Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Concrete streets

With timber being an expensive import in a country of palm trees and steel and brick also prohibitively expensive for most of the populace, concrete has become the de facto building material for the Philippines. From Mega Manila to the smallest farm shack, concrete is used for anything which requires some permanence in this typhoon prone nation. Bus stops, road signs and even statues of historic figures are rendered in concrete. But it is in the construction of ordinary buildings which reveals the pragmatic relationship that Filipinos have with concrete.

Almost every building in your average Filipino city or town is constructed from concrete, usually in the form of prefabricated blocks supported by a reinforced concrete frame. These block walls are then rendered but often money is tight and it is not unusual to see them left as is.

Despite this economical pragmatism, there is evidence of aspirational optimism too. Buildings are often built with future extension in mind. Concrete frames are erected and filled in but the ends and edges are left completely exposed - even after the building is occupied. Steel reinforcement wires jut upwards and outwards in anticipation of when finances allow the family the extra bedroom or the landlord the extra storey.

This honest approach to constructing a living environment results in an urban landscape which openly admits its propensity for change. These buildings are not close-ended set pieces intended to remain unchanged forever (like most buildings in the developed world), they are literally open-ended components of a constantly changing and adapting habitat system.