HIS MARIAN devotion and unction showed in the ecclesiastical edifices that Thomasian architectural icon Jose Maria Zaragoza designed and built before he passed away in 1994.

But although the edifices gloriously dot the Philippine landscape, Zaragoza has been much neglected. Now nominated for a posthumous National Artist for Architecture award, Zaragoza was the subject of a touring exhibit mounted by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) at the UST Museum last February 5 to March 8.

Zaragoza played a key role in rebuilding post-war Philippines and reshaping the landscape of Metropolitan Manila through his visionary structures that combined modernism and Philippine motifs and styles.

He designed some of the most famous churches in the Philippines such as the Santo Domingo Church and the Pink Sister’s Convent both in Quezon City, the Union Church of Manila in Makati, and the Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Posadas Village, Muntinlupa City.

Recognizing his contributions to the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II conferred on Zaragoza the title Gentiluomo Di Sua Santita (Lay Member of the Papal Household) in 1972. Men who receive such title serve as lay attendants of the Pope in Vatican City. Photos of his encounter with the pope, who has been beatified and is set to be canonized by Pope Francis next month, were also displayed in the exhibit.

Zaragoza’s daughter, Lourdes Bernadette Zaragoza-Banzon, said her father saw his talent as a gift from God, adding that the Blessed Virgin Mary was a great influence on his works.

“I saw him as a very prayerful man and I feel that his creativity sprung when he set aside to go to mass daily and his devotion to our Blessed Mother,” Banzon said.

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Banzon said her personal favorite of her father’s work is the Miraculous Medal National Shrine.

The church is known for its palm ceiling and fiery-shaped altar. According to Banzon, her father told her that the church was patterned after a tent, a worship place in Moses’ time. The fiery shaped altar where people used to dance represented God.

“His works were very symbolic because they came from faith that was rather profound and he was such an industrious man. I cannot remember my father just sitting around,” she said.

Zaragoza, according to Banzon, would often take her to the circus to study the motion of the machines and rides.

In 1975, Zaragoza designed sci-fi inspired Vira Mall in Greenhills, San Juan, which depicted intergalactic travel through the ingenious use of glass tubes.

Among Zaragoza’s designs which reshaped city landscapes were the Meralco Building in Ortigas Avenue, the National Library, Commercial Bank and Trust Company in Makati City and Escolta, Manila.

Meanwhile, Zaragoza’s residential projects were influenced by the works of the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Aside from ecclesiastical edifices, Zaragoza designed and built 36 office buildings, 15 airport terminal offices, three hotels, 273 residences, 15 condominiums, and 350 low-income town houses.

Perhaps his most famous office building is the Meralco Building on Ortigas Street.

According to Gerard Lico, head of the National Committee on Architecture and Allied Arts of the NCCA, Zaragoza belonged to the third generation of Filipino architects who were educated in local universities before the outbreak of the Second World War.

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“He and his contemporaries advanced the progressive ideas of modernism in rebuilding the Philippines from the ashes of war in the mid-20th century,” Lico said. “In the process, [they] developed an architectural identity befitting a newly independent nation-state.”

Zaragoza took up Architecture in the University in 1936. Two years after graduation, he placed seventh in the licensure examination for architects and became the country’s 82nd licensed architect. Nikka Lavinia G. Valenzuela


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