It has been traditionally associated with the dead, but for architect Michael Adriano, a mausoleum is as much a testament to life as it is a way to preserve memories and build a legacy.
“I build mausoleums because someone lived, and not because someone died,” said the 41-year-old architect, adding that designing mausoleums gives him “an opportunity to make a unique personal statement (that) commemorates a person’s life and preserves his individuality.”
It was his uncle, renowned furniture and liturgical designer Tony Adriano, who inspired him to venture into religious architecture when he was still a student at Adamson University. The elder Adriano is best known for designing the papal chair used by Pope John Paul II at the culminating Mass of the 1995 World Youth Day held in Manila.
“He guided me in detail. Since then, I’ve been fascinated with religious structures that people have a spiritual and emotional attachment to, and which future generations can reflect on,” Adriano said.
But “nobody wants to talk about death,” he said of the early years when his family was less than enthusiastic about his chosen niche.
He has designed homes before, but designing mausoleums gave him a bigger room for creativity and more freedom to express himself, Adriano said. Designing houses focuses on function and aesthetics, while mausoleums involve memory, tradition and culture, he added.
For Adriano, building mausoleums is a form of storytelling that manifests the story and legacy of every family. “The façade of the structure should reflect the story and achievements of the deceased. It should be like a monument … whose true purpose is to remember and honor the life of the person,” he said.
It’s also a way of knitting families together. “Future generations can visit it anytime. They can even talk to the deceased (memorialized) in it,” Adriano added.
He has designed for Filipino and Chinese families whose mausoleums are found at Ever Memorial Park in Valenzuela; Manila Memorial Park in Dasmariñas, Cavite; Eternal Shrine Memorial Park in Balanga, Bataan; The Heritage Park in Taguig City; and Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque.
Designing for Chinese clients can be more demanding, he said, due to certain traditional and religious requirements, including “a feng shui consultant (who can tell me) how the main door should be angled … There are also Chinese ornaments needed, like a
burning pot and Fu dogs to guard the dead.”
But his art targets a niche market, the architect admitted, and it is mainly the wealthy who can afford to spend from P1 million to P7 million on such a memorial, depending on the materials used and excluding the cost of the lot and maintenance.
“A mausoleum is an expression of wealth and prosperity. It’s like an offering or tribute to one’s parents or forefathers for their valuable contributions to the family,” he said.
Slabs of meat
Adriano said his most challenging project to date was a mausoleum for the Alcoreza family of meat producers who wanted their business identity and their father’s legacy to be reflected in the design.
To do that, he incorporated irregular shapes that resembled slabs of meat on the façade of the mausoleum as part of his design philosophy that he calls modern architecture.
“Even if my client requested me to do a traditional or classic design, I make sure that it has a modern approach,” he said.
Five years in the business has exposed Adriano to all kinds of grief, such that he has made it his personal responsibility to reduce the pain of his clients through his designs.
Contrary to the “inwardly focused” and enclosed mausoleums of the past, Adriano said he wants his designs to exude a positive aura through more open spaces and bigger and more transparent windows that allow more light into the structure.
“My designs are meant to make the mausoleum attractive for future generations,” he said.
Despite a trade that deals with personal loss and a taboo issue, Adriano sees himself
doing it the rest of his professional life.
The greatest reward from designing mausoleums is seeing his clients happy and content, he said. “I try to ease their grief through modern and unique designs that appropriately represent their family’s unity and achievement,” he said.