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From Nipa Hut to House of Stone

by Jennibeth Montejo Alojado

The architecture of the Philippines is a manifestation of the history and heritage of the country. The most well-known historical constructions in the archipelago are from the Spanish Colonial Period, although much of Philippine architectures have Japanese, Malay, Hindu, Chinese and American influences.

The original ancestral home, and still the home of Filipinos in rural areas, is the bahay kubo or nipa hut. This pre-Hispanic architecture is a single room house made of wood, bamboo or other native materials. Though the styles of the nipa hut vary throughout the country, most of them are raised slightly above the ground and one must enter them by means of ladders. Under the nipa hut, the Filipinos keep their swine, goats and fowl. Aside from nipa huts, other small houses were built on top of tree to prevent animals as well as enemy attacks.

When the Spanish arrived in the Philippines, they introduced European architecture in the country. But the Spanish quickly learned that stone buildings could not last very long in an earthquake prone area. Consequently, they combined the structural features of the bahay kubo with European structural elements. Thus, the nipa hut or bahay kubo gave way to Antillean houses locally known as Bahay na Bato (house of stone) which became the typical house of noble Filipinos.

This Spanish-Filipino domestic architecture is typically raised or two-story. Usually the ground level is made of corals or stones while the upper level of the house is made of wood. To take advantage of cooling breezes, the bahay na bato has large windows which surround the upper floor. The windows are made of capiz shells which is a translucent material that allows enough amount of light to pass through even if the windows are closed. Small shuttered windows called ventanillas are located below the large windows and are screened with balusters or grillwork so that it can be left opened when the large windows are closed such as at night.

Like an endangered species, these bahay na bato are vanishing toward extinction. With buildings and subdivisions sprouting everywhere, this important character of early Filipino lives will be blown away by the winds of progress. The capiz shells, that naturally filtered light, have given way to glass and the large open windows have been replaced with air-conditioning. But a few towns have made an effort to preserve their architectural heritage. Vigan in Ilocos Sur, the town of Taal in Batangas, the Balay Negrense in Silay, Negros Occidental and the Villa Escudero in San Pablo, Laguna are notable for their preserved Antillean houses.

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