Building Happyland - The Duterte Administration
National University of Singapore
Following the political crusade of Rodrigo Duterte’s, this thesis will anchor on the 16th President of The Republic of Philippines savage war on drugs. It paints a cynical and satirical political narrative of purification, salvation and fear through the support of the state arms – military and police, commonly known as “The Death Squad.” The architecture manifests as five utilitarian ministries that enshrines the marginalized slum community in Happyland but are in fact, surveillance assemblages that subverts them into false emancipation.
The ministries are instruments of the state that offers trash as its main currency to generate economical value chains for the slum dwellers in Metro Manila’s Happyland. It functions as an institutional display of power and a tool for the political propaganda of Rodrigo Duterte’s
Alvin to start could you give us a brief introduction as to who you are, where have you studied, what stage are you in your architectural career?
Hello! I am Alvin and I've recently graduated with a Bachelor and Master of Architecture from the National University of Singapore. I am currently working for a
statutory board with the Singapore Government as an Executive Architect.
Why did you decide to study architecture?
Interestingly, architecture was never part of my educational plan. I wanted to pursue veterinary sciences but somehow, I ended up pursuing a diploma in interior design. The diploma was definitely the start of something magical. Through design, I gain immense satisfaction when I am able to manifest ideas in my head to tangible built-form. It made me want to explore deeper, thus, I decided to pursue architecture in university and have never looked back since.
Could you give us a brief description of your project ‘Building Happyland - The Duterte Administration?
Following the political crusade of Rodrigo Duterte’s, this thesis will anchor on the 16th President of The Republic of Philippines savage war on drugs. It paints a cynical and satirical political narrative of purification, salvation and fear through the support of the state arms – military and police, commonly known as “The Death Squad.” Duterte’s battle cry ‘Change Is Coming’ is executed mercilessly with extrajudicial killings that pre-dominantly happens in the city’s slums: spaces of neglect and marginalized communities.
The architecture manifests as five utilitarian ministries that enshrines the marginalized slum community in “Happyland” but are in fact, surveillance assemblages that subverts them into false emancipation. It functions as an institutional display of power, to discipline the cesspool by eradicating the drug issue and a tool for the political propaganda of Duterte’s administration.
What was the inspiration behind your very unique brief for the project?
I am half Filipino who grew up in Singapore, blessed with political stability and a decent standard of living. For my thesis project, I wanted to explore Philippines because of its volatile political situation and consequently, the imbrication of Duterte's administration on social and economical realms. Infamously known as "The Punisher" by international media, he is a controversial character that rose to the highest public position with a promise to solve decades of political dysfunction.
I thought he'd serve as my muse of my thesis as a strong narrative anchor to navigate the possibilities of a new Philippines.
What are your thoughts on architecture and its influence within the political realm?
Architecture can be used as tool to further political agendas and/or to display the power of governance. To me, the architecture is a perpetual public performance
The projects takes a satirical view to address what is a very important political topic, we are beginning to see more and more projects that are satirical in nature why do you think this is?
I think a satirical project gives one the freedom of expression and ideas without having to consider very practical and technical aspects. It is a statement piece of a designer or architect. More importantly, it has the ability to extract deficiencies in political, social and economic issues and critique, albeit in a dynamic and discursive manner
You explore a very hard hitting topic in the war on drugs in the Philippines, how do you feel this was transferred in to the representation of your drawings?
The aim of my drawings was to portray The Duterte's Administration as a beacon of hope and promise. Each render functions as a propaganda poster that has varying whimsical machinery, different social tiers etc. However, upon closer look, one would start to realize a certain uneasiness with the treatment of windows (camera lens lookalike), the enclosed and open spaces that determines social hierarchy etc. The drawings aim to underline social and political agendas albeit from a cynical angle.
Could you give readers an insight in to your drawing process, any particular technology or software that you use?
I used Rhinoceros to model my project and then clay rendered it. Everything else is heavily post-processed in Photoshop and Illustrator. I drew inspiration from the way buildings are framed/positioned in the posters of Metropolis by Fritz Lang. I also looked at steampunk imagery for base colors and stylistic visuals for an overall render.
What do you feel you have learnt by undertaking this project? And is there anything you would change about it if you could?
To put things in perspective as a privileged Singaporean, it is appalling to know that such harsh reality does exists just a three hour plane ride away. To know that I have access to clean water, I have access to proper food and a clean and green environment is something I’ve constantly taken for granted. Architecture with a capital ‘A’ is typically portrayed in all its glitz and glamour - from skyscrapers, indoor greenhouses to condominium.
There is no Architecture per se in the slums, but rather architecture with a small ‘a’ - spaces such as the community library, livelihood centre and the informal dwellings cleverly constructed and designed by non-architects. It is fascinating to see spaces functioning despite the circumstances, to see chaos working in order. Walking through the slums is reminiscence of a village albeit one that is in derelicts, yet the strength and resilience of the human spirit shone alike. The people whom I’ve had the privilege to speak to are filled with a zest for life, a wicked sense of humor but above all, they radiate humility.
If you could offer one piece of advice to those architecture students reading this interview what would it be?
Find a cause that you are genuinely passionate and your heart would take you through.
Where can people find out more about your work?
Finally, if you could go back in time and tell young Alvin who was just starting out in his architectural studies, what would it be?
Just Do It.