Ermita Icon: The Philamlife Building

As the Philippines was recovering from the devastation of the Second World War, a surge of economic progress was beginning to take place beginning in the 1950’s. By the dawn of the following decade, new infrastructures, housing developments, and commercial establishments were beginning to take shape and arise in the horizon. One of these structures is the focus of this entry: the building of the Philippine American Life and General Insurance Company at Ermita district in Manila.

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The Philamlife (or Philam Life, depending on your source but both forms are acceptable) Building was built in 1961 along Ermita’s major thoroughfare that we know now as United Nations Avenue (then known Isaac Peral St.) Its unique design was the work of Filipino architect Carlos Arguelles, who would later on collaborate with American architect Welton Becket to build the Manila Hilton (now the Manila Pavilion) located just right across the Philamlife Building.

Carlos Arguelles, the architect of the Philamlife Building (photo from Arkitekturang Filipino)

The building was built in accordance with the International Style of architecture, a style that emerged after World War II that emphasized on the building’s “natural” beauty, so to speak, rather than relying on decorative facades. Yet, it stands out on its own thanks to its unique design as its concrete exterior is wrapped around layers of aluminum “sheets” called sun bristles or “brise soleil” which serve to illuminate by means of as well as to control the sunlight coming in. In addition, it also boasts a unique molded shell concrete walkway leading to the building’s main entrance and its spacious lobby.

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The lobby holds some interesting artworks on display, not to mention a view of the building’s interior landscaped garden found right in the middle of the building itself.

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But what can be considered as the key component of the Philamlife Building is its auditorium (the Philamlife Auditorium as it is called) located at the left side of the building.With a capacity of 780 seats, it is a popular venue for various concerts and performances thanks to its sound (pun somewhat intended) acoustic design of the auditorium. In fact, it was actually the first auditorium in the country constructed after the war that fully complied with the acoustical requirements for auditorium. While it lost its role as the country’s primary performing arts venue with the completion of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1969, it still serves as an important venue for performing arts in the country.

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as per Chris, one of the commenters below: the murals were made by Lepanto Crafts. (thanks for the info!)

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another wood mural by Lepanto Crafts

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The Philamlife Building has made it in the news recently due to the buzz about the building being sold to a developer as PhilAm Life has made plans to move to a new head office in Bonifacio Global City. This developer has been identified as SM though no confirmation exists yet. With the trauma the city has experienced with developers who had no sense of heritage whatsoever, an online petition was launched to create awareness and preserve the building, especially its esteemed auditorium. Sources have already allayed fears about the fears of demolition, but personally, the fact that the identity of the new owner supposedly of the building has not been disclosed officially still leaves room for doubt and some fear as well.

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But as long as there will be vigilant people who will not let their guard down, we can at least be assured that the Philamlife Building and its Auditorium will be given the proper care and attention that an an icon and gem rightly deserves.

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Acknowledgements as well to Arkitekturang Filipino

© The Urban Roamer

6 thoughts on “Ermita Icon: The Philamlife Building

  1. Philam Life Bldg in U.N. Avenue is truly a national heritage. It’s auditorium has the best accoustic sound a theater should have. Kudos! to its architect and the people behind its construction. Congratulations to its new owner. You now own piece of history. Please take good care of it!
    Kelly Arca Mendoza

  2. The wood mural was conceived, designed and carved by Lepanto Crafts Inc. (Read from post by a fellow Philamlifer, Mr. Cyril Libranda)

  3. THANK YOU….PHILAMLIFE WAS THE IBM PHILIPPINES HEAD OFFICE when I joined the Company Nov. 1964 .. AN ICON… help preserve .. ben indolos

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