Restoring Vigan’s heritage buildings after the 2022 quake | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022


Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1999, the historic city of Vigan in Ilocos Sur is noted to represent “a unique fusion of Asian building design and construction with European colonial architecture and planning.”

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), “Vigan is an exceptionally intact and well-preserved example of a European trading town in East and Southeast Asia.”

Unfortunately, the magnitude 7 earthquake of July 27, 2022 damaged many of its heritage buildings, including heritage houses, the Vigan Cathedral and belfry, Archbishop’s Palace and Colegio Building.

Turnover of assessment documents —ICOMOS PHILIPPINES
Interviews on Calle Crisologo —ICOMOS PHILIPPINES

The Vigan local government, with other public and private institutions, conducted rapid assessments of the heritage structures located in the World Heritage site.

Of the 246 buildings, 40 percent are assessed as safe, about 22 percent are for restrictive use, 28 percent need reassessment and just over 9 percent are deemed off-limits.

On the safe ones, a number of these sustained minor damages such as cracks on walls and moldings, notes the International Council on Monuments and Sites-Philippines (Icomos Philippines) survey report.

Full restoration

The same report notes that Vigan Mayor Bonito Singson bats for the “full restoration” of all the damaged heritage buildings.

Icomos Philippines said in the report that “full restoration, according to the mayor, is enabling the structures to last for 500 years more, and this would entail ensuring the stability of their foundations.”

Local architects, engineers and contractors are going to be tapped by the mayor in the restoration of the damaged buildings, which will start on those that are easiest to restore, utilizing the Heritage Homeowner’s Preservation Manual crafted in 2010.

Donato House
Donato House

So far, there is a hundred-million-peso fund donated by private companies for the restoration of structures in the local government’s priority list, which included 17 heritage houses, but this amount is insufficient, considering the extent of damage in the World Heritage site, notes Icomos Philippines.

“Despite efforts by local and national government agencies, it appears the assistance is insufficient to address all damages of the historic zone, including limited funding and expertise to shoulder expenses for full analyses and restoration,” it said.

“The national government agencies are prioritizing work on a few publicly owned structures, leaving the majority of the historic town of Vigan, composed of privately owned structures, in dire need of assistance, several of which were rendered structurally unstable,” it added.

Turnover of assessment documents —ICOMOS PHILIPPINES
Turnover of assessment documents —ICOMOS PHILIPPINES

Among the structures identified to be restored by the national government agencies, particularly the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, are the cathedral and its belfry and the archbishop’s palace.

Serving as an advisory body to Unesco on the preservation of world heritage sites, Icomos Philippines made its own survey of heritage structures in Vigan following last year’s tremor, following its assignment there from Unesco Jakarta, the regional office of the global organization in Southeast Asia.

Consolidating findings

Icomos Philippines was “assigned to consolidate all findings from various stakeholders to develop a situational analysis of past and current initiatives to study, stabilize and restore historic structures within the designated heritage zone of Vigan.”

These plus field surveys were undertaken by Icomos Philippines in Vigan from late September to early October last year.

Of the 27 heritage structures it evaluated, 17 landed on its priority list.

Shored Tuazon House

Shored Tuazon House

These include the Syquia Mansion, Lucy Antiques, Quema House, Flores House, Casa Rosario, Ariston Florendo House, Aglema House, Old Cabildo House, Schadenberg House, Argel House, Casa Grande, Royal Bakery, Tuazon House, Go House and Espiritu House.

However, it notes that Unesco Jakarta’s Heritage Emergency Fund (HEF) for the area is limited and “may not be adequate for the full structural restoration of one Vigan ancestral structure, such that for the efficient utilization of the fund, technical and scientific studies that can be applied in other structures and can be a technical resource for standardization of the restoration practice are recommended.”

It said that “the most logical choice for the application of these studies [and HEF] is the Syquia Mansion, which landed at the top of the Icomos Priority Listing as it is “one of the most authentic and culturally significant heritage homes” in Vigan.

Icomos was originally founded in 1988 with Regalado Trota Jose as its founding president.

Shoring inside Syquia Mansion
Shoring inside Syquia Mansion

Its role “to promote applied research, theory and scientific methodology as we conserve and our architectural landmarks, monuments, heritage landscapes, and archaeological sites [and] work towards a future that better manages change in heritage sites, so succeeding generations enjoy authentic experiences of our cultural heritage properties.”

It was reestablished in 2010 with the late conservation architect Augusto Villalon as president. As it celebrates its 35th year, it made Jose, a noted scholar on church art, history and heritage, as its honorary member.

The organization is now led by wood conservation specialist Cheek Fadriquela as president. —CONTRIBUTED INQ

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