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The Philippine Normal University - Architectural Gem of Manila [Aesthetic and Historical Significance]

The Philippine Normal University - Architectural Gem of Manila [Aesthetic and Historical Significance]
Cover photo featuring map, façade, and significant details | Ar. Arciaga
The Philippine Normal School, located in Ermita, Manila City, directly across Taft Avenue from the National Museum of Fine Arts, was the first institution for higher education established during the American colonial period of Philippine history. The Philippine Normal School was founded by virtue of Act No. 74 of the Philippine Commission in 1901, pursuant to the need of an institution for the development of educators, became the Philippine Normal College through Republic Act No. 416 in 1949, and a university in 1991, under Republic Act No. 7168



The Philippine Normal University - Architectural Gem of Manila [Aesthetic and Historical Significance]


The Philippine Normal School building was designed and built in the year 1912 by William E. Parsons, architect behind several iconic architectural projects in the country. Though the campus at present covers an estimated four hectares of land, the original structures that comprised the first Philippine Normal School campus were the two Parsons designed, distinctly v-shaped buildings of the main building (now referred to as the Geronima T. Pecson Hall) and the Philippine Normal Hall across from it, once an all-female dormitory of the institution.



The Philippine Normal University - Architectural Gem of Manila [Aesthetic and Historical Significance]
Exterior photo of Geronima T. Pecson Hall – Main Building PNU | Ar. Arciaga
The Philippine Normal School building is credited to have been one of the first large-scale reinforced concrete buildings erected in Manila City. With reinforced concrete being one of the architectural and structural innovations pioneered by the American colonial period in the Philippines. 



The Philippine Normal University - Architectural Gem of Manila [Aesthetic and Historical Significance]
The Philippine Normal University
The construction is of plain concrete finish and utilizes tile roofing as originally specified in the Daniel Burnham abstract for the plan of the city of Manila. At the time of its construction, the Philippine Normal School accommodated forty-two rooms including recitation rooms, physical and biological laboratories, a kitchen, and sewing, embroidery, and basketry rooms. In addition to these, it contained offices, a large auditorium with a seating capacity of eight hundred (800), and a library which contains more than six thousand (6000) volumes.



Philippine Normal University, Manila, Philippines, late 1940s. Photo was taken from the Manila City Hall

Philippine Normal University, Manila, Philippines, late 1940s. Photo was taken from the Manila City Hall


The Philippine Normal School building is designed with a distinct V-shaped configuration, with the vertex of the building laid on the corner of the peninsula of land it occupies along Ayala Boulevard and Taft Avenue. This configuration was designed to match the building lines to be parallel with the adjacent streets, creating a sense of visual continuity and harmony, supported by a continuous gallery of windows along the exterior of the building. 


The main building has six flat gable ends that tower upward, lending an appearance of a false front of a crudely-built frame building predominant in America of the nineties, it has three floors for classroom and office use and an auditorium on the central vertex portion of the building. Across the street from the Philippine Normal School building, the Normal Hall is a variation from the main building, with a similar V-shape configuration albeit in a smaller scale. 



The Philippine Normal University - Architectural Gem of Manila [Aesthetic and Historical Significance]
Typical classroom setup showcasing capis extant in the PNU | Ar. Arciaga


The Philippine Normal School building is also noted to have generally adopted indigenous capis shell windows extensively in its fenestrations, in combination with Philippine hardwood. Although at present, several elements of these windows have been replaced by steel framing with glass panes, secured with iron grilles, or otherwise have been supplemented with sliding glass panels. Regardless, a significant portion of these capis remain extant in the university halls. 


Exhibit photograph of the Placuna placenta: Capis Shells and Windows to Indigenous Artistry – panels on loan from PNU in the foreground
Exhibit photograph of the Placuna placenta: Capis Shells and Windows to Indigenous Artistry – panels on loan from PNU in the foreground


A most well-preserved example of capis shell implementation is present in the Geronima T. Pecson’s Public & Alumni Relations Hall, once an auditorium for student and faculty use, the area is now an events space for use of the university in official functions. Located on the ground floor of the main building adjacent to the entrance and the grand staircase, the hall continues to operate the original capis shell and hardwood windows and doors, although those within the hall are noted to have been furnished with an additional layer of glass sliding panels in the interior and metal grillwork in the exterior. The hall is an octagonal shape, with a set of capis windows on five of its sides, each set comprising of four (4) panels, with each panel containing up to one-hundred and fifty (150) capis panes, beautifully lending a soft and natural glow of light to the interior space. 



capis shell windows Philippine Normal University Philippines
Detail shot of extant capis windows at the Geronima T Pecson’s Public & Alumni Relations Hall, from which two relics are now in exhibit at the National Museum of the Philippines | Ar. Arciaga


Currently, two panels from the Philippine Normal School main building of these excellent examples of capis in local architecture are on loan from the university to the National Museum as relics displayed in the recently launched interdisciplinary exhibition, "Placuna placenta: Capis Shells and Windows to Indigenous Artistry". It celebrates the ubiquity and virtuosity connecting the capis shell to Filipino history, culture, and identity. With William Parsons’ conscious adoption of the capis in the Philippine Normal to integrate local ingenuity to foreign architectural styles, the university is well-deserved to be showcased as a paragon of the emergence of our modern Filipino architecture.


The significance of the Philippine Normal School represents a landmark in the architectural and artistic history of the country. And as we continue to build our appreciation of our built heritage and eagerly await authorization to open the museum halls for visitors once again, we hope that you enjoyed this brief introduction to one often overlooked bastion of our shared heritage.



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Text and photos by Ar. Armando J. Arciaga III | NMP AABHD

©National Museum of the Philippines (2021)



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