Quezon City

Sleek, Snazzy Skyscraper*: The SSS Building at East Avenue

*Apologies to Paulo Alcazaren for blatantly taking inspiration from one of his articles for the title of this entry

2017 actually marks the 60th anniversary of the Social Security System or SSS, the country’s social insurance program catering to Filipinos in the private, professional, and informal sectors. To be specific, it celebrated its 60th year last September 1, the date the Social Security Act (first enacted in 1954) was implemented, establishing the SSS as a result.

Originally, the SSS offices were located in the old GSIS Building along what is now A. Villegas and Natividad Lopez streets then called Arroceros and Concepcion streets, respectively. Which should not be a surprise since the SSS is an offshoot of the Government Service Insurance System which is focused on the government sector. But as the responsibilities and the needs of SSS grew in just a short period of time, there was a need for SSS to have a bigger home.

It first transferred to a somewhat larger, but still lacking, venue in Intramuros. Not long after, the decision was made to relocate SSS anew, this time to a place of its own in East Avenue, in what was still being planned as the national capitol area in Quezon City. It was a monumental project in which the government tapped the services of one of the country’s most notable architects of the period: Juan Nakpil.

Juan Nakpil is someone deserving of a future entry in “Metropolis Builders” (remind me of that one), but suffice to say, Nakpil’s career was a long and storied one. With a career spanning four decades already by the 1960s, he has designed many notable landmarks at that point such as the Capitol Theater, the old Manila Jockey Club building, the first redesign of the Quiapo Basilica, as well as the Carillon Tower and Quezon Hall in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.

Juan Nakpil (image courtesy of the Cultural Center of the Philippines)

One thing to know about Nakpil is that he’s mainly for employing art deco and neoclassical architecture in his works. As such, Nakpil’s work on the SSS Building is something that some may be surprised to learn as it marks a radical departure from what people are used with seeing in a Nakpil structure. But it has to be pointed out that Nakpil’s art deco and neoclassical structures were products of the eras in which they were built that was the 1920s-1930s. The same goes to the SSS Building, which was built at a time when a new architectural style was in vogue, the international style of the postwar era which was more “contemporary” in character.

Another thing to note is that the building was a more collaborative effort that Nakpil made with his two architect sons Francisco and Ariston. Still the elder Nakpil made significant contributions in the design of the structure as it took shape. The building would have a spacious podium and an open area while the exterior sported brise soleil panels, providing generous amounts of sunlight into the interiors.

By the time for Social Security System’s 8th anniversary celebration, the SSS Building was finally inaugurated on September 7, 1965. It stood out as one of Quezon City’s first skyscrapers. As it turned out, the SSS Building would be Nakpil’s architectural swan song, which many consider to be a fitting one at that. It represented the postwar development of Philippine architecture as far as its potential, a potential that has sadly been squandered in recent years as architecture in the country became too postmodern and generic, becoming “soulless” in the process.

Still, it is comforting to know that the SSS Building has remained standing for more than 50 years and counting, with little changes, if any, that were made throughout this time. It is a symbol of timeless beauty and charm that was realized in a place of lost opportunities.

 

Acknowledgements to the Philippine Star

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