The basketball court as the modern-day plaza?

The plaza may be considered a space of Philippine heritage and culture for several reasons. However, the most important factor that plays into its role as a perpetual watcher of the country’s history is its accessibility. It is a public area that invites everyone regardless of their social status.

These areas are explored, commemorated and perhaps even mourned at Places of Memory, Places of the Heart: Plazas in the Philippines, an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila — now called The M — at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City.

This quintessential venue has since been shaped by the Law of the Indies during the Spanish colonial era, which characterized them as a cuadricula, or a grid. The periphery should house la iglesia, el municipio y las casas de los ilustrados. These open spaces have been the go-to for community celebrations and commemorations.

To further recollect these local courtyards, curator Paulo Alcazaren, a city planner and landscape architect, has tirelessly explored the country for over a decade to document these areas, their landscapes and the remaining structures of note. His travels from the north to the south of our country to include Vigan City, Zamboanga City, Bacolod City, Mandaue City, Tagbilaran City, Pagsanjan and Pila.

The revealing result is 15 features of the morphological plans, photographic documentation, archival imagery, photo collages, interactive artworks and more. The ultimate model? The country’s premier place — the Plaza Roma in Intramuros, Manila.

However, these observations have led to a horrifying conclusion: urban densification has threatened this architectural legacy and has led to the devolution of these estates, of which only 1,500 remain.

The sad reality is our plazas need to be saved.

Due to the endless hunger of modernity, collective areas for one third of Filipino urban dwellers who live in informal settlements come in the form of the perennial basketball court. It is today’s makeshift park, as highlighted in this eye-opening exhibit.

This is the default project of the government, which mimics the function of the olden atriums. It also plays a willing host to welcoming fiestas, beauty pageants, loud concerts, modern vaccination drives, solemn masses and earnest wakes. And the unimaginable list goes on. The prized perimeter is also populated by different capillas dedicated to patron saints of choice, tiny barangay halls, enterprising sari-sari stores, ever-so-popular karaoke and beerhouses and let’s not forget the ever-present benches, which gathers citizens under a free setting.

Thus, it can be observed that basketball courts have indeed taken on the secondary role of the plaza today.

Another feature of note at the exhibit is an interactive puzzle, where one moves large blocks to form an image of an aerial view of our islands. Landscapers-to-be may be excited at the drawing and coloring materials provided to make their very own dream plaza.

The exhibit is part of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ (NCCA) celebration of National Heritage Month this May with the theme “Heritage: Change and Continuity.”

The conservation of these collective venues may be possible through sensitive redevelopment, environmental sustainability thrusts and the enhancement of common areas for contemporary age.

The event is made possible by The M, the Filipino Heritage Festival, NCCA, Security Bank, Business World and DDB Group.

Places of Memory, Places of the Heart: Plazas in the Philippines runs until 3 June at the third-floor South Gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.