“ARCHITECTS cannot often predict how clients use our buildings,” said Ar. Gerry Torres of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s (DLS-CSB). He was talking about how the Center for Campus Art (CCA), which he heads, has been building satellite galleries in the least expected spaces at their four campuses. These mini-galleries teach design thinking more effectively than any class lecture can.
Just this year, the Greenway Square Gallery was completed. Pedestrians used this runway to cross from the main building on Taft Avenue to the other campuses of the college. The old, blown-up images of orchids did little to cover the exposed pipes. While there were tables for study and eating, the din from the condensers made it less inviting for lingering. Torres solved this by putting up an art space.
He erased the ill-fitting images of a tropical jungle, covered the columns with painted plywood, added exhibit lighting, and hung legitimate works of art from the CCA’s growing collection.
Bringing art into this space transformed the once drab and dingy area into a living and breathing one, giving it expansiveness and luxury. Better tables and seating allow students to study and converge while they make casual glances at works of art. At DLS-CSB, art is not sacrosanct but is placed behind heavily guarded walls. The art works are as ubiquitous as the kiosks selling snacks. Asked about safety and security, Torres answered, “We trust that our students respect works of art and not deface or steal them.”
In 2015, Torres started conceiving these pocket galleries to solve a pedagogical problem. He realized that he needed to inculcate the habit of going to museums and galleries, which was useful for art and design education. He began building art spaces inside unlikely sites.
A fine example is the fashion aquarium, a glass-enclosed show window in an unused space by the entrance of the Registrar’s Office, presently housing couture pieces from Ben Farrales’ 1990 Pink Collection. Torres also designed cafeterias as cozily as the students’ favorite coffee shop. In one dining hall, a display area depicting the history of 1912 Manila greets patrons, making eating lunch a little less mundane.
Torres, who was Dean of the College of Art and Design between 2004 and 2010, observed that teachers had students mount exhibits. For lack of first-rate models for curating, he resolved to teach by doing it himself. He wanted to show not only the principles of excellent curation, but also ingenuity in the choice and use of existing spaces.
One example is the BeXtraordinary Wall, a display area of works by student winners in a formerly abandoned corridor. On the 12th floor, the former amphitheater was changed from an undefined setting into a grand exhibit hall. What is totally genius is that the gallery intentionally leads to the cafeteria.
A key aspect about these spaces is that they do not break the flow of the architecture. Torres does not put anything on the floors or stairs that might impede traffic. While adhering to the principles of design aesthetics, the spaces are curated according to what is meaningful to students.
“My approach to content creation from the students is to work with their teachers. I asked them what kind of subject matter would attract the students,” he said, inferring that listening to one’s clientele is, after all, the first step in effective design thinking.
The aim is to enhance the experience of the architecture as well as to develop design acumen. The Center also serves to bring art to non-design students of culinary arts, diplomacy and business, like the permanent installation at AB4 of the Benilde Milestones, which are posters meant to provide privacy to rooms and to tell the history of the College.
Not only are these spaces functional, they have been designed for maximum aesthetic and informational engagement.
In the coming year, the Center will be adding two more to the existing 20 pocket galleries. Construction is on the way for the Fashion Aquarium at the Learning Resource Center at Benilde Taft Campus; meanwhile, the Center for Learning Resource of the Design and Art Campus will have its own pocket gallery.
“One advice I will give to those who want to build pocket galleries is to make sure that the exhibits are changed constantly. Evolution is vital to capturing attention,” Torres said.