Bobby Mañosa stopped the show at the recent Philippine Bamboo Conference in Iloilo City, Panay. A man of great passion, enthusiasm and rich with an easy, visceral humor, Bobby slips back and forth between English and Tagalog in his presentation and slide show. He has his schtick down pat. The audience wants more and he gives and gives.
The Philippines constitute a long stretch of islands, many peoples, many languages, many spiritual traditions hammered into a contemporary nationstate. As in Indonesia, not everybody is happy with the idea of one nation under either Cardinal Sin or President Ramos. Guns and heavy looking guards are everywhere.
Guerrilla actions have been a nearly constant fact of Philippine life for hundreds of years. After more than 400 years under harsh Spanish colonial administration, the Americans, full of Manifest Destiny and superior firepower, took over, no less harshly, in 1898. The Japanese came in 1941 and went out in 1944. Oddly enough, some people remember them fondly-maybe because they didn't stay long. Like most everyplace else once under European colonization, at the top of the heap are folks with lighter skins and more Caucasian features. Bobby is one of them.
By allowing Philippine Independence in 1946, the Americans substituted economic imperialism for military imperialism. Fifty years later, with the huge bases closed, most direct American involvement has been replaced with multinational or transnational corporate interests many with significant Philippine participation and direction. Contemporary economic actualities also reveal the long involvement in and assimilation in the Philippines of peoples who originally came many years ago from China, augmented with the growing international presence of "overseas" Chinese throughout Asia and throughout the world, for that matter. The otherwise ubiquitous Indian presence in commerce common to so many African, Pacific and island nations is largely absent in the Philippines. The combined heritage of Spanish and, to a lessening degree, American influences show on the surfaces. Manila, in particular, seems somewhat more like Mexico City than either Taipei or Bangkok. Seoul and Singapore as well as Kuala Lumpar have less in common with Manila. Japan now provides more aid money than any other nation. There are more ways to win wars than killing people.
There are elections and the trappings of democracy are evident. When and if push comes to shove, control of most everything of significance rests with a tight oligarchy of interlocking families as well as interlocking directorates. For the folks outside the families, it makes little practical difference whether the President is a Marcos, Aquino or Ramos. Bobby Mañosa fits in well.
Among the world's 100 richest people, nine are Filipinos. For a nation of 70,000,000 people that statistic suggests a rigid concentration of wealth and privilege. Since I was last in Manila eighteen years ago, the beautiful people have moved from relatively exposed bayfront Ramos Boulevard mansions to inland fortress enclaves such as Forbes. Bobby Mañosa has prospered from the commissions involved. What a rich palette for an architect. That he has chosen bamboo as an expressive material is amazing. He is a true contrarian in materials.
He showed many slides of opulent, beautiful and creative mansions-although mansion is probably too small a word actually. That he has incorporated bamboo into these works of art is truly remarkable. Bamboo sidings, bamboo flooring, bamboo paneling, bamboo mosaics, bamboo ceilings, bamboo structural elements, bamboo subfloorings, on and on go the lists of bamboo-based components in his works-exposed and concealed, open and hidden. The sophistication involved is notable.
One of the members of the Conference national organizing committee has a sister who up in northern Luzon operates a small manufacturing facility which makes many of the simple and complex bamboo elements used by Bobby Mañosa. In small lots, her people are doing work never seen in the USA.. She has been making bamboo plywood and using the tradename "Plyboo" for many years.
Also shown at the Conference were bamboo corrugated roofing, bamboo particle boards of differing densities, bamboo fiber boards of differing compositions, bamboo green boards for wet installations and other bamboo substitutions for building materials made here of gypsum and such. All of these materials are not widely used even in the Philippines. The huge volcanic eruption at Mt. Pinatubo also dumped millions of tons of volcanic ash which is a great binder for building boards. Bobby has made constructive use of this raw materials in his works.
To Bobby Mañosa's eternal credit, he has also done extensive design and construction of bamboo housing to replace squatters' villages and to build villages for fisherpeople and others displaced for one reason or another. He has done bamboo public facilities and bamboo installations in parks and other sites benefiting people of lesser economic and social status. He has explored the larger scale and lower cost applications for which bamboo is an excellent material in his view. He has done resort complexes of bamboo. He did a palatial beach retreat for Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos when they were running the country. He has remodeled the bamboo summer house which President Ramos uses for his state breakfasts and informal meetings with international and corporate dignitaries. He did a lot work for President Cory Aquino. Bobby gets along well with all the right people as well as doing good.
Bobby Mañosa's show was all slides and talk. No copies were distributed. For a sampling of his work, find David Pearson's fine book, Earth to Spirit, In Search of Natural Architecture. You will find Bobby on p. 123 after Hassan Fathy, a great favorite of mine in earth architecture, and some pictures of Bobby's Pearl Farm Resort, a five star facility done in bamboo, on pages 128 and 129. Pearson quotes Mañosa: "Bamboo is the only plant that can grow fast enough to cope with growing demand for present and future housing. But unless we apply new found technology and encourage willingness and acceptance by the people, it cannot prove its worth." Bobby makes me wish we had a bamboo-minded architect to the Presidents in the United States.