By Nikki Boncan-Buensalido
AS I was driving through Edsa the other day, I was reminded of an idea that my design team came up with a couple of years ago. It was an idea spurred by the kind of optimism that can help our development as a nation one step at a time. The idea had something to do with the Pasig River and its gentrification, and I share this in the hopes that this can become a spark, a catalyst for change, if you may.
Our source of inspiration is the Pasig River and how we can bring it back to life and how we can utilize it to help improve our nation through the process of urban regeneration. This call hopes to instill a community revival that can engage Filipinos to go a step further toward nation-building.
Concerned citizens have been calling on government for generations to rehabilitate this tragic body of water that was once became the inspiration for art and music, and served as the backdrop for romantic interludes. Corporate sponsors and non-governmental organizations have created and continue to create programs to help revive the river, but only a few concrete and tangible actions have been actually done. Will the time ever arrive when people can return to the banks of the Pasig River? I’m still hopeful that I get to see this come into fruition in my generation.
In many countries, the river plays a major role in capturing the identity and culture of a city and its immediate surroundings. Main arterial rivers, like the Pasig River, serve as the backbone of development. New cities emerge beside rivers as it is here where sustenance is acquired.
Putting that concept into the Philippine context tells a lot. The Pasig River was once the source of trade and commerce. It was once the spine of a young thriving city. It served as an escape route during times of war and calamity. However, in recent years the river has not been able to sustain life.
Studying the transportation and mobility structure of Metro Manila, we feel that there is a more significant way to reduce traffic than what the number coding scheme has been able to accomplish, and this leverages the Pasig River as an efficient alternative to getting around the metropolis. The Pasig River cuts across main parts of Metro Manila, and thus can act as an artery in itself. Our proposal for the river is to connect a series of multifunctional rafts and terminals. The Regenerative Amphibious Floating Terminals (RAFTs), as we call them, are floating devices spanning the entire stretch of the river. These can possibly be on land or on water with different functions.
RAFTs may differ in size, scale and color. They may be in an open plan from the inside, or they can have partitions as the need arises. Above each sky-lit RAFT is a roof garden or observation deck one can access. Individually, RAFTs may have various functions and programs. Some may be used as floating markets that are linked to the docks; others may be used as floating restaurants, cafés, retail stores or tiangges, bars or cruise pods; still others as function halls, gardens, refilling and maintenance stations, etc. They can even be used as transportation units for tourist or locals who would like to cruise along the Pasig River. RAFTs are flexible but have an inherent modularity so that they can all be linked together in the event that a larger space is required, or to form an instant connection between the two banks of the river.
Aside from their basic functions, in the event of a calamity these can be used as floaters designed to survive floods. The National Disaster Coordinating Council can use RAFTs for search-and-rescue operations.
Furthermore, during, say, a calamitous flooding (think Typhoon Ondoy), government agencies can use individual or combined pods as temporary shelters while waiting for the flood waters to subside.
At night the floaters project a different aura, transforming into giant lanterns glowing with different colors, transparencies and sizes spread through the expanse of the river, creating an ephemeral effect. The glow of these lanterns allows the Pasig River to thrive even at night. Inside, various activities can still take place. One can rent a RAFT for the duration of the activity. Receptions, parties, meetings and other events can be held in one or a cluster of these floaters. The regenerated river is envisioned to bring out a new sense of belonging and ownership to the locals.
Through this strategy, a new urban design language could emerge. The newly defined spaces could be conceived as a “structure” in itself, this network creating new interrelationships and mixes that could be interwoven and integrated in the resulting urban fabric.
This language could be the basis of the reactivation of the urban fabric in various levels. By weaving in new topologies into the existing fabric, existing topography will be reshaped and redefined. The specific points of interest mentioned earlier shall be reprogrammed to be reintroduced into an adaptable and appealing environment both for this generation and for the next to come.
These will be layered and intertwined with one another to form new urban spaces and revive the mundane into a unique, exciting and interactive experience. Moreover, we envision all the spaces to appeal not just to the physical aspect, but to all the senses. These would be designed to allow the users to experience the space entirely. This will facilitate a more intense learning experience, as well. Also, allowing all the senses to be heightened will allow the person to identify and relate more to his or her surroundings.
Despite the failings of previous institutional efforts, we, Filipinos, can bring the Pasig River back to life by working with the river and not against it. We can empower one another and work together to create a new typology for the next generation to benefit from.
Illustrations courtesy of Buensalido Architects
(Nikki Boncan- Buensalido is an Associate Architect of Buensalido Architects, a Manila-based architectural design laboratory solely committed to creating original, avant-garde, ‘Filipinnovative’, and progressive solutions, employing an experimental and process-oriented approach in their designs. A champion and advocate of Philippine Architecture, Nikki and her team take Filipino sensibilities and combines them with global mechanisms, ‘contemporizing’ it in the process. She graduated Magna Cum Laude at the University of Santo Tomas College of Architecture as well as the Architectural Association Global School. You may visit her at www.buensalidoarchitects.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)