Phil Bamboo Conf.-"Bobby" Manosa, architect

Francisco "Bobby" Manosa, architect [there is an tilde over the "n" which
ASCII doesn't show]

Bobby Manosa stopped the show at the recent Philippine Bamboo Conference in
Iloilo City, Panay. A man of great passion, enthusiasm and rich with an easy,
visceral humor, Bobby slips back and forth between English and Tagalog in his
presentation and slide show. He has his schtick down pat. The audience wants
more and he gives and gives.

The Philippines constitute a long stretch of islands, many peoples, many
languages, many spiritual traditions hammered into a contemporary
nationstate. As in Indonesia, not everybody is happy with the idea of one
nation under either Cardinal Sin or President Ramos. Guns and heavy looking
guards are everywhere. 

Guerrilla actions have been a nearly constant fact of Philippine life for
hundreds of years. After more than 400 years under harsh Spanish colonial
administration, the Americans, full of Manifest Destiny and superior
firepower, took over, no less harshly, in 1898. The Japanese came in 1941 and
went out in 1944. Oddly enough, some people remember them fondly–maybe
because they didn't stay long. Like most everyplace else once under European
colonization, at the top of the heap are folks with lighter skins and more
Caucasian features. Bobby is one of them.

By allowing Philippine Independence in 1946, the Americans substituted
economic imperialism for military imperialism. Fifty years later, with the
huge bases closed, most direct American involvement has been replaced with
multinational or transnational corporate interests many with significant
Philippine participation and direction. Contemporary economic actualities
also reveal the long involvement in and assimilation in the Philippines of
peoples who originally came many years ago from China, augmented with the
growing international presence of "overseas" Chinese throughout Asia and
throughout the world, for that matter. The otherwise ubiquitous Indian
presence in commerce common to so many African, Pacific and island nations is
largely absent in the Philippines. The combined heritage of Spanish and, to a
lessening degree, American influences show on the surfaces. Manila, in
particular, seems somewhat more like Mexico City than either Taipei or
Bangkok. Seoul and Singapore as well as Kuala Lumpar have less in common with
Manila. Japan now provides more aid money than any other nation. There are
more ways to win wars than killing  people. 

There are elections and the trappings of democracy are evident. When and if
push comes to shove, control of most everything of significance rests with a
tight oligarchy of interlocking families as well as interlocking
directorates. For the folks outside the families, it makes little practical
difference whether the President is a Marcos, Aquino or Ramos. Bobby Manosa
fits in well. 

Among the world's 100 richest people, nine are Filipinos. For a nation of
70,000,000  people that statistic suggests a rigid concentration of wealth
and privilege. Since I was last in Manila eighteen years ago, the beautiful
people have moved from relatively exposed bayfront Ramos Boulevard mansions
to inland fortress enclaves such as Forbes. Bobby Manosa has prospered from
the commissions involved. What a rich palette for an architect. That he has
chosen bamboo as an expressive material is amazing. He is a true contrarian
in materials.

He showed many slides of opulent, beautiful and creative mansions–although
mansion is probably too small a word actually. That he has incorporated
bamboo into these works of art is truly remarkable. Bamboo sidings, bamboo
flooring, bamboo paneling, bamboo mosaics, bamboo ceilings, bamboo structural
elements, bamboo subfloorings, on and on go the lists of bamboo-based
components in his works–exposed and concealed, open and hidden. The
sophistication involved is notable.

One of the members of the Conference national organizing committee has a
sister who up in northern Luzon operates a small manufacturing facility which
makes many of the simple and complex bamboo elements used by Bobby Manosa. In
small lots, her people are doing work never seen in the USA.. She has been
making bamboo plywood and using the tradename "Plyboo" for many years. 

Also shown at the Conference were bamboo corrugated roofing, bamboo particle
boards of differing densities, bamboo fiber boards of differing compositions,
bamboo green boards for wet installations and other bamboo substitutions for
building materials made here of gypsum and such. All of these materials are
not widely used even in the Philippines. The huge volcanic eruption at Mt.
Pinatubo also dumped millions of tons of volcanic ash which is a great binder
for building boards. Bobby has made constructive use of this raw materials in
his works. 

To Bobby Manosa's eternal credit, he has also done extensive design and
construction of bamboo housing to replace squatters' villages and to build
villages for fisherpeople and others displaced for one reason or another. He
has done bamboo public facilities and bamboo installations in parks and other
sites benefiting people of lesser economic and social status. He has explored
the larger scale and lower cost applications for which bamboo is an excellent
material in his view. He has done resort complexes of bamboo. He did a
palatial beach retreat for Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos when they were running
the country. He has remodeled the bamboo summer house which President Ramos
uses for his state breakfasts and informal meetings with international and
corporate dignitaries. He did a lot work for President Cory Aquino. Bobby
gets along well with all the right people as well as doing good. 

Bobby Manosa's show was all slides and talk. No copies were distributed. For
a sampling of his work, find David Pearson's fine book, Earth to Spirit, In
Search of Natural Architecture. You will find Bobby on p. 123 after Hassan
Fathy, a great favorite of mine in earth architecture, and some pictures of
Bobby's Pearl Farm Resort, a five star facility done in bamboo, on pages 128
and 129. Pearson quotes Manosa: "Bamboo is the only plant that can grow fast
enough to cope with growing demand for present and future housing. But unless
we apply new found technology and encourage willingness and acceptance by the
people, it cannot prove its worth." Bobby makes me wish we had a
bamboo-minded architect to the Presidents in the United States.

Milo Clark