RECREATING paradise here on earth is the high vision of the newest National Artist for Architecture, Ildefonso P. Santos Jr. The pioneer of landscape architecture in the Philippines, Santos has come a long way from copying pictures of plants and animals when he was a child. Now, he designs majestic parks and urban spaces.

Landscape architecture is the art of designing spaces and land spots by incorporating natural elements into the design. Before Santos’ works were recognized, the Filipinos’ concept of landscape architecture was as either ornamental gardening or grotto-making. Through his lectures and seminars, Santos countered the image of a landscape architect as a “glorified gardener.”

“The landscape profession requires knowledge of architectural, engineering, and aesthetic principles,” Santos said in Jeannie E. Javelosa’s book, The Landscape Architecture of Ildefonso P. Santos. “Ornamenting spaces with grass and rocks are only minor aspects of the profession. Irrigation, drainage, lighting, and topographical analysis are the more important features in landscape architecture,” he said.

In his designs, Santos maximizes space. His patterns do not overshadow the natural beauty of a site.

Santos’ imaginative aesthetics can be seen in his designs of memorial parks, large expanses of urban spaces, and tropical tourist spots dating back to the 1960’s. The Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina was the first memorial park designed by Santos. The park’s environmental art piece, The Redemption, is the focal accent set in a trapezoidal area in the central portion of the place. The Paco Park and the Rizal Park in Manila are also his works. Both reconnect Filipinos with nature and history as Santos harmoniously put spatial angles differentiated only by the variety and positions of old shade trees.

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Santos also humanized urban spaces like the Taikoo Shing in Hong Kong. Formerly a dockyard, the 53-acre site now has landscaped gardens and podiums for meandering and musing. The defunct Makati Commercial Center of the Ayala Corporation once made shoppers walk through a pedestrian mall like a park, with its patterned walkways and a bevy of ornamental gardens.

The National Artist also designed two of the best summer spots in the country. The Crystal Springs, a mountain spa in Los Baños, Laguna, has pools with fountain shooting jets of water. The Tagaytay Highlands in Cavite provides a resident view of the Taal Lake in the comforts of Mediterranean-inspired villas accentuated by plants that act as natural barriers.

Rough road

The discipline instilled by his father, poet Ildefonso Santos, Sr., drove the young Santos to strive for excellence.

“The words of my father have been a driving force in my career,” Santos said. “I can still hear my father’s words telling me to be the big fish in a small pond rather than the small fish in a bigger one.”

Santos’ father wished that his son would become a doctor. But Santos’ failing grades in Medicine at UP made him shift to architecture at UST in 1951, despite his lack of interest in the course. “Anything but Medicine,” he said.

“I was not exposed to works of art at an early age and whatever semblance of creativity I had then did not surface until I enrolled in the old College of Fine Arts and Architecture,” Santos said.

Before he knew it, Santos fell in love with Architecture, which he finished in 1954. Later, he married Amparo Romulo Eugenio, who became dean of the University of the East’s secretarial school. When they spent their honeymoon in Hawaii, Santos realized he wanted to pursue landscape architecture.

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“I was convinced I wanted to be a landscape architect after seeing the beautiful landscape in Hawaii,” Santos told the Varsitarian.

While working as a draftsman for Cornell, Bridgers, and Trollers, the firm behind the landscape features of the Los Angeles Music Center and the Nile and Baghdad Hilton Hotels, Santos finished his bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture at the University of Southern California in 1956 and his masters degree in the same university in 1960. Santos was promoted by the firm as a major designer and was offered to be the firm’s business partner. He refused the offer, as he always longed home.

After nine years in the US, Santos, along with other colleagues, went back to the Philippines to introduce landscape architecture in the academe. Even before they could start, the Board of Examiners for Architects questioned them for using the title “landscape architect.”

“We pointed out that in countries where the architectural profession exists, landscape architects are already well known. People here then didn’t think they needed us, they were not even aware of the profession!” Santos said.

In 1965, Santos was appointed landscape architectural consultant for the UP campus plan. UP opened the first Philippine undergraduate program in Tropical Landscape Architecture in 1971.

“There were times when I would only have three students, sometimes even one. The program was almost scrapped,” Santos recalls. “Still, I continue teaching because I wanted my students to know what landscape architecture was all about.”

Santos also became the first president of the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects.

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At 77, Santos has reaped numerous awards and recognitions. In 1969, Malacañang gave him a plaque of appreciation for the Nayong Pilipino project, and in 1971, the City of Manila bestowed him the “Patnubay ng Kalinangan” award. He was also named Outstanding Landscape Architect by the United Garden Clubs of the Philippines in 1986 and by the Garden Clubs of the Philippines in 1988. He has given talks and symposiums on landscape architecture in Spain, Greece, and Hong Kong.

UST also gave Santos recognitions such as the Talaan Pagdangal in 1980 and the Outstanding Thomasian Award in 1981.

“At this point in my life, when I look back at the work I have done, I am gratified to see that the jumbled pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of my youth did somehow hold meaning,” Santos said. “I have observed the order that can result from chaos, and have learned to appreciate and work with nature.” Andrew Isiah P. Bonifacio

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