Via Humilitatis: A Béton Brut Visita Iglesia

Seven places of worship that honor the ineffable with material honesty, spatial humility, and openness to the elements

Words Gabrielle de la Cruz
Images Brutalist Pilipinas and Wikimedia Commons

In his text, “Directions for the building of a church”, National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin wrote: “The church of today is intended for the people of our times. Hence, it must be fashioned in such a way that the people of our times may recognize and feel that it is addressed to them. The most significant and the most worthy needs of modern mankind must here find their fulfillment: the urge toward community life, the desire for what is true and genuine, the wish to advance from what is peripheral to what is central and essential.”

This Holy Week, we go through seven Philippine churches that prioritize spiritual communion, finding the sublime through simplicity and humility. The beauty of these spaces lies in the way they celebrate material honesty, emblematic of the 1950s to 1970s French term “Béton brut,” meaning “raw concrete,” which is not merely the use of the material itself, but rather the way the material is used. We look at the ways in which each structure chose to expose its components and systems, sacrificing the usual beautous trappings for a spatial experience which, while more raw and visceral, encourages a sincere connection with the divine.

Kanto Creative Corners Visita Iglesia Special 2024 Magallanes Church image courtesy of Dominic Galicia Architects
St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori Parish, Makati City. Image courtesy of Dominic Galicia Architects. Header: Sunken Shrine of our Lady of Lourdes Cabetican, courtesy of Patrick Kasingsing for Brutalist Pilipinas

St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori Parish, Magallanes Village, Makati City

National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin was known for championing concrete as a material, bringing out its textural beauty through the often acrobatic forms he molded it into. His work for the 1968 St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori Parish in Makati City is no stranger to this. The low-slung, 800-square-meter structure has a flat ceiling and dark interiors that further acquaint patrons with the material’s rawness.  

Also known as the Magallanes Church, the original structure had 28 four-meter-tall concrete buttresses supporting a tall parapet wall shielding the corrugated metal roof. The church also had a total seating capacity of 300 and a perfect square plan measuring 28 meters on each side. Outside the structure is another work by another National Artist, Ildefonso P. Santos, the 2002 Garden Way of the Cross. This was a place of prayer with sculptures in the church’s driveway, with artworks donated and the garden construction funded by generous parishioners.

Unfortunately, the original structure and the garden were destroyed by fire in 2004. The 28 buttresses survived, so the parish decided to save them and employ the help of Dominic Galicia Architects. The buttresses were filled with concrete “to fulfill a new structural purpose of providing lateral support to the new composite columns that carry the roof vaults.” Rows of clear glass were also placed to allow the natural light in and reuse the existing structure “as the springboard for soaring roofs.” A mezzanine was incorporated as well, bringing the total seating to 900. The Garden Way of the Cross was rehabilitated in 2017 and now comes with a water feature, still sustained by parish staff and volunteers, and donations from the community in the form of plants and organic fertilizers made on-site.

The renovation, in the words of Dominic Galicia Architects, serves “to sustain things other than tangible material resources: Memory and Faith… The original structure speaks of mortality, suffering, death; the soaring new space speaks of paradise, grace, and resurrection.”

Kanto Creative Corners Visita Iglesia Special 2024 Sunken Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes Cabetican photographed by Eldry John Infante
The Sunken Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, Bacolor, Pampanga. Image courtesy of Eldry John Infante for Brutalist Pilipinas.

Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, Cabetican, Bacolor, Pampanga

Colloquially known as the Cabetican Shrine, the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes of Cabetican in Bacolor, Pampanga was built in 1981 and was the first archdiocesan shrine of the province. This gargantuan concrete structure is attributed to Kapampangan engineer Julio Macapagal and seven unnamed architects, with the irregular trapezoidal shrine standing seven stories high upon completion. It was also among the most popular Pampanga pilgrimage sites, given its housing of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Lourdes at the time. Records of the shrine say that since the image “based from the visions of St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858” was brought to the town through a native ‘banca’ in 1906, numerous cures for epidemics and diseases in the province of Pampanga were attributed to her intercession.

The church was given its new name after the damage brought by Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption on June 15, 1991, burying most of the original structure underground and leaving nearly only its sloping roof exposed. The continuous flow of lahar until 1995 also left most of Bacolor submerged, and its residents slowly rebuilt the town for years. The shrine remained unused for a decade and was only attended to in 2005, with the national government partnering with the local government of Bacolor and the parish for its restoration.

Images courtesy of Patrick Kasingsing for Brutalist Pilipinas.

Since then, the shrine has come a long way—from devotees and parishioners helping to clean out the church to local firm BAAD Studio making it the subject of a conceptual restorative plan that won during the 2018 World Architecture Festival. The entrance to the structure has also changed, as the partial excavation only opened a small portion and initially required one to kneel before stepping inside. Kanto’s last visit in 2023 revealed that the interiors can now be accessed through a full-sized opening towards the left side facing the structure. The lower ceiling has also brought the elevated image of the Risen Christ in the middle of the shrine visually closer, and the rock formations climbing the walls near the altar now remind people of the grotto in Lourdes, France where the miracle of Our Lady of Lourdes was said to take place.

Kanto Creative Corners Visita Iglesia Special 2024 St. Andrew the Apostle Parish photographed by Patrick Kasingsing
St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, Makati City. Image courtesy of Patrick Kasingsing for Brutalist Pilipinas.

Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish, Bel-Air Village, Makati City

Dedicated to its namesake, Saint Andrew the Apostle Parish is another church designed by the late Leandro Locsin. The building of the church was proposed by a group of residents in 1965, dreaming of a parish that they could call their own. Shortly after, Don Andres Soriano Jr., son of Don Andres Sr. of the San Miguel Corporation, offered to build the church and granted the wish of the community.

Completed on November 30, 1968, the church is known for its off-center altar and the massive circular chandelier hanging from the center to illuminate the interiors. The parish’s floor plan also follows a butterfly shape, alluding to how St. Andrew the Apostle was crucified on a saltire or X-shaped cross. A small, crucified statue of the martyr also stands at the left of the altar, next to the copper cross by National Artist for Visual Art Vicente Manansala in the middle. Swiss author and architect Jean-Claude Girard, in “Religious Tropical Architecture: The churches of Leandro V. Locsin in the Philippines,” said that among Locsin’s churches, this “is certainly the most radical in its formal break with the immediate environment, with its enclosure reminiscent of a shell and the importance given to its load-bearing structure comprising beams forming a cross.”

Images courtesy of Patrick Kasingsing for Brutalist Pilipinas.

Redevelopments in the parish were made in 2002, but only for minimal improvements for flooring, air-conditioning, and chandelier and altar refurbishing. A parish office annex, an entrance canopy, a perimeter fence, and a carillon bell tower have also been added. Today, residents of Bel-Air, Makati City, and nearby areas still frequent the parish for eucharistic celebrations.

Saint Peter Metropolitan Cathedral, Davao. Image Author: Ryme26 at Wikimedia Commons, CC CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED

Saint Peter Metropolitan Cathedral, Davao City, Davao Del Sur

The Saint Peter Metropolitan Cathedral is the ecclesiastical seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Davao and is dedicated to Saint Peter the Apostle. It is also known as San Pedro Cathedral or the Davao Cathedral. The cathedral underwent design changes since its foundation in 1947, with an earlier, Neo-Gothic church built in the same year.

It was only in 1964 that it was remodeled in concrete, with Davao engineer Manuel Chiew designing a roof that resembles an ark, pointing to where the cross stands. In an interview by Cheryll D. Fiel for Davao News Today, Floren Baltazar, who was among the workers who built the new cathedral, said that the boat-like figure of the church draws inspiration from its namesake, “a fisherman who took to task Jesus’ commandment to pasture his flock and become fishers of men.”  A separate bell tower was constructed in the same year, and a mix of gravel, cement, steel, and concrete make up the current structure. The façade also has inviting arches below the concrete roof, housing the church’s windows. Inside, the church follows a simple layout, with rows of pews fronting a gold and brown altar. Baltazar also said that “almost everything in the San Pedro Cathedral now has been changed, except for the altar, a remnant of a Castilian past.”

Image Author: Teemu Väisänen at Wikimedia Commons, CC CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Several online accounts claim that the church is considered a National Cultural Treasure, but it is not included in the official list of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). Still, the cathedral demands the same amount of protection, as it lived through different phases. The site also survived two bombing incidents, one in 1981 and another in 1993. Its current grounds play host to other structures, asserting its importance as a landmark of the province.

St. Marc’s Chapel, Los Baños, Laguna. Image Author: Julia Sumangil at Flickr, CC CC BY 2.0 DEED

St. Marc’s Chapel, National Arts Complex, Los Baños, Laguna

Situated within the National Arts Complex at the three-acre Makiling Forest Reservation is the non-denominational St. Marc’s Chapel in Los Baños, Laguna. Research says that the chapel was built in the late 1970s and designed by National Artists Leandro Locsin and Vicente Manansala. Majority of the stand-alone structure is made of concrete and stone, a single, solid post with a massive cross that comes with an outline of a crucified Jesus Christ.

What makes this structure interesting is that it is an open chapel within a forest, with two columns of horizontal stone seating for an intimate number of people. It also comes with a cantilevered roof that extends towards the seating area. A rock formation believed to be a water feature can also be seen towards the right side facing the structure, allowing it to blend with the natural surroundings.

Image Author: Nickrds09 at Wikimedia Commons, CC CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED

The chapel can be compared to open temples made of stone during ancient times, reminiscent of how early church architecture was all about people building sacred spaces following their beliefs. It has also become among the prominent venues for wedding ceremonies in the area and was even featured in several classic Filipino films.

Holy Cross Memorial Chapel. Image Author: Judgefloro at Wikimedia Commons, CC CC0 1.0 DEED

Holy Cross Memorial Chapel

Leandro Locsin’s son, Andy, once described his father’s early schemes with “a very, very strong design sense—concepts of floating volumes, openness, a horizontality that was of the earth, and a lifting of those volumes off the ground; reminiscent to some degree of an abstraction of what Filipino architecture could be.” The chapel of the Holy Cross Memorial Park in Novaliches, Quezon City is among the prime examples of this, with the 1969 structure being one of the architect’s humbler designs.

Holy Cross Memorial Chapel. Image Author: Judgefloro at Wikimedia Commons, CC CC0 1.0 DEED

The chapel’s exterior pattern is similar to that of the Tanghalang Pambansa in the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, one of Locsin’s most prominent works. Inside, it also boasts of raw walls and a well-lit central altar. The most recent addition to chapel is the 14 Stations of the Cross, which were incorporated between 2014 to 2015. The frames were hung inside the chapel’s walls, adding color to the neutral palette of the interiors.

Aside from the chapel, Locsin also designed some of the major structures within the 48-hectare park.

Kanto Creative Corners Visita Iglesia Special 2024 EDSA Shrine photographed by Patrick Roque Wikimedia Commons
EDSA Shrine. Image Author: Patrick Roque at Wikimedia Commons, CC CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED

The Shrine of Mary, Queen of Peace, Our Lady of EDSA

The 1989 Shrine of Mary, Queen of Peace, Our Lady of EDSA, popularly known as the EDSA Shrine, is possibly the most prominent religious work of National Artist for Architecture Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa. Records of the shrine say that “the idea of a shrine of peace to serve as a memorial of the People Power Revolution came as an inspired thought to His Eminence Jaime Cardinal Sin two days after the dictator fled to exile in Hawaii.”

The initial plan of Mañosa was to build the shrine with seven pitched roofs framing a statue of the Virgin Mary, applying the wisdom behind the the bahay kubo to a larger scale. However, the committee decided to go with a different direction, convincing the architect to continue the project. The result is the EDSA Shrine we all know now, an underground church with a sculpture of the Blessed Virgin by Filipina sculptor Virginia Ty-Navarro atop the roof. “The promenade is accessible through cascading stairs and ramps from EDSA and Ortigas Avenue,” adds the shrine.

Image Author: Matthew Gan at Wikimedia Commons, CC CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

The design of the shrine is often regarded as neo vernacular given Mañosa’s constant pursuit of modern Filipino architecture. Records also say that architects Leandro Locsin and William Coscolluela were also involved with the preparatory work for the building. In 2019, the shrine was declared an Important Cultural Property by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, guaranteeing government technical and financial assistance for its conservation. •

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