WHEN you walk along the streets of Binondo, you might notice a street named "Tomas Mapua" or set foot in Mapua University (formerly Mapua Institute of Technology). You might be wondering, "Who is Tomas Mapua?"


Tomas Bautista Mapua was born in Binondo, Manila in 1888.

His early education was at Ateneo de Manila and Liceo de Manila as the Philippines transitioned to being a colony of the United States. Back then, the architectural profession in the Philippines was nonexistent and the closest a Filipino could get to becoming an architect is the title Maestro de Obras (Master Builder). Liceo de Manila was the first private school to train such practitioners.

Tomas Bautista Mapua, the first registered architect in the Philippines. PHOTO FROM KULAY COLORIZATION FACEBOOK PAGE
Tomas Bautista Mapua, the first registered architect in the Philippines. PHOTO FROM KULAY COLORIZATION FACEBOOK PAGE

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Mapua's exemplary academic performance earned him a chance to study in the United States under the 1903 Pensionado Law under a scholarship and in that same year, he was sent to the US to further his education. In 1911, he earned his degree in architecture at Cornell University in New York. In 1921, Philippine Assembly Act 2985, or the "Engineers and Architects Law" was passed, which automatically registered Maestro de Obras as architects. By virtue of this law, Mapua became the first Filipino registered as an architect with License 00001.

He would subsequently co-found the Philippine Institute of Architects in 1933 with other notables Juan Arellano, Andres Luna de San Pedro, Pablo Antonio, Tomas Arguelles and Juan Nakpil, who became its first president.

Mapua would succeed him in 1935.

In exchange for the scholarships, pensionados agreed to work on local government construction projects. Upon returning to the Philippines, Mapua joined the Bureau of Public Works, beginning as a draftsman (1912-1917) and worked his way up the ranks becoming supervising architect (1917-1928). It was during the latter period that he spearheaded many government projects, which still stand to this day. In 1925, he founded Mapua Institute of Technology. After retiring from public service, he founded MYT Construction Works Inc. and went into private practice designing homes considered the best designs of the prewar period. After his death in 1965, Misericordia Street in Chinatown (Binondo) was renamed in his honor.

Notable works

Mapua became known for his significant contributions in architecture having designed buildings that continue to stand at present. Among his notable works are the following (mostly designed in neoclassical style):

Philippine General Hospital (PGH). Located in Ermita, Manila, the administration building of the PGH was designed by Mapua, which dovetails into the plans of American architect Daniel Burnham's plans for Manila. This was continued by Mapua's successor, William Parsons, who got most of the credit.

Manila Central Post Office. Also located in Ermita, Manila, this was designed in collaboration with another renowned Philippine architect Juan Arellano. Fronting the huge, rectangular volume are the 16 pillars of the Ionic style that are lined up above the steps just before entering the lobby. The main body of the building is capped by a recessed rectangular attic story and flanked and buttressed by two semicircular wings. The main lobby has subsidiary halls at each end housed under the semicircular spaces roofed with domes.

 The main building of De La Salle University Manila (St. La Salle Hall) was designed by Tomas Mapua and considered one of his best works still standing. PHOTO BY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
The main building of De La Salle University Manila (St. La Salle Hall) was designed by Tomas Mapua and considered one of his best works still standing. PHOTO BY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

De La Salle University Manila main building (St. La Salle Hall). In 1916, Mapua took part in a competition for the design of a new La Salle school building as the original school in Paco could no longer accommodate the growing number of students. Mapua's entry won (among the nine other competitors) and he also earned P5,000 as prize. The H-shaped building has a triangular pediment supported by Corinthian columns to create a three-bay portico main entrance. The wide, open-air portico wings extend from either side and Corinthian pilasters and a dentiled cornice unite floors between each arch (at the time, the building only had three floors) to name some of the features that describe the building.

The building was officially opened in 1924 on its current location in Malate, Manila. St. La Salle Hall is the only Philippine structure to be included in the coffee-table book 1001 Buildings You Must See Before You Die: The World's Architectural Masterpieces. According to Denna Jones, one of the book's contributors, "St. La Salle Hall is an epitome of classical and imperial style of architecture not just in the Philippines but also in Southeast Asia."

Mapua Mansion

Located in Pasay City along Taft Avenue, Mapua designed his own home, which was completed in 1930. According to one of his grandsons, it was a side project with his apprentices. His home was designed in the Art Deco style, which was a popular architectural style of the period. The home survived World War 2 and the construction works in the area for the Light Rail Transit during the 1980s. The mansion is currently undergoing restoration works by the Philippine Institute of Architects and its affiliate organizations.

Aduana de Iloilo (Iloilo Customs House). Located in Iloilo City, this is one of Mapua's works outside Manila that still stands and mirrors that of the customs building in Manila. It was the second largest. It underwent rehabilitation overseen by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines and was completed in 2018. It currently houses the Iloilo offices of the Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Immigration.

On the grave of renowned English architect Sir Christopher Wren, his epitaph reads, "Si monumentum requiris circumspice (If you seek his monument, look around)." Although you would hardly see a monument dedicated to Tomas Mapua anywhere, all you have to do is look around and you will see his works still standing, which are a testament to his significant contributions in Philippine architecture.