Many of us may not know what the word “precast” means or what it’s about, but its importance in the shaping of the urban landscape that we know today cannot be emphasized well enough. We may not know it, but the sights we see in our city from the classical monuments to the columnar designs to the ornamental details of edifices, they all have precast figured into their designs.
But apologies for getting myself go further without explaining what precast is about. Anyway, it is defined as a material, usually of concrete or plaster, that is cast in a mold to be brought to a site for installation. Precast comes in many forms, the more common perhaps would be what is called “ornamental precast” which is used primarily as a decoration element with organic or geometric designs.
Ornamental precast in itself is something that requires skill and artistry that has to be done by skilled hands and not left to modern automated methods that are employed in many fields today. Luckily, there are a few that still specialize in creating and installing works made in ornamental precast. In the Philippines, one name stands out as the oldest and one of the leading (if not the leading) craft house that specialize in it. Its name speaks for itself: the House of Precast.
Established in 1948, the business was set up by Conrado de Leon, an artisan who learned precasting from his father, who himself was in the precast business as well, and Vidal Tampinco who, along with his father Isabelo, was one of the foremost figures in precasting during the American colonial period. In addition, de Leon also learned sculpture as an apprentice from two renowned sculptors: National Artist Guillermo Tolentino and famed Italian sculptor Francesco Monti.
It could not have come at an inopportune time, as the country was rebuilding right after World War II and there was this need to salvage the past that was destroyed during the war, as well as the eagerness to build and showcase new things that will represent optimism for the future. It was in this time and situation that the House of Precast began to thrive, contributing to the shaping of postwar Philippine built heritage in the process.
Now with more than 60 years of experience and counting, the House of Precast is still going strong as a leading company specializing in ornamental precast. Now run by Martin Galan and his wife Michelle, (son-in-law and daughter respectively of Conrado de Leon) it is still based on the same site where it started along what is now E. Rodriguez Sr. Avenue in Quezon City. Behind the office’s unassuming façade along this busy thoroughfare, one will be surprised to see upon entry a rich treasure trove of ornamental art being showcased: fountains, column designs, wall ornamentals, most especially the sculpted figures bearing so much detail and artistry rarely found in today’s sculpted figures.
These works are models of some of the works the House of Precast has done throughout the years that are available to order upon request. The molds are done in-house at the workshop located right behind the office by skilled artisans before they will be transported to the venue where they will be installed.
Apart from creating these various designs, the House of Precast has been a driving force in helping preserve the country’s built heritage. The craft house has done significant work in rehabilitating the old Senate Session Hall at what is now the National Art Gallery of the National Museum, the Osmeña and Quirino rooms at Malacañan Palace, the exterior of the rebuilt Ayuntamiento Building, among others.
In today’s fast-paced world that is inclined to using technology in getting things done quickly, the House of Precast is one of the few businesses in existence that still rely on people in doing work. As was mentioned before, ornamental precast requires skill and artistry of a skilled hand, which unfortunately is neglected being taught today especially in modern architecture. Admittedly, it is not a business that makes much profit, but its work for the shaping of the country’s built heritage is invaluable that it is worth more than whatever profit is to be earned.
my personal thanks to the Heritage Conservation Society-Youth (HCS-Y) for organizing a tour of this facility which the Urban Roamer took part in, as well as to the people at the House of Precast, especially Mr. Martin Galan for their warm welcome and generosity
for more information about the House of Precast, you can visit their website at www.houseofprecast.com
© the Urban Roamer