Ildefonso P. Santos and Filipino Landscape Architecture

Articles, Featured

Ildefonso P. Santos Jr.

The Necessity of Beauty: The Landscape Architecture of

IP Santos by Paulo Alcazaren

“A beautiful environment is necessary if only to buoy up the sagging spirits and offer hope for the future. The alternative is to invite irreparable destruction of mind and spirit and a complete loss of morale. For it is …accepted that ugliness and discord of any sort disturbs …creates tension, and leaves an uncontrollable depressing effect on an individual, usually without his being aware of it. This is why I feel that it is so important to surround people with beauty.”                                      – Ildefonso P. Santos

In the last forty years or so, the art of landscape architecture, through its practitioners, have labored to offer correctives to the blight of our modern urban and rural realities. Grand gardens were the first products of modern landscape architectural design but the art of molding the landscape soon moved to address more public needs. The refreshing gardens of a revived Paco Park, the varied views of the Nayong Pilipino, special gardens at the Luneta and sculpture-filled outdoor malls at the Ayala commercial center were all welcome amenities that set a new standard for designed outdoor space in the country.

The artist responsible for all these was Ildefonso P. Santos Jr. For this pioneering work he is acknowledged by his peers as the “father of modern Philippine Landscape Architecture.” Santos has dedicated the last forty-five years of his creative life and poured his energies to mitigating the madness of modern lives that are much too separated from nature.

Part of Santos’ creative flair is genetic. He is the son of Ildefonso Santos, renowned Filipino educator, translator and Tagalog poet. Instead of colorful words that his father used, IP uses ground cover, shrubs, vines and trees. Instead of lines, IP uses meandering walkways and balmy esplanades. Instead of stanzas, IP creates grassy ridges, shaded outlooks, welcoming courtyards and vibrant plazas. IP’s poetry is enjoyed across a whole range of scales—from tropical haiku in small pocket parks and gardens to whole landscape narratives for city districts, sprawling resorts and colorful mixed-use developments.

His upbringing and the route he took to his art is colorful and filled with serendipitous surprises. As a young boy in Malabon, Santos’ playground was the then still idyllic landscape of a small bay-side town.  Here he developed a love for nature, which he later expressed through drawing skills he picked up from studying the graphic illustrations of Francisco Coching and Botong Francisco.

As a master artist he allowed apprentices to grow quickly in experience by throwing young landscape architects into the deep end, forever assuming that they had the potential and the intelligence to carry out tasks and create on their own. This trust drove a new generation all to learn quickly and make continue the mission.

IP Santos’ contributions have been largely unnoticed by a public that has enjoyed his landscapes for close to half a century. The fact is that a lot of his work has been falsely credited to architects, landscape gardeners or sculptors. IP has worked with architects, horticulturists and sculptors but always as the primary designer and author of the outdoor settings for places mentioned above.

His landscape architecture has evolved from when he came back in the early 60s (after having taken his masters and practiced in California) improving as clients warmed up to both his radiant personality as well as the sense that he was making when he showed that a well-designed landscape helped sell real estate at the same time it gave pleasure to those who found themselves in it.

IP developed a tropical landscape architecture style that made use of endemic plant materials, local stone, arts and crafts, metalwork all in a “studied casualness” that made it distinct from hard and cold western design. IP also added soul to his creations by providing lyrical settings for the sculptural work of National Artists Napoleon Abueva and Arturo Luz along with a veritable who’s who of Philippine sculpture namely Castrillo, Orlina, Caedo, Saprid, Fernandez and a host of others.

Ildefonso P. Santos, a consummate artist himself, deserves a long overdue salute. The artistry of a man is made more notable because he works in the most difficult medium—nature: God’s earth, plants, shrubs and trees. Santos has moulded organic material, man-made concrete and steel, as well as shaped the land itself, to create special places—settings for myriad uses and a source of unending enjoyment for countless users.

IP Santos has stewarded, not only the land but also a profession, and two generations of landscape architects; all of whom would do well to emulate his passion and help him continue his good work. Our collective physical, mental and creative wellbeing would benefit immensely if only, as IP teaches us, we learn to live, work and build in harmony with nature.

Paulo Alcazaren
May 2006

Article taken from PALA website (

Photo credit from First Filipino (

Article on I.P. Santos, national artist (


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