Home National museum How the National Museum’s Tree of Life was born

How the National Museum’s Tree of Life was born

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Culture

Museum and Gallery Month, we revisit the spectacular design of the National Museum of Natural History and hear the stories

ANCX staff | October 11, 2022

Anyone who has visited the National Museum of Natural History in Rizal Park would naturally be impressed by the magnificence of its architecture. But probably more so when they hear the story behind the design.

The neoclassical building, which once housed the offices of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Tourism, was built in 1939 by Filipino architect Antonio Toledo, who also designed Manila’s city hall.

The space where the “Tree of Life” now stands was once an open courtyard. Photo courtesy of Ar. Dominica Galicia

“The museum building is a pentagon of different side lengths,” Dominic Galicia, the museum’s new architect, explains in a video produced by Uncommon, a YouTube channel dedicated to making stylish and informative design documentaries. “Four of the sides are usually straight lines. One of the sides is curved – this is the main facade facing Agrifina Circle,” adds Galicia. And therein lies the difference, he says, approaching a curved facade automatically changes the visitor’s experience as they approach the space.

The centerpiece of the National Museum of Natural History, located in its center, is what Galicia calls “the tree of life”, so called for its unique resemblance to a huge tree. Once an open courtyard, it is now a stunning space that lets in lots of natural light thanks to the glass dome roof.

The veteran architect, whose notable works include Magallanes Church and the interiors of St. Benedict Church in Silang, Cavite, explains that the original idea was to build a grove of trees or columns carrying the massive dome. But Tina Periquet, principal designer of Periquet Galicia Inc., who was chosen as the museum’s interior designer, had a brilliant idea: why not have a single tree instead of a grove? And this seed idea germinated to become the “tree of life”.

Periquet’s rich portfolio includes distinctive residential interiors in New York, London and Hong Kong, as well as numerous development projects in Manila, including the award-winning Arya Residences, One McKinley Place and The Fairways. About the design of the National Museum, she says they had to think of several things when they came up with the adaptive reuse plan for the old building. “The original plan for this building was to serve as a government office,” she says. “So it was divided into very regular spaces. And there was only one main space, what we call Marble Hall.

National Museum of Natural History
The centerpiece of the National Museum of Natural History, located in its center, is what Galicia calls “the tree of life”, so called for its unique resemblance to a huge tree. Photo by Jar Concengco

She still remembers the first time she entered space. “What welcomed us was a room very, very sadly cut into a maze of little cabins. And so the first thing was to see beyond all of that into the potentials, the opportunities that the building presented,” explains Periquet in the same interview.

She adds that they looked at Toledo’s original vision for the building and decided to complete what was probably his grand vision. Instead of having two floors, they gave the building a generous and beautiful space.

“I imagined people who normally set foot in good buildings, ordinary citizens who normally don’t have the leisure or the money to enter a beautiful space,” explains Periquet. “Imagine they can just walk in and have this as theirs. And that’s beautiful.

Watch the full video below.