Culture & Heritage

Architecture in the Philippines

Written by Patrick
Travel Insurance

The influences of the architecture in the Philippines is as diverse as its culture and traditions.  While the influence mostly comes from the colonizers, the country’s climate, resources, and topography play a part as well.

Here’s the timeline of the Philippine architecture, from the caves and rock shelters of the early times to the modern structures we have today.

Pre-Hispanic Era

Pre-Hispanic Houses in the Philippines

Caption: Pre-Hispanic House Designs in Mindanao | Image Source

The earliest record of Pre-Hispanic architecture in the Philippines are caves and rock shelters like the Tabon Cave in Palawan.  Various tools were later on invented and then used in building tent-like shelters and tree houses.

These shelters were predominantly rectangular in shape with thatched roofs and standing on stilts so that the whole structure may be lifted and transported to a new site since early Filipinos constantly travel to look for food.  Examples of these shelters are bahay kubo, Ifugao house, Bontoc house, Badjao house, Torogan house, and Isneg house.

Mosques shaped like Pagodas and with Japanese and Chinese influences emerged when Islam was established in Sulu.

Spanish Colonial Era

Spanish Colonial Era Architecture in the Philippines

Caption: Examples of Spanish Era Architecture in the Philippines are the Emilio F. Aguinaldo Shrine and the Miagao Church.

The arrival of Spanish colonizers in the 1520’s introduced the Antillean style architecture.  Originated from Central America, this type of architecture was tweaked to tailor the tropical climate of the Philippines.

In the 1560’s, the Franciscans built the first hospital in the Philippines, Hospital Real in Cebu.

Jesuit Antonio Sedeno introduced stone and masonry construction.  Arquitectura meztiza, a hybrid type of construction was then implemented.  The said construction features stone in the lower floor with stone floors concealing the wooden framework within.  The upper floor, supported by haligues (house posts), is wood with wooden pegs and dovetailed joints connecting the wooden structure.

Bahay-na-bato (stone house) and Baroque churches emerged in the 17th to 19th century. 

Accessoria (apartment dwellings), single or two-stories high, appear in the last quarter of the 19th century.

School buildings emerged.

Aside from shelters, churches, and schools, building of ports, roads, bridges, lighthouses, waterways, railways, and streets also started.

American Colonial Era

American Colonial Era Architecture in the Philippines

Caption: The Manila Central Post Office and the Lizares Mansion were built during the American Colonial Era.

Sponsored by colonial officials, the first generation Filipino architects namely Arcadio Arellano and Tomas Arguelles, study architecture and engineering in the US.  They combined Beaux Arts elements with a touch of modernism promoting the concept of utility.

The use of cubeta, or toilet via a pail conservancy system, was introduced by the Americans in 1902.

In 1908, Sanitario Barrio, a well-planned neighborhood concept was introduced.  It led to tsalet, a crossbreed of tropical features of vernacular buildings with hygienic structural principles and modern materials.  The Bureau of Health endorsed several variations of tsalet in 1912.

American architects Edgar K. Bourne and William E. Parsons drove Philippine architecture to the proto-modernist route which features unembellished façades with large windows.

Daniel H. Burnham was commissioned to design master plans for Manila and Baguio with William Parsons as Consulting Architect.  Parsons introduced hollow-blocks and the use of termite-resistive Philippine hardwood.  He also introduced the concept for the mass fabrication of standard building types and the Kahn system, a construction technique for reinforcement of buildings.  The use of reinforced concrete as the standard construction material for all government structures was initiated during the construction of the insane asylum.

In the 1920’s and 1930’s, the second generation Filipino architects namely Andres Luna, Fernando Ocampo, Juan F. Nakpil, and Pablo Antonio emerged and introduced Art Deco which is characterized by exotic embellishments.

Post-World War II Era

Post-World War II Era Architecture in the Philippines

Caption: The UP Diliman Quezon Hall Building and the UP Parish of Holy Sacrifice are examples of Post-World War II Era Architecture.

Philippine architecture adheres to modernism through the use of reinforced concrete, steel, and glass.  Cubic forms, geometric shapes, and Cartesian grids predominate the architecture while applied decoration is no longer present.

The third generation architects introduced the “form follows functions” which utilizes reinforced concrete, steel, and glass.

In the 1950’s, the Philippine architecture witnessed the Space Age aesthetics and Soft Modernism while the height of building was limited by law to 30 meters.

Late Twentieth Century

Late 20th Century Era Architecture in the Philippines

Caption: The Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Iglesia ni Cristo Central Temple are examples of late 20th Century Architecture.

In the 1960’s, the country saw the merging of the modernist style with the use of traditional and local materials and icons.

In the 1970’s, former First Lady Imelda Marcos implemented a national architectural style through the government’s building projects.

In 1973, an oil crisis gave birth to energy-efficient designs called Tropical Regionalism.

The New Millennium

New Millennium Architecture in the Philippines

Caption: The The Philippine Arena, the skyscrapers in Bonifacio Global City and the Grand Mosque of Cotabato are examples of Late Millennium Architecture.

The Philippines, particularly the skyscrapers and micro-cities, embraced the tripartite division of columnar architecture (Tower-on-the-Podium).

Demonstrates garish applications of pastel colors and the mixing and matching of ornaments and styles.

Filipino architects are considered “late modernists” and later as “neo-modernists” or “super modernists”.

Inspirations include aircraft technology, robotics, and cyberspace while reflective blue or aquamarine curtain walls, aluminum cladding, metallic sun visors, and metal mullions rise into popularity.

Advances in computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) technologies.

Adherence to “green architecture” to lessen the negative impact of buildings and construction on human health and on the environment.  Efficiency is enhanced and use of materials, energy, and space is moderated.

READ MORE: Oldest Church Structures in the Philippines

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About the Author


Patrick is an entrepreneur, digital nomad, explorer, and photographer. Patrick is always in search of fun and adventure. He is well travelled throughout the world, and although location independent, his home base is Phoenix, Arizona in the USA. Patrick loves island lifestyle which is no wonder why he is so interested in spending time in the Philippines with it’s over 7,000 islands. Patrick created this site to share his knowledge of and experiences in the Philippines with Filipinos as well as other foreigners.

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