Apr 20, 2022

Philippine Architectural Gems: 20 of the Most Beautiful Buildings in the Philippines

As an archipelago with a tropical climate, the Philippines is mainly known for its natural attractions ranging from scenic views and pristine white beaches. But aside from these breathtaking destinations, the country also boasts a rich and complex architectural landscape that was developed through the years by local traditions and culture as well as foreign influences.

This resulted in a multitude of architectural landmarks in the country that have stood the test of time with their own stories to tell through their design and rich historical backgrounds. 

John Tewell | Flickr

History of Philippine Architecture  

The history of Philippine Architecture can be traced back to the precolonial era where local indigenous groups created a traditional form of dwelling commonly known as the nipa hut or the bahay kubo. Although native to the country, the bahay kubo was influenced by our Malay neighbors but adapted to fit the country’s tropical climate and existing living conditions during that time, using available local materials. 

Since then, the bahay kubo has become a cultural heritage icon for the Philippines. It is traditionally made with locally sourced indigenous materials such as bamboo, nipa, and cogon, standing on stilts to elevate it off the ground. It is perfectly crafted for a tropical climate as it allows natural light and ventilation to enter.  

John Tewell | Flickr

When the Spaniards and then the Americans colonized the country, its architecture changed drastically. Structures and houses were modernized, and new construction methods were introduced. The country’s skyline of today, especially Manila, is an example of mixed eclectic styles with various influences ranging from Spanish Colonial, Neoclassical, French Renaissance, Baroque, and many other postmodern approaches which shaped and revolutionized Philippine architecture.  

Even after the country gained back its independence, these influences have remained through the years. Together with the emergence of modern contemporary architecture in the 1950s and onward, the country’s pursuit of its true Filipino architectural identity resulted in the construction of various modern structures with prominent designs that we see until today. These were spearheaded by some of the most prominent names in Philippine architecture. 

5 Trailblazing Filipino Architects 

Leandro V. Locsin 

Locsin was a renowned architect who had an important role in cultivating the modern architectural landscape in the Philippines. He created his own distinct architectural style through the clever use of massive blocks of concrete and the illusion of volume that are prominent in all his works. During his time, he created numerous structures ranging from churches, chapels, public buildings, commercial buildings, hotels, and an airport terminal.  

Notable works: Cultural Center of the Philippines, Philippine International Convention Center, Folk Arts Theater, Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Parish of the Holy Sacrifice  

Pablo Antonio 

Antonio was hailed as the National Artist for Architecture in 1976. He was known for his clean, geometric, and streamlined style. He believed that in order to achieve the true aim of architecture, function must be the utmost priority instead of focusing on aesthetics and elegance. His designs were simple—omitting excess ornamentation and clutter, because he believed that every line and element must have its own meaning and purpose. Another prominent feature in his works was his use of natural light and ventilation. 

Notable works: Far Eastern University (Main Building), Manila Polo Club, Ideal Theater, Lyric Theater, Galaxy Theater  

Ildefonso P. Santos Jr.  

An impressive building can be iconic on its own, but a beautiful landscape completes its picturesque beauty. That is what Ildefonso P. Santos was known for. Considered as the Father of Philippine Landscape Architecture, he pioneered the practice of landscape architecture in the country. His exemplary skills were evident in his works of outdoor open green spaces such as parks, plazas, gardens, and famous building complexes.  

Notable works: Paco Park, San Miguel Corporation Complex, Tagaytay Highland Resort, Rizal Park, Nayong Pilipino, Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex 

Francisco Mañosa  

Throughout his lifetime as an architect, Mañosa passionately created a distinct Filipino architectural style that comported to the tropical climate, reflected Filipino values, and used traditional indigenous material that are abundant in the country. For this, he was known as the Father of Philippine Neo-Vernacular Architecture. He was conferred the National Artist for Architecture title in 2018 for his contribution to preserving and developing a legacy in the field of Philippine architecture through his works that embodied  Filipino identity.  

Notable works: San Miguel Corporation Building, Coconut Palace, Our Lady of Peace Shrine, Amanpulo Resort, La Mesa Eco Park  

Juan Nakpil  

Considered as the Dean of Filipino Architects, Nakpil was made the very first National Artist for Architecture in 1973.  He was  a pioneer who greatly contributed to the field through his belief that there is indeed a thing called “Philippine Architecture,” a style that is a reflection of the country’s rich cultural, traditional, and historical backgrounds. His edifices embodied a sense of strength, functionality, and beauty. Nakpil created a modern heritage in the architectural landscape.  

Notable works: Capitol Theater, UP Quezon Hall, Quiapo Church  

Modern Architects You Should Know About 

Jason Buensalido 

Buensalido is a Filipino architect and co-founder of the design firm Buensalido + Architects. His main design style is sticking to Filipino roots and heritage and creating a modern spin-off to create a distinct identity in a contemporary setting. His works include mostly residential houses, resort complexes, places of worship, and the APT Studios, a state-of-the-art television complex that houses the popular noontime show “Eat Bulaga.”  

Ed Calma 

Calma is a Filipino architect,  interior designer and the principal designer of Lor Calma and Partners, a design firm of his father who is also an architect. With artistry ingrained in his DNA, Calma has made a mark of his own in the field through his distinct architectural style that is evident in his body of works that include residential, educational, commercial infrastructure, hotels, buildings, and museums. 

His famous works include the School of Design and Arts building of the College of St. Benilde and the Mind Museum in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.  

Mark Manguerra | Flickr

Royal Pineda 

Pineda started his professional career as an apprentice at Leandro Locsin’s design firm where he honed his skills and design sense. After years of working there, he decided to build his own company together with the interior and furniture designer, Budji Layug, aptly named Budji + Royal. 

Pineda’s style is highly characterized by modern tropical design where he creates logical solutions that are synergies of tropical and Filipino identities. He has created various projects in different countries and cities, and his notable works include the 2019 Southeast Asian Games’ Athletic Stadium and Aquatic Center, Discovery Shores in Boracay, and his latest, the “Bangkota,” or the 2020 Philippine Pavilion.  

Gelo Mañosa 

The son of National Artist Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa, Gelo has started creating a name of his own also in the field of architecture. With his foundation on Philippine architecture strongly set through his father’s legacy, Gelo has taken it up a notch by integrating designs together with sustainable building practices for a greener and more meticulous architecture that minimizes its impact on the environment. 

From the people behind the architectural wonders, we now shift our focus to the marvelous creations. 

John Tewell | Flickr

The Most Beautiful Buildings in the Philippines 

Cultural Center of the Philippines

Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City

Designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro V. Locsin in 1996 to serve as a venue for the preservation of Philippine arts and culture, the Cultural Center of the Philippines is one of the finest examples of modern and brutalist architecture in the country. 

Its key features are its floating volume, which makes the structure appear like a huge floating block of concrete supported by undulating curved pillars that sweep up from the ground, and its brutalist design (from the French word “bèton brut,” which translates to raw concrete) where its natural material is exposed to create a sense of truthfulness and honesty to its construction, weight, volume, and scale.  

The façade also showcases a steep, winding ramp and an octagonal water feature in the center that creates a sense of grandeur. This iconic piece of architecture has been a staple venue for national and international multicultural events and is considered as one of the finest examples of modern architecture in the Philippines.  

Nixwrites | Wikimedia Commons

Zuellig Building

Ayala Avenue, Makati 

Located in the main central business district of Makati, this sustainable and modern architectural gem is the first premium office building erected in Makati after the year 2000. Designed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and W.V. Coscolluela, it is one of the first buildings in the Philippines to obtain a Platinum LEED (Leader in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification for its sustainable and energy-efficient features. These include its notable curtain wall glazing with the distinctive wavy lines pattern. It is made of low-emissivity glass, ensuring minimal solar heat gain while letting 90% of natural daylighting penetrate the interior spaces. 

The edifice is also equipped with smart building automation technology and efficient HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems that reduce its energy consumption by up to 15% compared to other office buildings. Its water recycling and rainwater collection systems also help in reducing the building’s water consumption by up to 29 million liters per year.  

San Miguel Corporation Building

San Miguel Avenue, Mandaluyong 

San Miguel Corporation’s head office in Ortigas is one of the first green buildings ever constructed in the country. The whole complex is designed by the Mañosa Brothers’ architectural firm and the Father of Philippine Landscape Architecture, Ildefonso P. Santos. 

The building design has a distinct pyramid-like structure enveloped with lush greeneries, meant to mimic the Banaue Rice Terraces. It also maximizes natural lighting through its slanted fenestration and angled canopies that draw inspiration from the windows of a bahay kubo and control solar glare and heat gain. 

The overall complex’s landscape is highlighted by pocket gardens, ponds, and a jogging path, providing ample open green spaces that help improve the vicinity’s urban design. These green spaces serve as an oasis for the employees and create an urban breathing space in the metropolis.  

San Miguel Properties | Website

Philippine Heart Center

East Avenue, Quezon City

Built in 1975, the Philippine Heart Center is a five-story hospital building designed by Ar. Jorge Ramos and known for its monumental and brutalist architecture design. It is composed of massive geometric blocks of natural exposed concrete. 

This specific style of architecture in the 1970s was connotated with the “Edifice Complex,” which was creating structures as hallmarks of greatness during the time of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ regime. The plan layout has four petals on each floor, made to resemble the chambers of the human heart. Aside from being a specialized hospital for various heart ailments, the Heart Center also serves as a repository of different art pieces and collections from various artists that are displayed all over the hospital.  

Patrick Roque | Wikipedia

The Manila Metropolitan Theater

Padres Burgos Avenue, Ermita, Manila 

Designed by Juan Arellano (the same architect behind the Jones Bridge and the Manila Post Office), the MET, as it is popularly known, opened to the public on December 10, 1931. Featuring an Art Deco architectural style, it is hailed as the “Grand Dame of Manila” because of its ornate architecture. It was one of the most prominent buildings in the Philippines during the late 19th century when the country was still considered as the “Paris of Asia.” The MET is also the country’s first national theater and the grand hub for various theater performances where local and international artists and groups graced the stage. 

Named as a National Historical Landmark in 1973 and National Culture Treasure in 2010 by the National Museum of the Philippines because of its unique and well-preserved Art Deco architecture that is the only existing building of its scale in Asia, the theater boasts of details and ornamentation that are known for their intricacy and as a reflection of the life in the Philippines. 

Other decorative features include colorful Art Deco mosaic tiles, a façade that shows various Philippine flora, intricate grills and stained-glass windows, minarets, and statues. The MET was severely damaged during WWII and continued to deteriorate over time until it closed in 1996. It was only in 2015 when the National Cultural Center for the Arts started its restoration and conservation efforts to preserve this architectural landmark. It fully reopened in 2021. Italian sculptor Francesco Monti, National Artist for Visual Arts Fernando Amorsolo, and other notable Filipino artists contributed their designs to the MET as well.  

Patrick Roque | Wikimedia Commons

Philippine International Convention Center

Roxas Boulevard, Pasay 

Designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro V. Locsin in 1976, the PICC is considered as one of his greatest works and one of the three main buildings in the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) Complex. Known for its monumental floating volume that looks like two blocks on top of each other and clean streamlined blocks of raw concrete, it became one of the most iconic structures during the Brutalist movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s. 

It is a sought-after venue for conventions, meetings, conferences, and exhibitions. Through the years, the PICC has remained one of the architectural landmarks of the Philippines due to its grandiosity and timeless design that has aged well over time.  

Patrick Roque | Wikipedia

San Sebastian Church

Pasaje del Carmen Street, Quiapo, Manila 

Remarkable for its powder blue exterior and towering spires, the San Sebastian Church is one of the most famous churches in the country. As a National Historic Landmark and a National Cultural Treasure, the San Sebastian Church is known for its all-steel construction and is claimed to be the only all-steel church in Asia. 

Drawing inspiration from Burgos Cathedral in Spain, Architect Genaro Palacios designed the church with an all-metal material for resiliency to withstand further calamities. The original construction was made from wood, and it caught fire in 1651. It was reconstructed using bricks. Fires and earthquakes caused damage to the church in the 1800s. The final construction was finished in 1891.  

The church boasts a Gothic Revival architectural style with its towering spires, arched windows, central rose window, and distinctive arched ribbed vaults in the interior that support the weights of the walls and the roof of the cathedral.  

Today, there is an ongoing petition to restore and preserve the cathedral that is currently showing signs of deterioration. It also opposes the construction of a condominium building nearby which would affect the restoration efforts of various governing bodies and foundations. 

Lawrence Ruiz | Wikimedia Commons

El Hogar Filipino 

Juan Luna Street corner Muelle de la Industria, Binondo, Manila 

El Hogar Filipino is one of Escolta’s emblems and cultural edifices that has aged gracefully with its timeless Beaux Arts Style, Neoclassical, and Renaissance architecture. It was one of the major buildings during Escolta’s rise as a central business district in the 1900s and survived numerous earthquakes and World War II. 

It was designed by Ramon Irureta-Goyena and Francisco Perez-Munoz in 1914, commissioned by Don Antonio Melian to serve as a wedding gift to his wife Margarita Zobel de Ayala. Back in the day, the building once housed the Sociedad El Hogar Filipino, a financing cooperative by Don Antonio Melian, Smith, Bell & Co. and the Ayala Life Insurance Company. 

Despite its old age, El Hogar Filipino remains as one of the most iconic structures in the area through its preserved beauty and value as a major architectural representation of business establishments during its era.  

Patrick Roque | Wikimedia Commons

Philippine Arena

Ciudad de Victoria, Santa Maria, Bulacan

The Philippine Arena is an indoor, multi-use facility located at Ciudad de Victoria in Bocaue, Bulacan and owned by the religious group Iglesia Ni Cristo. It was inaugurated in 2014 during the group’s centennial celebration and since then has been a venue for various religious gatherings, sporting, cultural, and music events. 

Currently deemed as the largest indoor arena in the world with a total seating capacity of 50,000, the Philippine Arena is an example of modern architecture designed by the Australian-based firm Populous. 

Aside from its design and massive scale, it is also known for its modern engineering technologies and construction methodologies. Its dome roof reduces its weight on the steel frames through a construction method called space frame system. This method allows a long span of unsupported roofing, which minimizes the use of internal columns that would obstruct the views of the spectators. 

The arena also incorporates a seismic design, which allows the structure to withstand earthquakes with a magnitude of up to 7.5.  

Patrick Roque | Wikipedia

Quezon Hall, University of the Philippines

Diliman, Quezon City

Designed by National Artist for Architecture Juan Nakpil in 1950, Quezon Hall was one of the first four main buildings built on the campus when the university transferred from Padre Faura, Manila to Diliman. 

This building houses the university administration and is named in honor of the late President Manuel L. Quezon. Aside from being the background of the well-known Oblation statue, this architectural piece is unique for its Neoclassical style with similarities in design inspired by Eliel Saarinen’s Cranbrook Art Museum in Michigan. 

The building is characterized by its massive pillars and open portico, which creates a connection to the amphitheater opposite the Oblation complex where the university graduation is usually held. Although it may look Neoclassical in style, some features of the building such as the ceiling and flowy balcony railings are Art Nouveau-inspired. The portico flooring is also embedded with glass blocks which illuminate the offices in the basement.  

Patrick Roque | Wikimedia Commons

The Coconut Palace

Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, Pasay 

This architectural gem in Pasay City is one of, if not the best, examples of Vernacular Architecture in the country. Designed by National Artist Francisco Manosa who is also considered as the Father of Philippine Vernacular Architecture, this structure is also known as “Tahanang Pilipino.” 

It was commissioned by then-First Lady Imelda Marcos to serve as the guest house for the Papal Visit in 1981. But due to its lavish design, which Pope John Paul II thought was inappropriate during that time when the country was still experiencing extreme poverty, he opted not to use the palace and stayed in a much simpler place instead. 

The overall design of the palace uses all parts of the coconut as its major building materials and components, and a specially treated coconut wood called “Madera Imelda,” which was named after the First Lady. The roofs are hexagonal in shape and resemble a Philippine native hat called “salakot” while the interior spaces showcase various uses of other coconut parts such as furniture, lighting fixtures, and other interior aesthetics.  

Patrick Roque | Wikipedia

City Center Tower

7th Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig 

Situated in the central business district of Bonifacio Global City in Taguig is a new office space that stands out despite being surrounded by numerous towering buildings through its undulating, wave-like façade that resembles a quarter moon. 

The City Center Tower was designed by CAZA Architects in 2016 and has since then been an eye-catching addition to BGC’s modern skyline. Unlike the usual rectangular office buildings, the City Center Tower features concentric circles that create a sense of rhythm and movement for its exterior. Through this pattern, it creates protruded spaces that serve as balconies providing views, outdoor access, and daylighting for each floor.  

Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, University of the Philippines

Diliman, Quezon City

This remarkable circular church commonly known as the UP Chapel is a fine example of modern architecture in the country designed by the renowned National Artist for Architecture, Leandro Locsin together with four other National Artists for Visual Arts: Napoleon Abueva, Arturo Luz, Vicente Manansala, and Ang Kiukok.

The church was commissioned by previous UP Chaplain Fr. John Patrick Delaney in 1955. He specifically asked Locsin to design a circular place of worship with no doors and an altar at the center to create a sense of openness, allowing people to freely meditate and pray at any given time. The Parish of the Holy Sacrifice features a huge thin shell dome with an oculus in the center that allows light to illuminate the hanging wooden cross and the whole interior. 

The dome is supported by pillars and a low circular rim ceiling surrounding the entrances where it transitions to the well-lit interior with a high dome ceiling. This illusion emphasizes entry to a sacred place of worship without the use of doors or boundaries. The church has been declared in 2005 as a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute and as a Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines.  

Ramon F Velasquez | Wikimedia Commons

National Arts Center 

Ibarang Road, Los Baños, Laguna

This prominent, red-roofed structure located at Los Baños, Laguna is another work of art by Leandro V. Locsin. The National Arts Center or Tanghalang Mariang Makiling was built in 1976 during the era where the quest for Filipino identity in various forms of arts and design was at its peak. 

The National Arts Center was one example of them, where Locsin crafted a modern interpretation of the traditional Ifugao house of the northern region called “Bale.” The design was achieved through Locsin’s distinct architectural style of large monolithic masses of concrete that create an illusion of elevated volume and a striking and steep red roof with no walls that allows natural ventilation. The complex houses the Philippine High School for the Arts and where the main performances of the students are usually held.  

Nixwrites | Wikipedia

Main Building, University of Santo Tomas 

España Boulevard, Sampaloc, Manila

Commonly mistaken as a church with its intricate detailing and bare exterior, the Main Building of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) has been a witness to the Philippines’ rich history. It was designed by Rev. Fr. Roque Ruaño OP, a priest and a civil engineer, who studied various engineering designs and concepts for earthquake-proofing which he applied to the said structure. 

The UST Main Building is known to be the first earthquake-resistant building in Asia, designed as 40 individual structures with gaps in between to allow spaces for movement when an earthquake occurs. The overall design of the building is Renaissance Revival with its notable features of cornices, statues, and a nine-story tower with a cross on top to remind the students of the university’s teachings. The building is truly an architectural and engineering gem that has stood the test of time. 

Ramon Magsaysay Center

Roxas Boulevard corner Quintos Street, Malate, Manila

Built in 1967, this architectural gem is designed by Alfredo Luz and Ruben Payumo and is considered as one of the finest examples of mid-century modern architecture in the country. This huge block of travertine marble is notable for both its architectural and engineering feat achieved through prestressed and precast construction methods. 

Twelve monumental pillars with tapered supporting brackets elevate the upper structure above a platform to create an open public space extending to an outdoor plaza that is open for the people and the community. This streamlined edifice showcases clean lines and architectural geometry that is monumental in scale yet exudes utmost elegance and technique.  

Patrick Roque | Wikimedia Commons

Luneta Hotel 

Kalaw Avenue, Ermita, Manila

We’ve only seen luxurious and intricately designed posh hotels in movies and have dreamed of staying in one at least once in our lives. In the Philippines, there is one that stands out, and that is the Luneta Hotel. 

Built in 1919 and was once considered as the district of the elites in Ermita by Spanish architect Salvador Farre, this quaint 6-story hotel was designed in French Renaissance style with intricate detailing and elegant ornamentation which stood out during its era, being surrounded with mostly traditional “bahay na bato.” 

It was one of the first luxury hotels to be built based on the original plan of Daniel Burnham for the city of Manila. Its structures were originally oriented toward Luneta Park. This boutique hotel boasts elegant French Renaissance aesthetics that resemble famous Parisian architecture such as balconies with cast iron grills, its notable mansard roofing, intricate dormer windows, and gargoyles or grotesque figures that are believed to ward off evil spirits but mainly function as extension from walls and roof gutters to spew out rainwater. 

The Luneta Hotel once closed after WWII but was restored in 2008 and reopened in 2014, bringing it back to its former glory. 

Lawrence Ruiz | Wikimedia Commons

Manila Cathedral 

Beaterio corner Cabildo Streets, Intramuros, Manila

Just like many of the structures that were destroyed during the War, Manila Cathedral was also rebuilt right on top of the ruins of the old one from 1954 to 1958. Designed by architect Fernando Ocampo, this Neo-Romanesque place of worship is considered the Philippines’ prime basilica and the house of the archbishop of the country. 

This cathedral is known for its 134 stained glass windows, a central rose window, rounded archways, groined vaults that support the roof, and various architectural reliefs, motifs, and accents that embody the Romanesque architectural style. Its floor plan is a Latin cross in form separating various spaces inside, while the whole structure is made of polished Carrara marble that was fabricated in Italy. 

The artistry and sophistication of the cathedral’s design is a combination of past and present history, making it one of the most sought-after venues in Intramuros for weddings and other religious celebrations.  

Jabrian37 | Wikimedia Commons

Manila Central Post Office 

Liwasang Bonifacio, Magallanes Drive, Intramuros, Manila

The Manila Central Post Office is a Neo-Classical building designed by the greats Juan Arellano and Tomas Mapúa in 1925. During that time, it was one of the elegant edifices envisioned to be a part of American urban planner Daniel Burnham’s original master plan for the city of Manila as a mirror of Washington DC. 

The Post Office building is located just beside the Pasig River and is known for its grand Neo-Classical style that features a rectangular central plan adorned with 14 ionic columns and a high ceiling portico, semicircular wings on both ends, and various architectural motifs that resemble classical Greek architecture. 

The original building was destroyed during the Battle of Manila in 1945 and was later rebuilt through the help of the United States’ aid for war damage. It was declared as an Important Cultural Property in 2018 due to its cultural, artistic, and historical significance. Today, the building houses the Philippine Postal Corporation for its main mail sorting operations.  

Philippine General Hospital 

Taft Avenue, Ermita, Manila

Considered as the largest training hospital in the Philippines, the Philippine General Hospital is a state-owned hospital run by the University of the Philippines-Manila and serves as one of the largest public hospitals in the country and a training ground for medical professionals and students at the university. 

This building was designed by William Parson and constructed between 1907 and 1910. Its architectural style is a combination of Spanish Colonial with hints of muted Neo-Classical features. The overall design is simple in nature with little to no ornamentation but has kept true to its identity through its roof with red Spanish clay tiles, tall windows with iron grill work that resemble “ventanillas” from the local Spanish architecture, light-colored plaster walls, and inner courtyards with a fountain to create central open breathing spaces and allow natural light and ventilation. Parson also utilized the use of capiz shells for the windows, which serve as traditional Filipino accents.  

Architecture in the Philippines has developed its own distinctive character despite having various influences. With a lot of talented architects and designers in the country together with our rich culture, designs have changed over time and they have flourished into what they are today.

Traditional Filipino houses and identity have been the core values and inspiration for modern architecture in the country. If you are looking to have one of your own tastefully designed property, we may help you find it here at enta.ph.  

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