Measuring the Manila square meter

This essay originally appeared in the catalogue for the exhibition titledLiving Spaces: Hyperreal Estate and the Architecture of Dispossession“, curated by Alice Sarmiento. I wrote it in conversation with, and with thanks to, Alice Sarmiento, Andre Ortega, and Maria Khristine Alvarez.

Consider the average Manila billboard.

It is many times larger than the average Manila home. Perched above Manila’s hypertensive roads, it gets better breeze, sunlight, and sight lines than the average Manila home; its floodlights consume more power than several average Manila homes.

The visuals of the average Manila billboard are also larger than the average Manila life—especially when they peddle condominiums, those new average Manila homes for the 21st century. They feature models with impossibly white, impossibly smooth skins, living impossibly carefree lives of minutes-away convenience from the best that the city can offer, all under impossibly blue skies.

From a messaging point of view, the average Manila billboard needs to be larger than life. It must, after all, be heard above the jostle of shoulders, the knots in our backs, and the blare of last night’s death toll—all before we heave and lurch our way onto the next billboard.

It then needs to tell, within the limits set by 216 square meters,[1] convincing lies: small lies, about the life of grandeur possible within an eighteen square-meter unit,[2] about how the baked air takes your breath away, or about the mysterious dues and fees that await.

Fig. 1. About twelve 18m2 Manila studio units can fit within a 216m2 Manila billboard.

Continue reading “Measuring the Manila square meter”

Reading list: Manila

Manila reading list – 2021-12-20 (pdf)
Manila reading list (Google docs link)

From this edition onward I will also be making it available as a Google Doc file. If you would like to take part in maintaining the list, and would like to be granted editor access, please get in touch.

Who do we blame for untrammeled hyperurbanization in Manila?

Originally published on Facebook 1 October 2009, written in the wake of the massive flooding triggered by Typhoon Ondoy. This version was published 5 October 2009 on ABS-CBN News.com, as part of a special report on Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy), and reprinted  27 October 2009 on Focus on the Global South’s Focus on the Philippines.

We need to bring public scrutiny to bear on the big, if hard-to-answer, issues of unsustainable urbanization and land use planning.

It comes as no surprise that public anger in the aftermath of the Ondoy disaster has focused on corruption and incompetence among government officials: on how Arroyo’s Le Cirque dinner could have paid for disaster response equipment; how her son was spotted stocking up on booze even as people were dying in the rising floodwaters; and how unscrupulous politicians were taking advantage of the situation by plastering their grinning mugs all over relief goods. It is, after all, easier to lay responsibilities on names and faces rather than on structural causes.

There is, however, a critical aspect of the issue that evades easy association with names and faces, and is consequently not addressed by the public debate: the problem of untrammeled, private sector-led urbanization. Continue reading “Who do we blame for untrammeled hyperurbanization in Manila?”