At long last the Philippines will have a Museum of Natural History.
The Department of Tourism building will soon be retrofitted to house the third museum in what shall become Manila’s Museum Precinct.
Anchoring the precinct is the newly completed National Gallery of Art, formerly the Senate Building on Burgos Drive, where the country’s definitive collection of paintings is on display.
Across the street is the Museum of the Filipino People that once was the Department of Finance Building, whose curved façade frames Agrifina Circle.
Across the Circle is its twin structure, the DOT building, originally the Department of Agriculture building.
The three heritage buildings, all in Neoclassical style, dating from pre-World War II American colonial era, form an elegant architectural cluster on the eastern end of Rizal Park along Taft Avenue.
This urban ensemble, once completed, will undoubtedly evolve into one of the most remarkable open-air spaces, a landmark in congested Manila.
The National Museum of the Philippines invited five architects to submit design concepts in a closed competition for the DOT retrofitting.
The board of trustees awarded the project to the team of architect Dominic Galicia and interior designer Tina Periquet.
In preparation for their design, Galicia and Periquet combed the National Museum premises, went into its laboratories and dug into storage facilities, looked at specimens and interviewed the staff of scientists before realizing that DNA is “the stuff that connects us all.”
DNA also unites all architectural elements in the Galicia scheme for the Museum of Natural History.
Supported by a stylized steel double helix representing our shared DNA, a glass dome covers the central courtyard of the building. Rising six stories above the courtyard’s floor, the helix is the sculptural focus of the Galicia scheme which visually and intellectually unites nature with art.
Gallery and office spaces on the periphery open out to six levels, looking out to the enormous glass-covered courtyard cooled by an energy-saving system that circulates air throughout the six levels.
Despite reconfiguring interior spaces and, in some areas, opening up some floors to introduce double-height rooms, the Galicia design shows careful respect for the original vision of Antonio Toledo, the architect who designed the building in the 1930s.
Interior spaces previously altered to suit the Department of Tourism’s needs are restored to their original design. Original building and decorative details that have been lost are returned.
The retrofit of the heritage buildings leaves all façades untouched, an approach that reinforces the architectural unity of the Museum Precinct, a group of heritage buildings that forms the urban landscape that was one of the primary focal points of the Daniel Burnham Plan for Manila of 1905.
To be an integral part of the Museum of Natural History team, the National Museum has appointed Cultural Solutions, a group of museum consultants led by Chuck Sutyla who have planned and designed museums across Asia, the Middle East, the Americas, and particularly the Museum of the Filipino People in Manila which they worked on over a decade ago.
Most important, the new Museum of Natural History will be the result of a communal effort.
The National Museum staff, members of the Philippine scientific community and natural heritage NGOs have been meeting to conceptualize the new museum, set the direction its exhibits will take, and decide on the educational messages the museum will present to its viewers.
The collection to be exhibited at the Museum of Natural History should be rich and varied, befitting the multifaceted biodiversity of the Philippines which is the best in the world.
The days of stuffy museums are past, today’s museums are out of the ordinary, eye-catching and, most of all, super educational environments; the Museum of Natural History truly intends to be such.
The directive of the National Museum to its staff and team of consultants is to produce a truly world-class museum, and that is what we are going to have at last.