A couple of weeks ago, Paulo Alcazaren showed how thoughtful design can impact our public spaces. The urban planner and landscape architect shared a series of projects he and his team were doing in Iloilo by posting photos on Facebook.
He and his multi-disciplinary firm PGAA Creative Design specialize in urban planning for large civic open spaces, and his team had just returned from stakeholders’ meetings for the Conservation Master Plan of Iloilo’s historic downtown area. During that visit, they were able to view and take some aerial shots of the now-completed Iloilo Provincial Civic Complex, a project they were obviously proud to be part of. In the pictures, the Iloilo Esplanade, a 1.2-kilometer development that stretches from Diversion Road to Carpenter Bridge also designed by Alcazaren, peeks from behind the complex. “Iloilo is showing the way in terms of civic and urban design,” he proclaims in his post.
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Alcazaren says that the five-hectare Capitol Complex, for which governor Toto Defensor asked for help, presented challenges, in particular its buildings came from different eras. “As with a lot of these government complexes, the buildings were built separately, decades, years apart. They were not very well interconnected, and also parking was a problem, circulation was a problem,” he explains to ANCX. “The challenge was to redevelop the entire complex to have a singular identity.”
What he and his team did was to document the buildings and understand each office’s function.
His team also rationalized and improved the area’s pedestrian circulation system as well as car access and parking. “The problem with a lot of our government centers is that very few of them give priority to the people who actually use them,” Alcazaren says. “Most people come on foot, traveling in public transportation. So one of our first priority was to ensure that the public who were serviced by the provincial government center were given priority and access to the main buildings.”
Their efforts also led to reviving a lost park, the creation of an events and concert area, and integration of the complex with the esplanade. Trees from the province were also planted in the park last December.
Through what he calls “visual connections,” Alcazaren’s team was able to integrate landmarks from eras that are within the Iloilo Provincial Complex, unifying the civic space and giving it a clear identity.
Some of these were accomplished by merely shuffling around certain elements. For example, the provincial jail, which is now run by the National Museum, was blocked by a nondescript structure and ill-laid out landscape. “The Department of Tourism office housed there was moved to the turn-of-the-century provincial capitol at the corner,” he says. “This intervention allowed visual connections to the museum from the street and yielded a park as foreground.”
The primary façade of the main capitol building also used to be blocked by a covered walkway, which has since been moved to the side. The transfer allowed the walkway to service both the aforementioned provincial jail-museum and the main building at the same time. “This allowed the main building façade—its face—to be seen by the public and act as a vertical visual anchor to the whole complex,” says the architect.
On one corner is a mural on the history of Iloilo province, which was inaugurated two months ago. The PGAA team proposed to the governor that there should be a competition to determine who would create the sweeping installation. A group of Ilonggo architects—Victor Jacinto of Pototan, Kenneth Torre, Ryan Braga, and Jorge Sayco Cadiao Jr.—won and earned the privilege. The artwork was implemented by Joseph Albert and Margarette Pampliega. “We always recommend that public art, using local artists, be incorporated into the master plan and the individual detailed site development,” Alcazaren adds.
From the photos alone, the whole thing looks impressive. “The whole project turned out quite nicely. It’s not yet complete; there’s another 20 or 30 percent left toward the end of the esplanade, which will be done eventually,” Alcazaren says. “But most of it is complete. And the park is open for use by the public, and you see a lot of people enjoying the space now. It was originally quite cluttered, and not attractive for public use.”