A Bit of the Old, a Bit of the New

September 29, 2010, 8:47am

Paoay Church is one of UNESCO's World Heritage sites

Because of its picturesque natural landscape, the Ilocos region is understandably a popular tourist destination. Yet what makes this place even more interesting is the classic architecture of the man-made landmarks, most of which were built centuries ago during the Spanish era.

Some of the buildings, however, were built just a few years ago. Admirably, the architects of many of the newer structures adopted the Spanish architectural style and this has helped make the towns and cities of Ilocos retain their charm, and most importantly, their heritage.

For instance, anyone who travels to Laoag City, Ilocos Norte by air would probably think he had also traveled back in time. The design of the airport terminal harks back to the 19th century buildings that dominate the city’s skyline. The terminal’s arrival area is festooned with bricks, which alone already creates a semblance of the old world.

Drive around Ilocos Norte and you learn a bit of Philippine history. This destination has a rich heritage, being home to some of the country’s oldest churches such as the iconic Paoay Church (included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List) and the imposing St. William’s Cathedral. And of course, there are the ancestral Vigan-style homes and the venerable structures that house the local government’s offices.

Another significant landmark in Laoag is the Sinking Bell Tower. One of the country’s tallest and oldest towers, it could well be the city’s answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This Sinking Bell Tower, after all, happens to lean a bit to the north.

Yet despite the timeless aesthetic appeal of the urban areas they toil in, the people of the Ilocos region are gradually moving on to a more contemporary lifestyle. After all, they’ve already learned to embrace the mall culture, what with the recent opening of the Robinsons Ilocos Norte located in San Nicolas.

“The presence of the Robinsons mall in our place provides local people with a unique experience of modern lifestyle just like in any big city,” shares San Nicolas Mayor Alfredo P. Valdez, Jr. “As we Ilocanos are known for our frugality, there are some families now who are very much willing to spend especially for food every time they visit the mall.”

The mall covers over 22, 000 square meters of property and it’s a major component of the 20-hectare mixed-use complex called “The Center.” This major real estate project will soon have residential, office, hotel, and other commercial establishments.

“Since we opened late last year, we have observed that shoppers and mall goers enjoy the ambience of the mall, particularly the wide and spacious activity area,” says Melody Joson-dela Cruz, Robinsons Malls’ group property manager. She adds, “We already have regulars who enjoy shopping at select retail outlets, and dine in several food outlets. They even get to access free Wi-Fi.”

Aside from the local employment that Robinsons has been providing since it opened late last year, the company also supported homegrown industries particularly the producers of terra cotta tiles and bricks of San Nicolas. In designing the mall, the architects made sure they used these materials.

Indeed, the mall is one of those modern Ilocos landmarks that try to capture the old flavor of the region. “The design that we adopted here in Robinsons Place Ilocos Norte is consistent with our other shopping mall development projects,” explains in-house mall architect Jerwin Coloma. “But what is so special about this mall is that, we incorporated local colors and Ilocano artistry as seen through some of the building materials and ornamentation. Locally-made bricks were utilized to highlight the rich heritage of the Ilocos region.”

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