Sheltering The Modern Spirit: The Architecture Of Jose Maria Zaragoza

Reference: UST Museum

Jose Maria V. Zaragoza belonged to the third generation of Filipino architects, a category ascribed to those educated in local universities prior to the outbreak of World War II. He and his contemporaries advocated the progressive ideas of modernism in rebuilding the Philippines from the ashes of war in the mid-20th century, and in the process, developed an architectural identity befitting a newly independent nation-state. Zaragoza’s career spanned more than half a century and yielded a significant corpus of architectural works that addressed the spiritual and secular requirements of the modern Filipino

The extraordinary coherence of his works is based on a solid intellectual and theoretical framework grounded in modernist aesthetics and coupled with a nationalist fervour. His professional training was rigorous, allowing him to experiment and generate a new set of building principles that have become indispensable to the understanding and practice of modern architecture in a tropical milieu and in the post-colonial and social context. At the same time, those principles allowed him to pursue elusive discourse of nationalism in rebuilding the country’s war-ravaged architectural landscape. In his lifetime, Zaragoza traversed a path that method both his spiritual and professional calling into the unrelenting vocation of designing landmark worship spaces, spiritual centers, as well as some of the nation’s iconic edifices of commerce and culture.

Zaragoza’s name is synonymous with modern ecclesiastical architecture. Notwithstanding his affinity to liturgical structures, he greatly excelled in secular works, crafting 273 residences, 36 office buildings, three hotels, 15 airport terminal offices, five public buildings, 15 middle-income condominium buildings and 350 low-income and town-housing projects – all demonstrating his versatility as a designer and his mastery of the modernist architectural vocabulary. These made him one of the great masters of 20th century Philippine architecture.

Zaragoza is a pillar of modern architecture in Philippines buttressed by a stellar career that produced memorable ecclesiastical edifices and structures of modernity in the service of God and humanity. Zaragoza’s modern secular works demonstrated his steadfast devotion to national identity through the poetic interplay of light and shade in response to the tropical ecology. Zaragoza’s architecture for congregational worship was daring and sculptural. His reverence to concrete’s plasticity produced an architecture of numinous and ethereal quality, delivering the faithful closer to the Divine. His architecture configures a scenographic atmosphere that solicits spiritual reflection, fortifying one’s faith in God and the national imaginary.