The creative challenge

March 25, 2020 | By: Arch. Karl Aries Emerson F. Cabilao (first published in The Manila Times last March 24, 2020)

CREATIVITY is often highlighted in the field of the arts and in education. It refers to the ability to be imaginative and innovative. Surely, you may remember the days in school when you are asked to weave “creativity” on an art project or perhaps in home economics.
Armed with pencils, pens, crayons, paint and paper, the creative soul in you challenged yourself to come up with something pleasing.

Yet, many downplay the role of creativity and the arts in society. There is still the prevailing notion that there is minimal money in the arts. For instance, a 2017 survey on “self-identified working artists” in the US and UK commissioned by an art marketplace named Artfinder pointed out that the “starving artist syndrome” still exist that pursuing a career as an artist is definitely not a cakewalk.

The Philippines is a treasure chest of many forms of art spread out in various fields. Many of these have been sources of pride for Filipinos and provided them with a channel to get to know more about their own culture and heritage. Yes, many Filipinos have a good supply of creativity. But, how can creative talents be harnessed to further something better in terms of the development of cities?

Last year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) declared Cebu City as a “creative city of design” next to Baguio, which got the tag three years ago, putting it in the company of 65 other cities around the world bearing such distinction. These cities, according to Unesco, “base their development on creativity, whether in music, arts and folk crafts, design, cinema, literature, digital arts or gastronomy.” This means that Cebu City recognizes design as a vital tool for progress and development.

Among those that shared in the jubilation of this Unesco designation were the architects. Cebu is no stranger to architectural pieces worthy of national pride. In the country’s history, Cebu was one of the first areas where early developments in architecture started.

From the pre-colonial nipa huts of the farm areas to the iconic colonial buildings influenced by Spanish and American colonizers and to the more modern buildings of recent years, Cebu is a melting pot of cultures, both old and new.

Cebuano architects are getting their share of the limelight with those who are already renowned worldwide. One such example is the Cor Jesu Oratory project — Buck Sia and his design collaborator, industrial designer Kenneth Cobonpue — that got shortlisted in the most recent World Architecture Festival. The building inside the Ateneo de Cebu campus in Mandaue City is a product of the collaboration by various design specialists with the architect at the helm. Many young architects, who had various professional experiences in architectural firms abroad, return to their home city to establish their own private practice and apply the knowledge and experience from their work abroad to their projects. This ensures a healthy exchange and application of design ideas.

For many years now, Philippine architects have continued making their profession better understood by everyone. Although significant strides have been made in making the public aware of the value of hiring an architect for environment projects (thanks to the local architects themselves and the professional organization), many still believe that they can do away with the services of an architect. With the widespread use of novel technologies through the internet, architecture has become a do-it-yourself thing for some clients in order to veer away from professional fees and a way of labeling for some professionals, not academically-trained in architecture, as “building designers” as well.

Collaboration is a healthy practice as long as the proper role of each professional is observed, according to the established laws of the country. Architects collaborate with allied professionals such as engineers and plumbers. This is to ensure that the building will function well for its occupants, apart from contributing to the aesthetics. There should be no misrepresentation leading to the blurring of public perception on the different fields of design and engineering, with each one having a significant role in the success of a project.

History is a key consideration too when it comes to design innovation. Introducing something new should not mean neglect and eradication of historic remnants. Coronavirus (Covid-19)-infested and another Unesco “Creative City of Design” Wuhan in China considers design and innovation as important tools in “infusing new life into the old city” as one of its cooperation platforms for the design industry, according to the Cities of Design Network website. Considered as the “oriental tea harbor” of the Tea Road since the 17th century and a “cradle of urban civilization” along the Yangtze River, Wuhan is a place where history is valuable.

This underscores the value of heritage conservation not just in Cebu but also elsewhere in the country, including Manila. Some local government units disregard historical buildings and districts and apply improper interventions on significant architecture from decades and centuries past such as demolishing them.

Indeed, one cannot underestimate the value of creativity and design in terms of the development of cities. It is about time people see beyond just beautiful craftsmanship as mere eye candy. In a time of worsening urban traffic, diminishing supply of various resources such as water and even continuing health threats like the Covid-19, it is high time for everyone to cooperate, share ideas and get imaginative and innovative especially in providing long-term solutions to different issues and sustain communities for the wellbeing of future generations.



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