National Museum of Natural History

Rizal Park, Manila


Interior Designer: Periquet Galicia, Inc.
Engineer: Arup
Museum Consultant:  Cultural Solutions
Tree of Life Structural Engineer:  PNS Advanced Steel Technology, Inc.

Tree of Life Courtyard
Photo by Ed Simon

Inside the Tree of Life scenic elevator, looking directly up to the Oculus of the dome canopy
Photo by Lawrence Carlos

Bridge connecting the Tree of Life scenic elevator to the beginning of the museum exhibits on the Fifth Floor
Photo by Ed Simon

Bridge connecting the Tree of Life scenic elevator to the beginning of the museum exhibits on the Fifth Floor, and to Ramp that connects all floors of the museum
Photo by Lawrence Carlos

Corridor between Ramp at right and Curatorial Wing at left
Photo by Ed Simon

Marble Hall
Photo by Ed Simon
View from Marble Hall towards Ramp in Courtyard
Photo by Ed Simon
Corridor between Marble Hall at right and Courtyard at left
Photo by Ed Simon

Original grillwork
Photo by Ed Simon
Ayala Hall
Photo by Ed Simon

Hexagonal Staircase
Photo by Ed Simon

Tree of Life
Photo by Lawrence Carlos

March 29, 2013

The Tree of Life metaphor, as presented to and approved by the Board of Trustees, is the over-arching theme of the concept.  It distills into one symbol mankind's primordial quest to understand his environment, a quest that was perhaps sparked by man's first act of curiosity.  A subtext to this is the double-helix DNA, the essential element of knowledge that the scientists of the National Museum of Natural History seek to mine with each specimen of flora or fauna that they collect.

One of the goals of the project is to bring Antonio Toledo's architectural expression to a full effulgence, framing the new Courtyard and its anchoring Tree of Life canopy, creating a meaningful and rich museum environment for the collection.

The American Commonwealth-era Department of Agriculture structure uses the Neo-classical style as a composite symbol of both the power of established empire and the energy of emerging nation.  The eccentric polygonal shape of the plan responds to the unique conditions established by Daniel Burnham's 1905 Plan for Manila, which originally saw the area as the country's center of political power.  Antonio Toledo was, along with Juan Arellano, one of the key Filipino implementors of Burnham's architectural vision for Manila.  It is fitting that the area is now seen as the country's museum center.  The Neo-classical facades, both exterior and courtyard faces, will be restored as closely as possible to the original Toledo intent.  Three new low-key ground-level annexes - two walled gardens and one Loading Dock enclosure with terrace above - will subscribe to the grammar of the main structure, while manifesting a subtle architectural break that indicates that they are not original.

The eccentric polgyon of the plan is composed primarily of straight lines, the curve facing Agrifina Circle being the exception and therefore the source of the building's main spatial tension, which in turn inspires the dynamic between the linear and the curvilinear, the Courtyard and the Tree, of our proposal.

The Courtyard is the archetypal space where people gather, for the timeless purpose of exchanging or partaking of knowledge.  Courtyard ventilation - filtered and fostered mechanically - will come in through the large door and window openings that face Rizal Park, as well as the Group Entrance facing Kalaw Street.  The air then escapes through the continuous gap that separates the Tree of LIfe canopy from the Toledo structure.  Whereas the galleries and corridors of the museum will be air-conditioned in order to protect the collections, the Courtyard will be naturally ventilated, an expression of the fact that what will make this museum come alive is the people who visit it.

The central backdrop of the Tree of Life is the Green Wall.  It shields the Curatorial Wing and the multi-level ramp system, while oxygenating the Courtyard.  It is more than 400 square meters of foliage, one face towards the Courtyard and the other towards the ramps, representing a woven tapestry of all the greenery that is endemic to the archipelago.  The varying light conditions relating to whether a plant is atop a mountain or near the dark rain-forest floor will be replicated by a plant specimen's location on the Green Wall.

The Green Wall is also emblematic of the sustainable technology agenda, which will be harnessed in a manner not overt but in harmony with the over-all architectural intent.

The Tree of Life and the Green Wall are the primary means of moving from floor to floor.  The processional visit to the museum starts at the base of the Tree of Life.  Large groups of visitors will be scheduled and pulsed into smaller groups of ten to 12 people who will travel up the central glass elevator that shoots up the center of the Tree of Life to the Fifth Floor Bridge that connects to the Toledo structure.  After visiting the galleries of a particular floor, one uses the Green Wall ramp system to get to the next lower floor.  If one thinks of the museum as a book and likens each floor of the museum as a chapter in the book, then the Green Wall acts as the beginning and end of each chapter.  It also suggests a cyclical return to the forest.

There are varying degrees of cultural significance to the architecture of the existing structure, and our design intent responds accordingly.

Clearly the most important are the elements that express Toledo at his most eloquent, namely the exterior and Courtyard facades, as well as Marble Hall and the various interior stairwells.

There are also assorted indications of post-war interventions, such as the conversion of the building from Department of Agriculture to Department of Tourism.  Some of these indications can be maintained where they can serve to enrich the telling of the story of the building as part of the larger narrative of our nation.  The floor pattern of the Fourth Floor Gallery formerly containing the Cabinet Secretary's offices, for example, could suggest the former space plan.  The Ground Level corners of the Courtyard all contain decorative altars that contain the first letter of what could be the surname of a former cabinet secretary.  Preserving at least one of these altars could serve an archaeological purpose.

Where a post-war intervention does not serve to enrich the story, it will be modified or replaced.  The Sixth Floor, for example, was added more recently in a manner that could best be described as arbitrary.

As mentioned, Marble Hall will be restored as closely as possible to the intent described by the original 1939 architectural drawings.  The next most important space will be the new Main Reception Hall (note: Ayala Hall) above the Group Entrance Hall.  It will bring to fruition the architectural intent suggested by the double-height arched windows on the exterior, combining two floors of corner rooms into one large space.

The architectural decoration of this new space will be Neo-classicism rendered in a Filipino way, using Filipino motifs and channeling the creative spirit of Juan Arellano, Toledo's friend and contemporary who in their time brought prevailing international architectural currents to uncharted areas of Philippine expression.

The new museum will use decorative motifs of various indigenous communities, beginning with ethnic renditions of the Tree of Life, such as that of the Mangyan and the Maranao.  Ethnic designs depicting other aspects of the natural world will be used in an elegant appropriation for pattern-making and way-finding.  The Old and the New meet in a marriage witnessed by the Ancient.