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Sunday, August 11, 2007


A design student’s utopia

A MAMMOTH structure of glass and steel, the 14-story De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s (CSB) School of Design and Arts (SDA) building has altered the urban landscape of Malate, Manila, since its construction was completed early this year. But the edifice aims to draw more than awe to its beholders. The structure, unknown to many, is De La Salle’s concrete statement of faith to the future of the creative industry in the Philippines.

A wish comes true

Though currently unparalleled in the country, it took 15 years for the SDA to evolve into its present level of sophistication. Gerard L.V. Torres, the incumbent dean of the school, relates that it was in 1992 when the CSB first offered a course in industrial design. The enrollment rate on the course proved to be promising, so in 1995, CSB officially established its school of design and arts. But with the steady growth of the student population surfaced imminent problems. First was the need for additional space, and second, it has became apparent that the traditional CSB campus on Taft Avenue was not cut out as an efficient learning environment for design students. “It was like forcing a square peg in a round hole,” Torres explains.

Thus, seeing the need, the La Sallian brothers asked the educators at the SDA to come up with a wish list. “After collating the inputs, we ended up with a 3-inch thick compilation,” Torres recalls. The collected data was to be used as a basis in designing the new home of the SDA.

A bold move

When asked what made De La Salle invest in such a gargantuan undertaking, Torres explains that the institution had seen the new positive perception toward the creative industry resulting from the burgeoning of the multimedia arts. He emphasizes that the La Sallian brothers should be commended for being visionaries and for putting their money where their mouths are. The budget for the ambitious project, Torres discloses, amounted to P1.5 billion. The cost is for the building alone and does not include expenditures on equipments and facilities.

After a tedious bidding process, the project was awarded to Lor Calma Design group. “So long as he stayed within the confines of the budget and used our inputs as the basis of the design, the architectural principal Eduardo Calma was given free reign,” relates Torres.

One of its kind

The construction of the building quietly kicked off in 2004 and was completed early this year. “The funny thing,” relates Torres, “is that no one seems to notice what we were doing until the building was completed.” Upon its completion, residents and pedestrians of the area were in sheer awe of the magnificent structure that seemed to have risen suddenly along the dowdy length of Pablo Ocampo (formerly Vito Cruz) Street in Manila.

The new SDA building is an ingenious attempt to use space as a teaching tool. “This is probably the first building of its kind that manifests the multidisciplinary teaching approach of the school,” says Calma. “The building takes its form from the spirit of design creativity; nothing was pre-conceived. This way, it would provide a much more stimulating learning environment compared to the usual box with corridors and flat lines.” Though the aesthetic elements of glass and steel are omnipresent, it is astounding to learn that no two rooms and no two floors of the SDA building are the same. A masterpiece of form and function, hallways of the SDA building were designed in a way that they can be converted into impromptu exhibition space whenever needed. In addition, the glass windows allow natural light to get in as well as provide ample ventilation, thus reducing the building’s energy consumption. “If you have a place that already teaches you a vocabulary of space, then you already establish a kind of language for design and arts,” explains Calma, adding, “That makes the building a tool for education.”

The SDA building boasts of the following facilities: museum of contemporary art and design, the SDA Cinema and film archive room, sound recording and production studios, workstations for animation and video production, studios for filmmaking and photography, a black box performance space and two ballet studios with fireproof costume rooms plus a striking 558-seat theater pompously hanging over the entrance driveway of the building.

Commendable courses

The CSB’s toil to uplift the standard of design education in the country had gone a long way since it first offered a single industrial design course in 1992. Today, the SDA caters to 12 programs that offer degrees in Animation, Arts Management, Digital Filmmaking, Fashion Design and Merchandising, Multimedia Arts, Music Production, Photography, Production Design, Technical Theater, Industrial Design, Performing Arts major in Dance (in consortium with the Ballet Philippines dance program), and Interior Design (in consortium with the Philippine School of Interior Design). Students at SDA are guaranteed to receive cutting edge and up-to-date information for the simple fact that 90 percent of its instructors are expert industry practitioners.

Torres though wants to make a distinction on the nature of the school, “The SDA is not a school of fine arts where students are taught painting and sculpture. Though tedious instruction on freehand drawing is included in most courses, the instruction will be heavily based on the multimedia arts,” he stresses. The SDA also enforces a rigid on-the-job training (OJT) program. Graduating students of the school are required to present proof of 250 to 400 hours of training time. Torres also reveals that pretty soon, the SDA will also offer short courses and adult education programs. Drawing accolades from such luminaries as National Artist for sculpture Napoleon Abueva and acclaimed film director Peque Gallaga, the SDA, without a doubt, has established itself as foremost academic institution in the country in the field of design and arts.

Artists as entrepreneurs

Another innovation that the SDA is implementing is the integration of management and entrepreneurial subjects in its curriculum. “We want to completely do away with the image of the ‘starving artist,’” Torres points out. He explains that only two decades ago, rare is a parent who will admonish his child to pursue a career in the creative industry because the notion then was there’s no money in this field. “The situation is entirely different now,” he says. Stressing his point, Torres adds that the creative industry is among the fastest-growing sectors today, contributing millions of dollars to the global economy every year. Armed with top-notch design education and business acumen, Torres believes that SDA graduates will be a potent force in building the country’s future economy. “I don’t have the slightest doubt on the creativity of Filipinos. In all my years as a dean of the SDA, I am awed by the level of skill and creativity displayed by our students. Now, couple that with business know-how and there’s no more reason why they won’t be able to succeed in their chosen career,” he beams. Expressing his pride for SDA graduates, Torres adds, “The talents and skills of our students are our best marketing tools.”

Addressing the issue of tuition cost, Torres admits that studying at the SDA entails a higher price considering level of the quality of its instruction and facilities but that doesn’t mean the institution is closing its doors to talented indigent students. Every year, the SDA has 24 scholarship slots reserved for financially challenged, deserving students. “It is our aim that 20 percent of our student population will be scholars come 2011,” Torres announces.

The SDA is truly a design student’s utopia. Torres recalls that in the beginning, he was having second thoughts of painting the building’s walls white fearing that students might scrawl graffiti on them. “But the walls remain pristine until now,” Torres boasts, intoning that every corner of the SDA building breathes art and commands respect. There’s no single sign on the SDA hallways warning against vandalism, rather, there seems to be a subliminal message in the atmosphere and that is, if you’re an artist, you won’t dare deface those walls knowing that doing so would be sacrilegious. 



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Harold Mejilla, Alan Belizario, Jason Fernandez
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