by Augusto F. Villalon
Streetwise Asia has committed funding to support a second project following completion of its first conservation project in Champasak, Laos, PDR, last year. The Streetwise Asia Fund for Heritage Conservation was established in Australia with the support of Unesco and the World Bank.
The fund aims to provide culturally appropriate education facilities and heritage programs for children in urban and rural areas in Asia, and to increase the financial sustainability of Asia’s unique heritage.
Kugita Elementary School, a three-classroom heritage building on the island of Camiguin, has been selected by Streetwise Asia for its second project.
The Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) partnered with the Department of Education for the first three heritage schoolhouses conserved under the DepEd’s Heritage Schoolhouse Program, which that has evolved into a nationwide program to restore unused schoolhouses to ease the severe classroom shortage in the country’s educational system.
Australian and Philippine conservation non-government organizations have jointly sourced the expertise and conservation costs to carry out the complete conservation of Kugita at no cost to the DepEd Heritage School Program.
The project was identified for Streetwise by Sydney architect Bruce Dawbin, who volunteered his expertise and is working in the Philippines with the HCS. International Council for Monuments and Sites (Icomos) Philippines, the national committee of the Paris-based international heritage NGO, is also supporting the project.
At a recent Icomos conference in Sydney, a fund-raising dinner raised additional resources for the project. The Australian Embassy in Manila, through its AusAID program has granted supplementary funds.
The source of the Streetwise Asia Fund for Heritage Conservation is from the publication of “Streetwise Asia: A Practical Guide for the Conservation and Revitalization of Heritage Cities and Towns in Asia” (2005), authored by prominent Australian conservation architect Elizabeth Vines, of Deakin University in Melbourne.
Having waived her royalties, the author donates every dollar from book sales to the Streetwise fund.
The Kugita school building is among the varied examples of Gabaldon schools now widely recognized by Filipinos as an important group heritage structures. Some 3,000 school buildings of the Gabaldon type were erected all over the Philippines during the American colonial period (1898-1945), some surviving in precarious condition today.
Supported by concrete foundations, the circa 1920s wooden school building at Kugita is a characteristic example of a Gabaldon school, named after Assemblyman Isuaro Gabaldon of Nueva Ecija who authored the Education Law appropriating the initial funding for schoolhouse construction in the early 20th century.
Assisted by DepEd engineers, documentation for the project is being completed by Dawbin.
The innovative structural system of concrete foundations that raise the wooden structure off the ground is typical of the Gabaldon prototype. Totally attuned to tropical conditions, the building design takes its cues from the Philippine bahay-kubo that raises the main quarters off the ground for ventilation.
Large center-pivoted kapis windows swing to allow maximum ventilation. The pierced wooden fretwork openings (calado) along tops of interior walls bring ventilation deep into the high ceilings of the school building.
It is of architectural interest as the three-pointed wooden arches on its façade framing a shallow entrance porch allude to Moorish influences, reflecting an American-era image of the cultural heritage of Muslim Mindanao.
The exterior is rapidly deteriorating, requiring re-roofing, structural stabilization of concrete foundations and upgrading of services.
It is also proposed to reconstruct some of the distinctive architectural details, including the remarkable pivoted joinery screens which provide ventilation and diffuse light to the interior through a mosaic of kapis shells.
Once completed, the small building, unsafe for occupancy, therefore unused by students, will add three classrooms much needed by the overpopulated school.
The conservation process itself is bound to be a learning process to all who participate in it. Filipino professionals will be introduced to conservation procedures outlined in the Australia Icomos Burra Charter which guides conservation practices in Australia.
Those from the West could learn traditional Philippine construction techniques, termed “craftsman joinery” in developed countries where the skill has vanished. Experiencing indigenous materials such as tropical hardwood and kapis shells unavailable overseas is likewise a learning process for the Australians.
What better way is there to bring home to Filipinos the reality that the high value of our very unique national heritage draws admiration from the international community!
“Streetwise Asia: A Practical Guide for the Conservation and Revitalization of Heritage Cities and Towns in Asia” can be purchased from the Australia Icomos Secretariat (firstname.lastname@example.org); or from the author Elizabeth Vines (McDougall & Vines Conservation and Heritage Consultants: email@example.com). Cost of the book is $25 00 plus $5 handling cost for orders from outside Australia.