Arch. Federico S. Ilustre (1912–1989) is often cited for the design of the Quezon Memorial Park, and sometimes the YMCA Building (a.k.a. the GSIS Building) in the Ermita district of Manila. However, many do not realize how Arch. Ilustre defined the look of the Diliman Quadrangle by designing the all government buildings on the Elliptical Road and nearby, which were constructed from the late 1950s to early 1960s. As the director of the Bureau of Public Works during that period, Arch. Ilustre was able to take on these many projects, and design them in the sleek International Style as a symbol of the Philippine’s modern progression as it was rebuilding all its cities from the destruction left by World War II.
Some of Ilustre’s works in Quezon City are the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (now the Department of Agriculture or DA) and the DA’s Philippine Coconut Administration (now the Philippine Coconut Authority or PHILCOA) compounds on the Elliptical Road, the Department of Social Welfare compound (DSWD) at the end of Constitution Road (now the Batasan Road), and the DA’s National Irrigation Administration Office along the NIA Road. Arch. Ilustre also designed the DANR’s (Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources) Bureau of Agricultural Extension (BAEx, est. 1952), which was completed in 1959 on the Elliptical Road.
The Bureau of Agricultural Extension is currently the DA’s Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), and the façade features two gigantic Carabao heads possibly by the Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Clementi Monti (1888-1958), who Ilustre was working with in designing the Quezon Memorial. During its inauguration, the carabao heads were “tethered” to the ground by equally gigantic bronze cables that represented the abaca ropes that farmers used to tied their beasts of burden.
In 1974, the DANR was reorganized as the Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MAF) and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), thus defining the roles and responsibilities of each government department. In celebration of the “autonomy” of the MAF, a monument to the “Farm Family” was erected within the sample farm grounds of the bureau’s grounds.
The last sculpture inside the Bureau of Agricultural Extension compound is the memorial to the 4th International Farm Youth Exchange (IFYE) Program Conference, which was held in Manila, from the 29th of October to the 25th of November 1982. The IFYE started in USA, in 1948, as a means for American youths and their foreign counter parts to live in various farming communities around the world, as a means of promoting international unity while these youths develop life skills. The IFYE was funded by the National 4-H Foundation (est. 1902), a network of US-based youth organizations, with the motto of “Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.” The IFYE and the 4-H are also under the supervision of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In the Philippines, the local counterpart of the IFYE, started as the 4-W Club in 1946, with the motto of “Will, Well-Being, Work and Wisdom.” In 1952, the Philippine chapter of the 4-H was formally established under the Bureau of Agricultural Extension. The IFYE Memorial was created by Angel Zamora and Sons (est. 1950), by the nephews of the noted engraver, Crispulo de Guzman-Mendoza Zamora (1871-1922).
Ilustre’s original design of the BAEx building is very typical of the International Style, with the clean geometric lines and symmetry of modern architecture that is matched with high ceilings, wide hallways and wide windows to adapt to the tropical climate. Ilustre’s wide typical sweeping elevated driveway puts the main hall or lobby at the second floor, much like the old Spanish period “Bahay na Bato” (House of Stone) where the living quarters is at the second floor, while the ground floor becomes a storage area. Inside, Ilustre uses elevated spiraling walkways, instead of stairs, to keep a fluid movement of the people within.
The People’s Homesite and Housing Corporation (PHHC) compound, does not follow Ilustre’s signature elevated drive way, maybe to show more humility to the many people marching into its doors seeking a new home. Completed in 1957, the now-National Housing Authority (NHA) has very few signs of the wide open International Style, after its renovation in 1977.
With that 1977 renovation, First Lady Imelda Trinidad Romualdez Marcos (born 1929) commissioned Eduardo De Los Santos Castrillo (1942-2016) to create a 10×2.5 meter bronze relief entitled “The Builders” in 1979. The artwork may be a bit ostentatious, to highlight the works of the First Lady, as Minster of Human Settlements, and her husband, President Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos Sr. (1917-1989); yet it also shows the story of the earlier Homesite projects that turned shanty towns into thriving communities.
Another artwork in the NHA lobby is the 1975 stained aluminum relief by Francisco Rovero, entitled “Bayanihan” (Community Spirit). The artwork features the typical image to represent the bayanihan spirit, with the towns people helping a neighbor literally move to a new home by carrying the hut on their should to the new location. This artwork captures the mandate communities building communities of the NHA, and its precursors: the People’s Homesite and Housing Corporation and the National Resettlement and Rehabilitation Administration (NARRA).
With the exception of the Quezon Memorial, I could imagine that there is much more to discover in the other buildings designed by Arch. Ilustre within Elliptical Road. However, most of these buildings are not open to the public, while others have been renovated by the succeeding administrations that the artworks are long gone and the architecture is hardly recognizable for Ilustre’s original design. However, it is still a pleasure to visit both the ATI and NHA offices and see both art and architecture tell the stories of our past.
Arch. Federico S. Ilustre (1912–1989) is a graduate of the Mapua Institute of Technology, and later worked as a draftsman under Juan Nakpil. Ilustre later took extra work as a furniture designer under Puyat and sons, before working for the Bureau of Public Works in 1936. Ilustre later obtained his license in 1937, and would become instrumental in the redevelopment of Manila after the destruction of World War II (1938-1945). He would become the supervising architect of the U.S. Army Forces, Western Pacific (AFWESPAC), in its rehabilitation efforts after the war. In 1947, Ilustre was appointed as the supervising architect of the National Housing Commission, but he would later return to the Bureau of Public Works in 1949, until his retirement in the 1970s.
Francesco Riccardo Clementi Monti (1888-1958) was an Italian sculptor who resided in the Philippines from 1930 to 1958. He was the son of Alexander Monti, who hailed from a long line of masons and sculptors in Cremona, Italy. Francesco would be distinguished as the only one of his clan to train formally in the arts, as he would enroll at the Institute of Ponzone for Decorative Arts and Technology and the Royal Academy of Breza in Milan. Upon completing his studies, Monti would return Cremona, and launch a very successful career creating many public sculptures for the city, where he developed his Art Deco style. His work slowed down with World War I (1914-1918), as Monti jointed the Italian military. After the war, he returned to sculpting, and he was honored, in 1924, with the title of Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy, for his artistic endeavors. In 1928, Monti design was selected as the grand prize winner for the Caduti Austrio-Ungheresi Monument design competition in Cremona, for a memorial for 33 Austro-Hungarian soldiers killed in Cremona in World War I. Sadly, the judges would later reverse the decision, and award the prize to another sculpture, due to political wrangling of the fascist politicians in power. This greatly dismayed Monti, and he decided to leave Cremona. He moved across Europe, and later went to New York City, where he met the Filipino Architect Juan Arrellano, who invited him to visit the Philippines. Monti would later shuffle between Italy, Hong Kong, and the Philippines; until he finally settled in Manila in 1932. Monti would collaborate with Arch. Arellano and sculptor Guillermo Tolentino in many projects, before being incarcerated by the Japanese in World War II (1938-1945). After the war, Monti received many commissions for the sculptural work in the rehabilitation of the structures damaged by the war, as well as new infrastructure developments throughout the country. Monti’s works can be seen on the Manila Metropolitan Theater in Manila, Philippine Military Academy in Baguio, the University of Santo Tomas (UST), the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, and the Don Bosco Technical School in Mandaluyong City. In 1948, Monti started teaching at the UST School of Fine Arts, and help develop their sculpture program. Among his distinguished students were Ang Kiukok, Leonardo Hidalgo, Ting Ping Lay, and Virginia Ty-Navarro. Monti worked with many Filipino architects and artists, and he was instrumental in the establishment of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP), in 1948. He died in 1958, and was buried in his adoptive land, the Philippines.
Eduardo De Los Santos Castrillo (1942-2016) is a noted sculptor, who had defined the second wave of modernist sculpture in the Philippines. Castrillo graduated from the UST Fine Arts program, and first started at first as an illustrator for publishing before embarking into a career in public sculpture. In the course of time, Castrillo has represented the Philippines in many exhibitions abroad, and has also been commissioned to create monuments all over the country and overseas. He received the TOYM Award for sculpture (Ten Outstanding Young Men) in 1970, the 13 Artists Award by the CCP in 1970, Outstanding Makati Resident in 1971, Outstanding Sta. Ana Resident in 1974, Outstanding Son of Biñan Award in 1980 from the Maduro Club, Outstanding Son of Laguna Award in 1980 from the Laguna Lion’s Club, Adopted Son of Cebu in 1996, the Far Eastern University Green and Gold Artist Award in 1998, and the Most Outstanding Citizen Award of Quezon City.
Francisco Rovero (born around 1948) is a symbolist painter and sculptor, currently active in the New South Wales art community, of Australia. Born in the province of Aklan, Rovero migrated to Manila, to take his formal art studies at the University of Santo Tomas. Upon graduating in 1970, Rovero had three solo exhibitions and joined eight group shows while working for two art galleries. Rovero was even able to earn enough money to produce the independent film “Andrea” in 1978. However, eventually migrated to Australia in 1985, where he would establish a bigger reputation. First to make ends meet, Rovero started teaching at the Fairfield City Community Resource Centre, while joining group exhibitions. This led to Rovero becoming an officer in various art organizations; such as the vice-president of the Fairfield City Art Society (1993), the founding president of the Philippine-Australian Art Society (1994-2005), the president of the Arts Alive Society (1996-1997), and the founding vice-president and current director of the Filipino Australian Artistic and Cultural Endeavour Society (FAACES) (2011 to present). Rovero is also a member of the Art Gallery Society of NSW, the Artfiles-Parramatta, and the Auburn Artists Society. In 2006, the Province of Alkan recognized Rovero’s contributions to the arts, and was honored as one of the Outstanding Aklanons of 2006.