From wide horizontal landscapes to towering vertical skyscapes, the faces of our cities are dramatically changing. And it’s moving faster than expected, all in the name of rapid urban development.
But development is both boon & bane. As we race to reach the sky with steel & glass, many of our heritage buildings are stomped back to the earth too. As we race with modern things, the traces of our past are also shoved into void.
Our ancestral houses & buildings are examples of this massive change. But gladly, not all of it is lost. Many have found a new home in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, a sprawling heritage resort in Bataan.
Las Casas as it is commonly called is an open-air museum, heritage park & resort fringing Umangol River in Barangay Pag-asa in Bagac. Spanish period principalia mansions, stone houses, hotels, restaurants, cafes, swimming pools, ponds, gondola canals are spread across its 400-hectare property.
Chosen for their historical, cultural & architectural values, these buildings were uprooted from its original location & transplanted to its new site in Bagac. A brilliant feat but massive engineering work, each house was deconstructed plank-by-plank, brick-by-brick, transported miles away & re-assembled as one piece.
As most of these structures were bought when they were in a state of neglect, the heaviest work relied on its full restoration. Architects, engineers, historians, scholars & many artisans pooled their skills & talents to bring back the glory of these elite homes & buildings.
The expansion may seem endless but today, it has about 27 heritage buildings since it opened to the public in 2010. The work began in 2003 when the first historic homes from Tondo, Binondo, Quiapo & Quezon City were reconstructed. As years went on, it now has the grandest collection of ancestral buildings from all over the country like Bulacan, Pampanga, La Union, Cagayan Valley & Ilocos.
Filipino architecture is a beautiful mix of our colonial past. It combines the style elements of Europe brought mainly by Spain in the 16th century, the intricate detailing from the Orient that came with the Chinese traders & the state architecture that was introduced to us by America.
All of these influences infused with our pre-colonial styles, the abundance of wood & stone, the bravura of our Filipino artisans & ingenuity make up the collective expression of our distinct architectural flairs.
Bahay na Bato is perhaps the classic representative of this architectural style of the bygone centuries. These houses were made of massive stone foundations & wood on the upper floor. It is characterized with lavish use of large windows & air vents called ventanillas allowing natural light & breeze to flow through the house.
It is embellished with filigreed callado or transoms & masterfully carved wooden louvre. Designs evolved through the years, including aluminum awnings or medias aguas & wrought iron. It even incorporated some of our customs like stairs steeply constructed to mimic bowing down to the homeowners as a show of respect.
Among the most popular resident buildings in Las Casas Filipinas are Casa Bizantina, an 1890 3-storey building that once housed Instituto de Manila & Casa Hidalgo, the first campus of UP Fine Arts built in 1867.
Then there’s Hotel de Oriente, the grand dame of hotels in Manila in the late 1880s. Paseo de Escolta, a colorful row of commercial establishments. Casa Luna, owned by the Novicio Clan, whose prominent members are the revolutionary brothers, Antonio & Juan Luna. Casa Baliuag of the Vergel de Dios family.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is the only property in the Philippines that is part of the Historic Hotels Worldwide & has been cited in many international recognitions from topnotch hospitality lists.
These heritage buildings may not be anymore where they once were & to some, its full cultural integrity may not be the same. But the truth is, someone has to save them from oblivion.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is among those that take pride in our heritage architecture. Here, they are breathed new lives, all sparkling & living. It is a beautiful place where you could find some of the homes that made history & for the succeeding generations to appreciate what Philippine colonial architecture is all about.