The Far Eastern University: Art Decoratif as You’ve Never Seen Before!
Two Saturdays ago I was privileged to be in another tour again done by Mr. Lawrence Chan, this time within the sprawling campus of the Far Eastern University at the Morayta area of Manila.
While most history researchers and culture enthusiasts in Manila focus on the old historical universities in the area like UST, San Sebastian, etc., FEU rises like a sore thumb amidst the backdrop of the Catholic university belt, since (1) it is non-sectarian and (2) it looks modern enough, and therefore commonly assumed that nothing cultural or historical can be found there.
But like a hidden garden in a smoky and drab concrete jungle, FEU is the largest well-preserved Art Deco complex in Manila, being honorably mentioned in the 2008 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation. Not only that, several well-known Filipino artists overwhelmingly contributed to the design of the FEU, which makes the campus a treasure for heritage conservationists and historians.
The founder of the school, Nicanor Reyes Sr., was the first Filipino to ever earn a doctorate degree in Accountancy in 1927. During the first decade of the American period, Reyes saw that Filipinos deserve to be trained in accountancy in their own homeland. Thus Reyes organized the Accountancy of Law in 1923, the first to offer such a course in the country. It eventually grew to become the Far Eastern University in 1934. Reflecting the architectural fad of the time, FEU’s architectural style was constructed at the height of Art Decoratif or Art Deco in the Philippines, a late development which came from the U.S. The three S reflects the principle of this architectural style: shape, symmetry and subtlety, which can be found in all the facets of the campus. With its modern industrial feel, Art Deco fused the old and the new.
Here are some notable works of some famous Filipino artists in the campus:
The original five buildings in the campus, which we got to visit in Mr. Chan’s tour, was designed by the National Artist for Architecture Pablo Antonio. The sculptures at the center of the Nicanor Reyes Memorial Square (the plaza at the campus’ center) was done by Vicente Manansala, each sculpture depicting the vision of the school’s founder. The FEU chapel paintings was done by the great Botong Francisco, depicting the highlight’s of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The bas-reliefs at the ground floor of the Administrative Bldg. was done by the great Italian sculptor Francesco Monti (he also designed the spires of the Met Theater). The seals of the colleges of the FEU displayed at the archives of the school was designed by Galo Ocampo, the ‘father of Philippine Heraldry’. Several artworks of Antonio Dumlao that used painting and broken glass as mediums can be found on the several hallways of the FEU Admin Bldg, which reflect the prevailing styles of the artworks displayed.
Even its theater is a sight to behold. The FEU Auditorium is a well-preserved Art Deco theater with a capacity of 1,040 people, which was once the center of culture in Manila during the 50s and the 60s. This was during the time when the Metropolitan Theater was decimated due to the war and was slowly being renovated.
Behind the great architectural design and art wonders of the FEU campus was the high aspiration one can sense in the writings and the vision of the founders of the school. Nicanor Reyes Sr. was one of those prominent Filipinos executed by the Imperial Japanese during the Japanese occupation for his vision of a free Philippines.
These buildings remain priceless monuments and historical spaces, silent witness to the history of Manila. The concrete buildings evoke not only the beauty that was Manila in the 30s, but the lofty principles these artists and school administrators stood for. Reyes’ time was an exciting but turbulent time, when the Philippines was on the verge of independence from the U.S. and how it was suddenly interrupted by the Japanese. One could imagine the pioneering spirit of many Filipinos then, when idealism was high and all were free to dream and aim to graduate with high honors despite the carnage of war. In a way, Nicanor Reyes’s legacy lives on despite the smoke and pollution of Manila, through the FEU.
*Another impressive Art Deco building in Manila is the now defunct Metropolitan Theater.
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