does not show off its good features. It’s a good example however if somebody wants to do restrained neoclassical. Curious fact: from above, it looks like a coffin, some say deliberate during its reconstruction to commemorate the death of civilians during the Liberation of Manila.
Old Iloilo City Hall
The classical proportions of the u-shaped facade, but also the combination of sculpture and architecture, as seen in the entrance, is amazing. This is how you do an entrance! It is only one story high, but it gives the impression of a much grander building. It is a lucky building too: not only did it survive the war, but it was also given to UP Iloilo, which means it has been preserved. An example of the skill of the great architect Juan Arellano.
Tacloban City Hall
Blocky and solid, with a nice play of volumes, this is reminiscent of Soviet-era buildings of the former USSR, with a touch of the Bauhaus. The center part is well designed with its receding plane, chamfered frame (repeated on the ends of the façade), choice of finish and the round columns that provide contrast to the building’s hard edges. The small framed windows on the side of the entrance are notable as a design feature. The details are nicely done, and the signage of the building with its chosen font matches well with the architecture. However the extension on one end has marred the symmetry.
Sariaya Municipal Hall
Philippine art deco at its finest. The stepped façade, with a framed entry and statuary as accents is the most imposing feature although the volumes of the sides are also well designed with interesting features like the indented decorative band on top. A beautiful monument of the National Hero mirrors the figures of the building. I pray that this building be preserved in its original state.
Zamboanga City Hall
An interesting combination of the bahay na bato and the California Mission style, in the spirit of eclecticism that characterized 19th century architecture. It’s symmetry is book ended by two gables and the steep roof offsets nicely the central tower which is the focal point of the building. The plaza in front with the Rizal monument offsets the building nicely.
Danao City Hall
The boldness and simplicity in design is commendable. By deftly inserting wall panels within the windows the elevation brings to mind a row of columns reminiscent of a classical temple façade sans the pediment. The strongly rendered columns attached to a straightforward lintel is a nod to the trabeated, the system of construction used by the Greeks. Emphasis could have been given to the entrance, as a focal point for the façade and for functionality, perhaps a wider overhang and grander stairs. The use of metal cladding underlines the fact that the classic and the contemporary can meld into a harmonious whole.
Not exactly beautiful, but notable.
The following city halls aren’t shining examples of beautifully designed buildings, but they do possess unique characteristics that make them very distinct from your typical city hall. Their boldness and courage in attempting to become more than just the usual civic building means they deserve a spot on this list too, for better or worse.
Antipolo City Hall
The most prominent part of the building are the turret like ornaments that crown the columns, giving the impression of a Medieval castle. The elevations are symmetrical with the main entry capped by a pediment and the concrete balconies adorned with bold horizontal strips of concrete. There is a combination of prominent elements, and it’s a bold experimentation, but in this case, the building would have been best served with a single unifying style.
Dapitan City Hall
Looks vaguely French, with a roof shaped like the Menagerie of Versailles. There is a playfulness to it’s design that recalls a theme park, with its exaggerated balusters, large green tinted windows and decorative bowls with lamps. The building is situated next to a body of water, which could offer picturesque views but it seems there is no visual connection offered.
San Fernando City Hall
Designed like a row of townhouses this building boldly employs Baroque-like elements. A lot of attention was given to the facade, with a merry mix of rounded pediments punctuated by Ionic columns topped by dentils and underlined by heavy cornices, an ornate fence decorating the front and a stylized pediment capping the façade. San Fernando is a city familiar with neoclassical and baroque designs as they often use them in their export furniture so in a way this is a reflection of the city’s culture and industry. An increase in height would have resulted in better scale and proportion.
Tagum City Hall
Post modernist in approach and notable for its design bravura, this city hall combines a multiplicity of disc-like geometries, prominent volumes, and bold, even surprising elements like the suspension cable system that seems to hold up the roof. A little over-designed perhaps but may be aspirational, for the ambitions and goals of the city. See the actual building here.
Koronadal City Hall
With its cream colored walls, grids of windows and large expanses of glass this city hall has a Richard Meier look to it. I like the symmetry, which is a neoclassical characteristic and the play of volumes, which is modernist. This is what I mean when the neoclassical style can be implemented in a contemporary way or combined with the modern. The scale of the windows is good, which means lots of natural light although this may also mean higher energy consumption. Perhaps the weakest point is the central part of the building, which is somewhat featureless and I am curious about the stairs and where they lead to, unless there are plans to develop the land in front. Some pictures of the font used for the name of the building shows it in sans serif, some are with serif. The sans serif works better.
Escalante City Hall
An example of the neoclassical mixed with the modern with a slight nod to art deco. The vertical windows turn the walls into vertical planes reminiscent of columns with a play of receding and protruding elements that is art deco-like. I agree with the attempt to create a central focus by rounding the walls of the entrance, in contrast to the sides — a play on geometry and volumes. There is a bold attempt at creating verticality that is consistent throughout. Ideally the canopy can be extended further to perform its function as protection from the elements.
Lucena City Hall
Modest in size, it has a prominent style, modernist/brutalist and uses concrete extensively which reminds me of 1970s Leandro Locsin. I have a problem with the central part, because compared to the rest of the building this was not given equal attention. The building may need extensive restoration to bring out its unique features like the sculptural columns, heavy canopy and truncated corners. This could be a good example of Filipino style brutalist architecture and I’m glad the subsequent administrations have not tampered with the design.
Tacurong City Hall
This building is very straightforward. You can clearly see the two floors, which is a contrast to the row of vertical elements. The projection of the entrance canopy is good and serves its function well. The fountain with the map in front works, it just needs a little landscaping. The slight curve of the facade gives it grace, and mirrors the elements of the fountain.
Cotabato City Hall
The most prominent part of the facade is the row of pointed arches, Islamic in style and reflective of the culture of the place. But I don’t agree with the neoclassical elements in the middle, such as the clumsy Ionic columns and pediment, after the long row of pointed arches. They should have stuck to the Islamic style all throughout. The roof is a nod to the old city hall, which is a nice touch.
New Iloilo City Hall
A good application of neoclassical elements in a high rise,with its use of arches, the pedimented central portion, a muted palette and the symmetry of the facade. A bolder play of the volumes would have been interesting, if not to make it less office-like. There is a beautiful plaza in front, an interesting adjacency to consider for its design.
Bacolod City Hall
Undoubtedly neoclassical in form this building makes a grand gesture with its imposing façade set off an expansive plaza with a substantial water feature. It is a good interpretation of neoclassical architecture as designed and constructed today. However it adheres much to the design of the provincial capital, one of the most beautiful in the country and a masterpiece of the neoclassical by Juan Arellano, to the point of mimicry. Some landscaping and vegetation would work well to ‘soften’ the hard edges of the building and provide relief from the sun and heat for commuters.
Quezon City Hall
The mural is its most arresting feature, from a time when sculpture was seen as integral to architecture. The execution lacks grace but nonetheless it is an interesting focal point for the façade. We don’t see the boldness of concrete being used like this anymore, where there is an exploration its plasticity. If only for this aspect, it makes the building noteworthy, concrete still being the most common building material in the Philippines and worth a re experimentation. The rest of the city hall looks purely functional.
Is there a city hall you feel like we missed? Let us know in the comments below!