Arguelles’ Carmen Apartments will be Declared an Important Cultural Property

NCCA Board of Commissioners “opposed the petition to remove the Important Cultural Property presumption of Carmen Apartments”

Words Gabrielle de la Cruz
Images Patrick Kasingsing

Last April 25, 2024 (Thursday), National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Commissioner for Cultural Heritage Ivan Henares shared that Carmen Apartments by Filipino architect Carlos Arguelles will be declared an Important Cultural Property. The report was made in a Facebook post, with Henares stating that NCCA opposed to remove the presumption of the building.

A cease-and-desist order (CDO) against the demolition of the apartments was also issued by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) last January 28, 2024. In a video shared by NHCP, chairperson Emmanuel “Manny” Calairo personally delivered the CDO the same day and handed the file to the site’s security guard, saying that a process must be undertaken before any actions are carried on the heritage building.

The declaration will safeguard Carmen Apartments “against exportation, modification, or demolition” as stated under Article III, Article III, Section 5 of R.A. 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009. It is also a win for the Philippine heritage community, especially since Philam Life Theater, arguably Arguelles’ most prominent work, was demolished in 2020.

“We want to work with the owners,” Henares of NCCA told Kanto. A concerned citizen also commented on his Facebook post: “May legal remedy pa ba ang mga owner na gusto paalis ang property nila as ICP/NCT kung ito’y opposed ng mga national agencies? (Do owners who wish to delist their properties as ICP/NCT still have legal remedy if this is opposed by national agencies?), to which Henares responded: “Pwede sila bigyan ng mga insentibo tulad ng tax deductions at mga grant para matulungan sila na maisaayos ang gusali” (They can be given incentives such as tax deductions and grants to help them attend to the structure).

Carmen Apartments was completed in 1958 and is one of the buildings Arguelles designed as an established architect. In a column in 2002, architect Paulo Alcazaren described it as one of Arguelles’ “most elegant buildings.” He wrote: “Its curved plan is a stylish contrast to the surrounding buildings and complements the larger curve of the boulevard. All the floors and units have wide cantilevered balconies that provide entertainment space as well as shade from the sun. Steel railings and large windows combine with these floating slabs to give the building a lightness and transparency even though the main building material is reinforced concrete. Indoors, the units are roomy and spaces flow into each other and onto the balconies.”

Kanto Creative Corners Carmen Apartments Carlos Arguelles ICP

The apartment building is also listed under the twenty architecturally significant modern buildings in Metro Manila by the mASEANa (modern ASEAN architecture) Project. “Sublime balconies attest to Carlos Arguelles’ keen understanding of the climate. The simple gesture of shielding from the sun produces one of the most graceful and elegant profiles in the city,” said architect Dominic Galicia’s report. Towards the end of the report, he also explained why it is vital to protect the work of remarkable Filipino architects. “That we are considering their work for documentation and conservation in the context of mASEANa underscores the tradition we share in this region of respect for our ancestors and learning from the significant work they left behind.  This point is all too frequently belied, in the way significant buildings are unappreciated, almost forgotten, often demolished in Manila, which is why the point needs to be emphasized even more.”

Carlos Arguelles was among the notable architects of his time. He was the Republic Cultural Heritage Awards awardee for architecture in 1968. In 1988, he was the Gold Medal of Merit recipient and The Patnubay ng Sining and Kalinangan Awards’ awardee for architecture. •

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