Philippine Landscape Architecture for 2000-2010


This was a paper published by columnist Paulo Alcazaren on the influx and practice of expats and foreign firms in the Philippines and what it meant to local professionals. You can also read this article in the “Designer Green” issue of Bluprint, available now at all major magazine stands and National Bookstores.

Philippine Report for International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) 

Philippine Landscape Architecture 2000-2010 by Paulo G. Alcazaren

The first decade of the new millennium has brought both a few triumphs and major setbacks for landscape architecture and its professional practice in the Philippines. The decade started on a low, as the Asian financial crisis brought property development to a standstill. It ended on a high as recovery was strong despite the worldwide economic glitch in 2006-2008. Local practitioners are optimistic but only if major issues are dealt with.

The last ten years has seen increased membership in the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects. There are now 225 members from 125. The profession is now also fully regulated with a strengthened law (Republic Act 9053). Professionals must be Filipinos and must register and maintain a valid license to practice. This regulation is now under a fully independent Board of Landscape Architecture under the Philippine Regulation Commission, which [also] oversees over forty professional fields in the country. Within the past decade, the number of universities offering courses in landscape architecture has increased to three from the lone institution- the University of the Philippines. Degrees in landscape architecture are now offered north of Manila at the Bulacan State University, and south of Manila in Cebu province, at the University of San Carlos. The degree programs in both new sites are headed and staffed by graduates of the University of the Philippines and by a Filipino graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Design (in the case of Cebu).

Landscape architecture got a major boost in 2006 with the naming of veteran landscape architect I.P. Santos (a former IFLA official) as a National Artist in Architecture and Allied Arts. This is the highest honor bestowed on the country’s creative geniuses. Santos’ award put landscape architecture in the spotlight and has reaped benefits for the profession and its practitioners.

This increased awareness of the profession has led to more project opportunities for Filipino landscape architects and firms. Development has boomed in Manila and other regions all through the decade, except for a slight slowdown in 2006-2008. Greenfield and brown field developments abound. Inner city redevelopment projects, with higher density mixed-use complexes, all with landscaped podiums or amenity floors, have been the main sources of work for many practitioners. Government too, at the local and regional levels, has been receptive to the need for landscape architecture in the design of infrastructure and civic spaces.

[But despite this,] the scenario has not been completely positive for Filipino landscape architects. Despite competent education and extensive experience [of local professionals], many local clients turned to foreign landscape architecture firms for their major projects.

Over a dozen high profile and large-scale developments have made use of American, Australian, EU, Singaporean and even Chinese landscape architecture firms. PALA has verified that none of these firms have complied with Philippine regulations (which allow special permits to practice in limited cases where local expertise is proven unavailable).

PALA has taken steps on this issue with developers and the Philippine Regulation Commission but red tape has dragged these proceedings over the last two years, whilst the number of foreign firms illegally practicing in the country has [continued to ] increase.

A good number of these firms started with outsourcing operations here, hiring local landscape architects and architects to do CADD work for projects in China and even their home countries. In the downturn after 2006, these firms set their eyes on local projects, marketing themselves to the detriment of local practitioners. It is a double whammy because most of the ranks of local firms have been depleted by pirating from these outsourcing firms. Moreover, many now recruit directly from the universities and a whole generation of landscape architecture students is drawn to work for these firms. This new generation is destined to spend a career as glorified draftsmen or cheap labor, abandoning future possibilities as full professionals in their own country where they are needed.

Many of these foreign firms offer planning, urban design and landscape architecture up to design development stage. Locals are often called in late in the process and given directives to ‘just follow’ the schemes prepared by these foreign firms. What is discovered in a good number of these designs is that the local cultural use of spaces is unknown or misunderstood, token nods to local aesthetics are made, usually by lifting patterns from local sourcebooks but without understanding the context of the Philippines and its multi-cultural ethnicity. Manila and many other regional centers of growth are seeing copies of landscapes imported almost wholly from abroad. The results are borrowed landscapes with no cultural specificity or real sense of place.

Philippine landscape architecture and Filipino landscape architects are not averse to ideas from other shores. In cases allowed by local laws, collaborative work is welcome. What Filipino practitioners want to express to fellow professionals in other countries, and whose associations are members of IFLA is that we prefer to work in an environment of mutual professional respect.

Filipino landscape architects work within legal and professional firms overseas because of their creativity and dedication to their work. Many come home wanting to join those still here, and hoping to help evolve local landscape architecture. They, we, hope, to design Filipino landscapes for Filipinos—the green spaces and settings for modern private and communal lives, landscapes that are global in outlook, sustainable in growth, but proudly local in cultural flavor and soul.