MANILA, Philippines – Restoration work on the La Loma Cemetery Chapel was recently completed, giving a fresh look to the centuries-old structure.
The restoration began in June 2021, and was done by Escuela Taller de Filipinas in partnership with the Diocese of Kalookan. Escuela Taller’s lead architect Jeffrey Cobilla told Rappler that the chapel, known as the “lumang simbahan (old church),” was being conserved so it could be used again.
“Prior to any interventions that were done, almost every part of the chapel was in bad shape which may be attributed to lack of proper maintenance and neglect, manifested by the overgrowth of plants and deeply eroded stones,” Jeffrey described.
He said that after the renovation, the facade regained some of the material integrity of the stone wall and ornaments. He also said that the different ornamentations adorning the facade became more apparent.
“The crumbling walls have been treated by replacing heavily damaged stones, removing previous interventions that are incompatible to the original and existing building fabric, and applying a coat of lime-based plaster and colored limewash to protect the century-old stones from further weathering and to allow the ornaments become more apparent,” he said.
Liturgical architecture consultancy RDG Ecclesiastical Architecture shared photos of the chapel pre- and post-restoration on Facebook. Many congratulated Escuela Taller for the completion of the project and celebrated the preservation of a historical site.
However, some commenters voiced their distaste at the chapel’s new yellow-and-white facade – a departure from its aged brick look pre-restoration.
“Sayang (what a waste),” several commenters said.
“I just wish they picked a more neutral color. It’s really necessary to preserve heritage sites for future generations and the restorations they did ensures that. I just think a plain white with neutral accents would have worked better in this case,” said commenter Marco Santos.
“Restoration does not need modern color, MY GOODNESS you’re ruing it!” said Facebook user Napolis Rex.
“I think that the ‘restoration’ aka painting the facade of the old Church didn’t do its purpose of restoring the intricate details of the Church. It’s destroyed,” said commenter Vanessa Linda Perez Enrejo.
An opportunity to educate
The Escuella Taller architect said that they are already used to these kinds of reactions.
“It is quite a usual sentiment, at least in my observation, that some don’t like the fresh and new look of old buildings especially if they looked ruinous for some time already,” Jeffrey said.
He added that they treat these comments and discussions as an opportunity to educate people on heritage conservation.
“We haven’t participated in these online discussions (yet) but we already see some people explaining the approach and result of the conservation work in the chapel, which I believe is somehow good for heritage conservation as a discipline because we see more and more people engaged in the discourse on how to protect our historic buildings,” he said.
“As heritage conservation is considered a young field in the Philippines, the heightened interest of people regarding our heritage means that the field is developing and growing not only among professionals, but also as equally important, among the public,” he added.
“This is one reason why we take these comments objectively because we always look out for opportunities where we can share our knowledge and experience in conservation in the hope that more Filipinos can be armed with information needed to appropriately protect our patrimony,” he said.
Escuela Taller previously explained their choice of color in a May 1 Facebook post, saying that the yellow ochre shade was “based on residues and material evidences found during our chipping of the wall’s layers of plastering.”
The newly-restored chapel is located within the La Loma Cemetery – one of the oldest gravesites in Manila, opened in 1884. – Rappler.com