Nicolás Combarro
Nicolás Combarro
Nicolás Combarro
Nicolás Combarro
Nicolás Combarro
Nicolás Combarro
Nicolás Combarro
Nicolás Combarro

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Architecture of Resistance

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Architecture and Resistance_Manila

Architecture can be considered as any kind of building, of transformation of the landscape, that is carried out by human hand. Popular architecture is inextricably linked to the cultural identity of a society, its analysis provides the keys for the socio-economic, aesthetic, or technical context. My work searches for the direct understanding of many of these elements by means of observation, documentation, and analysis of the architectonic forms that I find in my practice. Particularly in places that I do not belong to culturally, such as the Philippines and specifically the city of Manila, this investigation allows me to approach its reality, that of its inhabitants and the builders of a type of direct architecture that mixes structural logic with constructive roots and popular local aesthetics. 

Thanks to the support of the Embassy of Spain in the Philippines and the Spanish Ministry of Culture, I was able to make two long study trips that have permitted me to acquire a gaze for a part of the architectonic reality of the city that usually goes unnoticed and undocumented. Part of this investigation is reflected in this portfolio, which presents a selection of buildings discovered in a variety of sites in the city of Manila. The scope is broad and diverse. We can find buildings of greater significance that testify to the aesthetics of the time they were erected and no longer exists, such as the Mandarin Oriental Hotel (an example of local Brutalist architecture), although the majority of this work focuses especially on self-built structures, that is, made directly by their inhabitants. This section has a broad range, from the older architecture that still displays features of vernacular elements to contemporary popular architecture made with whatever means are at hand. Examples of ephemeral architecture are likewise included, such as auxiliary structures or buildings currently in construction, many times the specimens of recycling and great spontaneity, that dot the cityscape.

This work gained immensely from the invaluable collaboration with the local artist Wawi Navarroza. In addition to supplying her knowledge and contacts regarding the specific theme that I defined, her own work has explored urban aspects of Manila associated with my investigation. In her project Hunt and Gather, Terraria, for example, Navarroza searched for, photographed, and archived plants growing wildly in the city, in order to create microsystems where these plants present themselves to the public. Her book of the same title, in which she expands the project with texts and by going into greater depth on the subject, is likewise very noteworthy.

The selection presented in this publication does not aim to present either a specific typology or the totality of the city’s architecture. It is a subjective approach, in a certain sense an aleatory one, the result of months of architectonic wanderings through the streets of Manila and fruitful exchanges on this topic with important local actors such as Paulo Alcazaren or Carlos Celdran. Thanks to them I have been able to better comprehend the idiosyncrasy of the city and corroborate notions sensed during the research. That is, a spontaneous architecture, an organic intelligence, which derive from a tradition of living in community, recycling, artisanship, solidarity, and a spontaneous urban ecology.

The series Architecture and Resistance_Manila is thus an informal archive comprising a collection of photographs documenting various forms of local architecture. The archive was the basis for making a series of derivations such as collages, also present in the portfolio, which mix reality and fiction or photography and drawing, resulting in such “post-sketches”, utopian architectures that function as anti-monumental symbols.


Nicolás Combarro (La Coruña, 1979) utilizes different artistic mediums such as the intervention, photography, or collage to generate a dialogue with constructed space. His work has been exhibited in solo shows at museums such as Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Paris), Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea CGAC (Santiago de Compostela), Museo de Arte Contemporánea MARCO (Vigo), Congress and Exhibition Centre Palexco (La Coruña), Institut Français (Madrid), and the Oficina Cultural de España in Mexico, as well as in galleries like Solo Galerie (Paris), Galería Moriarty (Madrid), Kwanhoon Gallery (Seoul), Galería Carles Taché (Barcelona), or Pablo Gallery (Manila).

He has realized site-specific works for the I Manila Biennale (in collaboration with Wawi Navarroza), Tabacalera (Madrid), Kreativquartier (Munich), and the 42nd Salón Nacional de Artistas (Cartagena de Indias), and has participated in Spain’s Pavilion at the XV Biennale Architettura in Venice, awarded the Golden Lion.

He directed the film Alberto García-Alix. La línea de sombra, premiered at the Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival and shown at international festivals in Chicago, Guadalajara (prize for best documentary), Buenos Aires (BAFICI), Toulouse (prize for best documentary), Washington (National Gallery of Art), Los Angeles, Cali, and New York (Anthology Film Archives), among others.

He has received scholarships and prizes such as 20th FotoPres “la Caixa”, the Laureat from the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris, the Premio Festival Off-Saab at PHotoEspaña for the best exhibition, and the first prize from Fotografía Injuve, among others, and has published the books Interventions (RM), Arquitectura y resistencia (Cabeza de Chorlito), and Arquitectura espontánea (Fundación Bancaria “la Caixa”).

Architecture of Resistance

“Architecture of resistance” is a term I use to talk about this type of spontaneous building where structural logic is mixed with cultural heritage. A free architecture that in itself represents a form of resistance to economic, social, and political determinants. It also refers to traditional buildings or those that preserve vernacular elements, which continue to stand despite having been forgotten und made invisible. 

This kind of building allows us to understand other forms of building, far from monumental architecture and grand urban development plans, where the means and the intention of their creators are foremost. Buildings with their aesthetic, which assert their existence and force us to look, understand, and assimilate them, shattering in this way a vision of architecture that is increasingly uniform and idealized. This work looks and shows these architectural forms in order to extract from them an aesthetic based on a popular constructive reality that is hardly paid attention anymore.

Photography is an exceptional tool for recording and studying these buildings, permitting us to assume an active gaze. This work does not aim to encompass or limit all of these architectural forms, as their very diversity impedes this, nor to categorize them. In the labor of observation one discovers local, exclusive forms and materials, but also many elements that are common and cross-cutting, which lead us to comprehend a popular constructive logic that transcends geographic and political boundaries.

“Self-building” is a term that describes buildings created directly and self-sufficiently by those who will occupy them or by the community that accepts them. These buildings are usually constructed in a non-standard manner and only attend to their own existence and resistance. The fact of realizing their own buildings lends the creators the possibility of deciding how to build them, always according to their possibilities. Occasionally obliged by the economic situation or by limited access to the building site, sometimes thanks to pure ingenuity, the capacity of these builders to erect original architectonic structures breaks with the increasingly widespread homogenizing tendency of contemporary architecture: a tendency usually driven by pragmatic and mimetic criteria far away from an individual identity or from small teams. Similarly, the simplicity and immediacy that permeate do-it-yourself construction contrasts with the excesses of contemporary monumental or commercial architecture. Opposed to this grandiloquent architecture, an alternative critique arises that asserts a self-building that follows the guidelines formulated by its builders or communities, as much in its vernacular mode as in contemporary derivations.

This occurs with the materials used for self-building as well: they are diverse and even surprising, although we can find patterns in their use. The decorative elements utilized in self-building are heterogeneous. On some occasions these can appear excessive, on others, what catches one’s attention is their total absence, yet always following the will or the possibilities of those who employ them. In the use of materials we similarly observe the alternation between, or coexistence of, profound cultural roots and contemporary additions, with local as well as international elements.

Self-building, moreover, demonstrates a strong presence of light and recycled materials, generally as complements or employed in auxiliary building. They are very diverse: plastic, wood, textile, etc. Their use and re-use responds to the creativity or necessity of the new users. The utilization of this type of resources reaches its maximum expression when we are talking about ephemeral architecture. We use the term to refer to a type of architecture erected temporally, without the pretension of permanence. This group includes guard houses and construction sheds, improvised warehouses, garages, etc. Minimal units of construction, original and light, that expand the limits of what is normally understood as architecture, incorporating ideas and techniques drawing on popular knowledge and immediate resources.

In materials as much as in the self-building itself it is vital to observe the relationship between contemporary popular architectonic forms and vernacular or traditional buildings. Many self-built vernacular buildings that still stand do so in a precarious state, since their use has disappeared and their appearance is one of decomposition. Buildings whose validity is called into question and whose preservation as part of the architectonic heritage is not called for. It seems illogical that in the uncontrolled race towards the new, such structures—so important for popular knowledge—are left behind. They are vital elements for understanding a type of building adapted to the local environment, with indigenous materials and with techniques in danger of extinction. Although efforts for the preservation of the architectonic heritage are growing little by little, they are usually focused on monumental architecture and rarely on self-built structures or small traditional architecture, in which a great part of popular wisdom resides.

The architecture of resistance justifies itself by its own existence. Self-building is probably one of the activities that most unites people and communities. It is a clear exponent of its inhabitants, a cultural and identitary legacy that can serve us as a codex, if we pay enough attention to it to decipher it. This project proposes activating the gaze of those who observe these buildings, of those presented here as well as those we encounter every day, appreciating their qualities and singularities. These forms, which resist in an architectonic reality increasingly monotonous and alienated, can help us formulate new questions. While the traditional architectonic idea generates structure from theory, the latter could nourish itself more from the popular architectonic reality underlying these buildings: a constructive logic, a mixture of instinct and experience, which continually generates new architecture and resists aesthetic dictatorships and prejudices.

This publication is commissioned by the Embassy of Spain in the Philippines in conjunction with the Spanish Cooperation through the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID). The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the AECID nor of the Embassy.

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Embajada de España en Filipinas
Embassy of Spain in the Philippines

27th Floor, Equitable Bank Tower
8751 Paseo de Roxas, Makati
Metro Manila, Philippines

exteriores.gob.es/embajadas/manila

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