Heritage Conservation in the University of Santo Tomas


By: Architect John Joseph T. Fernandez, Dean, College of Architecture








What is Heritage Conservation? In order for us to understand and appreciate Heritage Conservation allow me to show you an excerpt in a presentation made by Architect Willa Solomon in 2005, depicting the University of Santo Tomas campus evolution.

The University of Santo Tomas was first located in Intramuros in 1611 and was later transferred to a new site in the Sulucan District (Sampaloc) in 1927. the 22-hectare land was acquired in 1900 as a donation by the Sulucan Development. As early as 1917, Fr. Roque Ruaño, O.P., prepared the plans for the Main Building and the new campus. Expansion outside Intramuros was foreseen because of the growing enrollment.


The construction of the new structure began in 1923. On July 2, 1927, the first occupants who transferred to the new building were the Faculties of Medicine and Pharmacy, the Colleges of Philosophy and Letters, Liberal Arts, Engineering, and Education. Since then, the Main Building has been the focal point of the campus. It is where all succeeding structures revolved. The Anatomy Building was added in 1929 to support the Medical program of the College of Medicine.


The addition of the Fathers’ Residence, designed by Arch. Fernando de Ocampo relieved the structure of congestion, as the priests transferred to the newly-constructed Central Seminary complex in 1933.

The period was also marked by the organization of the Department of Physical Education. The UST Gym with its Olympic size swimming pool, was noted first in Southeast Asia.

The addition of the succeeding structures within the campus were witnessed: Mines Building (1934); the Home Economics Building (1935); the Restaurant now the Student Health Center (1939); the Education Building, now the UST Hospital; the transfer of the Benavides Monument (1940); and the UST Printing Press (1941).


The bombing of the Pearl Harbor signaled the beginning of the Second World War. On December 8, 1941, as Manila became an “open city”, the Japanese infantry entered Manila. Accordingly, from 1942-1945, the UST grounds and the Main Building served as shelter to the 3, 759 foreign internees. On February 5, 1945, UST was the first to be liberated from the Japanese occupation.


1946, the High School Building (now the UST Hospital) was transformed as the hospital’s Pay Division.

The founding of several Colleges like Nursing and Conservatory of Music; the offering of related courses and creation of academic departments; the construction of the Botanical Gardens, and the old Department of Military Science and Training (DMST) Building (1946), the Conservatory of Music Building, and Architecture and Fine Arts Building (1948), and the addition of the Tria Haec Figures (1949), all attested to the expansion of UST.

A master plan was proposed in the early fifties. These years observed the erection of the Ruaño Building, the Cooperative Building, the Nurses Homes (1950); the Medicine building and botanical gardens (1954); also the completion of the statues on the Main Building (1955). The latter years of the decade witnessed the remodeling of the Seminary Building and transfer of the old Intramuros gate (Arch of the Centuries), and The addition of the Main Building Porte Cochere (1956); the construction of the Education Building now the Commerce Building and fountains (1957); the present Education Building (1959), the upgrading of the Medicine Building (1960), the Charity Hospital (1962)and the expansion of the Ruaño Building (1967).


The Filipinization of the Administration began in June 1970, when Fr. Leonardo Z. Legaspi, O.P., was appointed. Two historical events happened during the decade, giving the institution a special international recognition and honor. First, the visit of His Holiness Pope Paul VI on November 28, 1970, that led to the construction of the present Grandstand. Second, was the visit of His Royal Highness Prince Juan Carlos de Borbon (today King Juan Carlos of Spain) on February 19, 1974.

In terms of infrastructure development, grand expansion of hospital facilities was done, to house the modern medical equipment and accommodate more patients (1973 to 1974). The City of Manila provided an overpass for UST for the growing number of accidents along España Street (1976). A three-storey structure replaced the 1962 High School Building when it was burned in 1977, and the addition of the Tinoko Park was put up in 1979.


In the 1980’s, events that were noteworthy include: the visit of Pope John Paul II to UST, to address the Filipino youth and to beatify the Martyrs of Japan, including Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint in 1981; the addition of the gym’s facilities and hostel facilities were also recognized.

The University established Academic Linkages with foreign and local institutions from 1987-1989. Improvement of support facilities was seen through the construction of the Engineering Sports Complex and a two-storey parking for the hospital.


The last decade of the 20th century was noted by the redefinition of the University’s mission and vision; excellence in three levels: research, instruction, and community service.

The upgrading of facilities to meet the demands of the academics programs and increase of student population paved the way to the construction of the Central Library (1991), the initial floors of Beato Angelico (1993 and 1999); the expansion of the Student Health Center, the Local Area Network (LAN) was provided to the different colleges and departments by the UST Computer Center (USTCC) (1995); and, the renovation of Museum of Arts and Sciences (1997).


The Sciences Research Center, the millennium gate, the B & G Building were constructed, together with other support structures. The Research Center was inaugurated and the Botanical garden underwent major renovation in 2001.

A trend of in-fill construction happened within the campus, including the Sewage Plant, Botanical Laboratory, MRI and Pharmacy Building in 2002, GS Laboratory (now the Data Center), Storage in 2003, and the Cancer Institute Building at present.

After that short trip down memory lane, I believe a lot of nostalgia and déjà vu has been triggered… For the younger ones, an enriching journey and increase in knowledge about the evolution of the University campus, we now tend to look at the old buildings differently with appreciation … Some are gone to give way to the ever increasing need of the University and its users … . so let me go back now to the question … What is Heritage Conservation? … Heritage Conservation is a process of identification, recording, analysis and protection of historic and cultural resources. The protection of one’s environment both built and natural is of great importance. Conservation of heritage resources brings about wiser decision concerning development of one’s personal and collective quality of life. Simply putting it … one has to learn from the past to avoid mistakes in the future … .

Many Filipinos are unaware of what is Heritage conservation. It is not a new thing. Many of us who have traveled to Europe and admire the unbelievable feat of the Egyptians in their pyramids, the gracefulness of Greek architecture through their temples, the well preserved ruins, cathedrals of the Roman era, the Gothic Architecture of the medieval period, the churches and palaces of the Renaissance period, the stonewash structures in the Greek isles of Mykonos and wonder, … how these countries were able to conserve or preserve their heritage and made it into their country’s top revenue earner.

In Europe for instance, they have Europa Nostra. Europa Nostra was founded in 1963, upon the initiative of Italia Nostra, as a response to the serious threat to the survival of Venice caused by the regular floods. In 1991, it merged with the Internationales Burgen Institut (the International Castles Institute). Today, through its various activities, Europa Nostra seeks to highlight the importance of cultural heritage as a building block of European identity and as a contribution to the strengthening of the sense of European citizenship.

Europa Nostra supports national and international campaigns for the preservation and rescue of Europe’s heritage at risk. It encourages exemplary initiatives in the favor of the conservation and enhancement of cultural heritage by recognizing outstanding heritage achievements, in particular through the running of the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards, in partnership with the European Commission.

Similarly another international organization which promotes Heritage Conservation is (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO World Heritage Committee.) UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world, considered to be of outstanding value to humanity … as embodied in an international treaty called … The Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage adopted in 1972.

In the Philippines, UNESCO has identified 8 Heritage Sites;

1. Tubbataha Reef Marine Park in Palawan

2. Banaue Rice terraces of the Ifugaos, Ifugao, Mountain Province, Now in the endangered list of the world heritage sites.

3. Historic Town of Vigan specifically the Crisologo St. in Vigan Ilocos Sur

4. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Puerto Princesa, Palawan

5. 4 Baroque Churches

a. San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila.

b. Nuestra Senora de asuncion, Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur. Aslo in the endangered list

c. St. Agustin Church, Paoay, Ilocos Norte, also in the Endangered List

d. Miag-ao Church, Miag-ao, Iloilo also in the endangered list.

Unfortunately out of the 8 declared UNSCO World Heritage sites 4 are presently in the endangered list. Endangered list refers to the world heritage sites that are slowly in the process of decay due to poor conservation maintenance, and maybe in the brink of collapse if no conservation steps are employed.

Philippine Conservation groups are now working at nominating the Island of Batanes to be included in the UNESCO World heritage list.

But what role does the University of Santo Tomas play in all of these?

In September 4, 2003, the Center for Conservation of Cultural Property and Environment in the Tropics (CCCPET), was officially inaugurated. It is the organizing body to hold the flagship, of all cultural heritage research concerns in the University, with Rev. Fr. Isidro Abaño, O.P. as the director. The CCCPET has extended its assistance not only within the University but to several local government units. One of its pioneer endeavor is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Vigan. The UST CCCPET was responsible in training Vigan’s local conservation workers in the heritage conservation. It was also the primary catalyst in the cultural Mapping of both its tangible and intangible heritage. Because of this, several projects in the province of Vigan became offshoot of this training, one of this is the children museum and the soon to run river cruise tour. Because of such assistance, Vigan is able to maintain its title as a world heritage site. Several new projects have also been accepted by the CCCPET commissioned to undertake the following:

  1. The Ifugao Rice terraces infrastructure guidelines
  2. Butuan Archeological Mapping
  3. Maranaw Intangible heritage Mapping, Tugaya, Lanao del Sur
  4. Samar National heritage Mapping

As well as the cultural mapping of the Provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga and Bicol.

Clearly the university has been very active in conservation works beyond its walls.

The Office of the Secretary General through the initiative of Fr. Isidro Abaño added a special screening of the last year’s Christmas Concert, which was attended by society’s who’s who … to raise funds for the conservation many of the Museum’s collection.

Within the University, The UST Museum of Arts and Sciences and the UST graduate school have been offering postgraduate program in the Heritage Conservation. Because of this, the University of Santo Tomas holds a permanent seat in the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts or the NCCA’s Committee for Monument and Sites. This committee is composed of LGU and NGU such as the National Museum, National Historical Institute and the Heritage Conservation Society … And is tasked in allocating and approving request for funding conservation projects. The funds disbursed by the NCCA CMS come from the National Government. In the College of Architecture, many of our faculty have also received training in the conservation practice through lectures, seminars, short courses and conference. Some have gone into research resulting in Conservation Management plan of several historical buildings in the country including the UST Main Building.

Some are active members of both local and International organization such as the Heritage Society and the International Council on Monuments and Sites more popularly known as ICOMOS.

ICOMOS is an international organization of heritage conservation professionals involved in heritage conservation and who are recognized as international leaders in the field. It regulates the worldwide conservation profession and is the only NGO accredited to advise the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on cultural heritage matters. 7 of our faculty members are founding members of the ICOMOS Philippines.

And for the undergraduate program in Architecture, the College of Architecture will be the first school of architecture beginning this school year that will be offering Conservation as part of its Curriculum. Due to this, preliminary discussion have gone underway in possibly signing a memorandum of agreement with the National Historical Institute in assisting them in documenting heritage structures in the country, making it a part of the syllabus for Conservation. It is hoped that with this kind of exposure to our students, our future architects, will no longer look at old buildings as simply an edifice to demolish and replace… they will now look at the possibility of approaching their design using conservation as an alternative.

Another development would be the formation of a new student organization in the College of Architecture named Heritage Conservation Society UST chapter, which was recently formed and was recognized by the Office of Student Affairs. This organization objective is to increase the awareness of students in conservation.

The UST main building, the icon which identifies the Thomasian Community has undergone several renovations and repair … the most recent was the refurbishing of several of its office to accommodate the ever increasing number of students every year. These also include the pavers’ stones along the periphery of the building. These repairs have led to some unacceptable intervention in the building fabric which contributes to its deterioration. Many have probably noticed the huge bollards connected by big chains bordering the front and the rear façade of the main building. Some mistake these barrier as a security protection for the building… not knowing that the purpose of this is for the safety of the passers by not to come too close to the façade due to falling debris. Yes falling debris… The main building is presently in a slow process of deterioration due to its age, the environment, and the numerous interventions done to its building fabric in the past. Sad to say that if such unacceptable intervention are not reduced and no conservation procedures are done in the near future, the main building will continue to deteriorate and may not see its 500 years.

Clearly the demands of the times such as increase in number of users as well as the increase in equipment requirements have resulted in the hodge podge addition of utilities, facilities, etc. As a conservation architect, I am not saying that these intervention should be stopped and prevented, what I am recommending as a conservation architect, is that such intrusion to the building fabric may be avoided or lessened and still be able to deliver the needs of the users of the main building, by adapting a conservation management plan which have already been formulated in research papers done by other architects. This way we are able to conserve the main building and not compromise the building fabric as well as its aesthetic value. I would like to stress further the cost of conservation though maybe quite restrictive is still the best approach rather that a total rehabilitation of a structure whose damage have been irreversible.

Last school year, the Office for the Alumni Relations through Professor Evelyn Songco, Phd and the College of Architecture through Architect Norma Alarcon, Architect Willa Solomon and Architect Issa Avendano initiated a design competition for the adaptive reuse of the UST gymnasium to the UST Alumni Center. Prof. Evelyn Songco have been promoting this in several home coming events and I am proud to say that through the efforts of both the Office for Alumni Relations and the College of Architecture, the university has again crossed a milestone in conserving its heritage structures. As mentioned earlier the UST gymnasium was constructed in 1932 and has a rich history… The proposed approach for this project is a combination of an adaptive reuse and addition conservation approach. This clears the wrong impression that conservation is purely for the maintenance of the original structure and does not allow any extension or renovation. Conservation allows this … as long as it is done properly and is based on conservation principles.

Recently, I was informed by Professor Eric Zerrudo, present director of the CCCPET that the National Museum and the National Historical Institute is waiting for the request of the University of Santo Tomas to nominate the UST Main Building as well as the UST Central Seminary as the National Treasures. Both buildings are also qualified to be listed as UNESCO World heritage sites. It is a pity that Far Eastern University Manila Campus has already been nominated in the UNESCO Asian heritage list as having the most Art Deco structure in one campus. I believe and a majority agrees, that this is a right time for the University to move for the listing of the both structure as world heritage site and as a national treasure… .coinciding with its quadricentennial celebration. It would be a legacy that future Thomasians will be proud of. I know there are concerns about the restrictions imposed by such recognitions, but again the University has the people, the expertise, to design and create ways to accommodate revisions that are acceptable to conservation. As mentioned earlier the false fear of not being able to do renovations, changes, extension, etc. once declared as a heritage building is completely false notion.

At the end of the day despite all of this talk about the heritage conservation, conservation management plan… all we could do as conservation architects is to advice the people concerned of the other alternatives to demolition… Which is conservation…it is possible… it is doable… .it is achievable … and more profitable in the end… To the stakeholders of the University … Learn from the past and avoid the same mistake in the future… Let us conserve our heritage, let us preserve our culture, let us preserve our Thomasian icons … good morning to all and may we have a great school year ahead of us…

Thank you.


~ by arkifacultyclub on June 17, 2009.

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