4 Things You Need to Know About the Batasang Pambansa
Learn more about this famous building's rich history
Within an hour or so, Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte will be issuing his first State of the Nation address (SONA). Much has been discussed about this annual presidential address, as well as what most attendees are wearing. But little has been said about the grand building that has stood as silent witness to our leaders’ words—the Batasang Pambansa, which is the House of Representatives in Batasan Hills, Quezon City. Here are a few facts about this historic building:
1. It was designed (and re-designed) by three architects.
When Quezon City was named capital of the country in 1948, the government planned to build the nation’s Capitol on the former Constitution Hill, now Batasan Hills. Architect Federico Ilustre first laid out the master plans in 1956, but due to public demand, Anselmo Alquinto designed a new master plan to replace it. Construction of the building began in the early 1960s, but funds ran out and it was torn down.
In 1973, under then-president Ferdinand Marcos, the constitution replaced the bicameral congress with a unicameral parliament called the Batasang Pambansa, thus needing a building to hold one legislative body. Marcos called upon architect Felipe Mendoza to design the current Batasang Pambansa and its entire complex.
2. The Batasang Pambansa is not the same venue for some of our past presidents’ SONAs.
Early assemblies were held at the Ayuntamiento de Manila in Intramuros. But upon the formation of the Commonwealth government, president Manuel L. Quezon held the first-ever SONA at the grand, classical-revival session hall of the Legislative Building (now the National Museum). Save for a few incidences (such as Sergio Osmeña at holding it a schoolhouse in Lepanto by the end of WWII and Elpidio Quirino at his sickbed at Johns Hopkins Center), all former SONAs have been delivered at the same building until 1972.
3. The Batasang Pambansa was designed in the classic Brutalist style with distinct Filipino elements.
Brutalism is a design movement from the 1950s-70s that spawned massive, linear structures with large expanses of raw concrete (beton brut actually means “raw concrete”). This was a popular type of style for institutional and government buildings (other local examples are the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Heart Center along Quezon Avenue).
Architect Mendoza, who designed other famous public buildings such as the library of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños and the Sandiganbayan, added a Filipiniana touch to the Batasan by way of a steeply-pitched Bahay Kubo-style roof.
4. Its interiors imply power and grandiosity.
Brutalist buildings are almost always massive with sweeping, spacious interiors, and the Batasang Pambansa is no exception. The session hall where the SONA is held is a cavernous room with rows of the representatives’ seats facing the center podium, which has two veneered panels flanking a gigantic Philippine flag.
The hall has a high, and very dramatic soffit ceiling with multiple recessed lights in the center that mimic the effect of sun streaming through a skylight.
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