Sunday, 31 March 2013

Fr. Roque Ruano: ContemporAntiquitarian

Fr. Roque Ruaño: ContemporAntiquitarian

A writeup regarding his life and the structure 
that helped "improve" the University of Sto. Tomas
during the American period

Well, at first, this writer pay respects to this person whose feats both in Engineering and Architecture tends to bridge the past and (then) present especially with the building at Sampaloc, Manila as its forefront; and that person behind is the late Rev. Fr. Roque Ruaño.

Known much for his efforts in improving the University of Sto Tomas at Sampaloc, Manila, he, as well as the Dominican order he belonged helped modernize while at the same time trying to keep firm both spiritual and moral fiber as it educates its students.

His early life as a Monk, Administrator
and ...Engineer

Born on August 16, 1877 in Bahillo, Palencia, Spain and took Humanities in the college of Ocana, he submitted himself to faith of Dominican Order in 1893 and the solemn one at 1897; Ruaño had first arrived in the Philippines in the year 1904, with those times as turbulent with the Americans tend to solidify its rule over the isles not just by opposing those of the insurgents, but also those loyal to Spain such as his order.

However, Ruaño focused on a different profession other than being a Priest. That, after serving few years as Father Rector of the Colegio de San Juan de Letran, he transferred to the University of Santo Tomas as well as able to obtain Doctorate in Civil Engineering and passed the licencure exam both for Engineers and Architects.

In his Engineering profession there he spent time studying about earthquakes, quality of soil, published several articles in tectonic and mineralogical studies, that would somehow contribute to his plan that happened years later.

Events involved prior and during the building of the edifice

In 1920, Fr. Ruaño, O.P. was assigned to draw up plans for the UST Main Building to be constructed at the Sulucan property of the Dominican Order. The original campus at Intramuros was so overcrowded and old that the American authorities wanted to close down if they failed to meet the standards required for accreditation.

As the Dominicans had bought the entire site from the Clarisas (another religious order) in order to modernise itself as a University rather than facing the consequences, the order had serious problems especially after Colegio de San Jose (wherein UST's Medicine students studied) closed down by the authorities. It's Spanish-based curriculum had to be replaced with the practical American model in order to be aligned with the "modern standards" of the time: that of adding two additional levels for the existing two, modernize facilities and the like; and yet overcrowding at the original Intramuros campus undermines these that made the order utilize the Sampaloc property with a cornerstone having laid in December 1911, the highlight of the institution?s 300th Anniversary celebration.

And thus, with the blessing from the order, lies Ruaño s quest for creating something different primarily to solve the issue. There, he even went to the city hall carrying blueprints for approval at the city engineer's office not as a Priest but those of an Engineer  There he even set aside the habit for a simple khaki uniform and salakot and be mistaken for a constuction worker, and his knowledge of English, although with an Hispanic twang had helped him gain support from the authorities in order to built an edifice "that would stand earthquakes" given his profession.

Prior to that, Fr. Ruaño had already conducted meticulous research on earthquakes all over the country, and had built Dominican houses in Baguio, Lingayen, and even a Catholic Church in Kobe, Japan. Though work started in early 1923, Fr. Ruaño had spent the two previous years stockpiling building materials such as 9000 barrels of cement and iron bars being procured from Tokyo wherein prices were down as a result of World War I. The order even obtained a 300,000 Peso loan from a Portuguese bank in Hong Kong, however the latter withdrew from its obligation of releasing the remaining 100,000 Peso that made Ruaño thrown into panic.  The crisis was over as a snag in payment  of 100.000 Pesos was graciously solved by a loan arranged by Dr. William Burke, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine and a valued customer of the Standard Chartered Bank. The materials were stored in various warehouses in Port Area, including the basement of the Santa Catalina convent across Forbes Street. 200 Pampango workers provided labor in that said project.

However, other than planning, the Dominican Architect-Engineer himself worked in the construction site. According to the Manila Bulletin in July 1925, stated that:

"The Padre Roque is also builder, laborer, and all other things that can be done in his work... when the excavation for the cementing (of the foundations) had been fixed, we see the Engineer Director in these diggings with water up to his waist..."

And despite having attacks of Vertigo, he even went on climbing the scaffolding and doing manual job for "it is necessary for two more hands" in order to build the edifice. And although its exterior remained based from its blueprints, building design had to be continually altered as interior spaces had to be widened or shrunk to accommodate new areas. Again, Ruano's hands-on way of dealing things somehow contribute to the development of then "new" campus at Sampaloc the way he preferred wearing khaki for his "working clothes."

But on the other hand, efforts in completing the main building still needed more money. Then Rector Fr. Manuel Arellano, O.P. had to deal with the construction's financial burden from both former Rectors Paya and Alfageme. There he obtain 250,000 Peso loan from BPI and even additional funds from the Dominican Procuracion in Hongkong; but it was the second term of Fr. Serapio Tamayo when the order issued a new loan of 270,000 Pesos to deal with matters regarding the construction. 

Within that said amount the new main building of the University of Sto. Tomas was finally finished. And with the overcrowding issues, it was built just "in time" for the opening of school year 1927-1928.

Facing both boon and bane, "Impregnable" to withstand the tide

All after years of construction and modification, the edifice that withstand earthquakes hath been finished. Issues regarding overcrowding in the old campus had been lessened as students, such as those from the lower years of the faculties of Medicine, Pharmacy, Philosophy and Letters, Liberal Arts, Engineering and Education. 

According to Wikipedia, the structure is a rectangular building having a dimension of 86 meters long and 74 meters wide with two interior courtyards or patios. The most significant feature is the fact that it is actually made up of 40 separate structures independent from one another with the only opportunity provided by pre-cast stab flooring. But some locations of the separations are now difficult to determine exactly because of the numerous cosmetic changes the interior of the building which has undergone over the years.

As according to an article written by the former dean of Faculty of Engineering, Manuel Mañosa, this is how it is divided:

four corner units
two midsection units (rear and front entrance)
one tower (including two elevator cores)
one entrance canopy
a total of 26 units
seven units for P. Noval side
seven units for Gov. Forbes (now Arsenio H. Lacson) side
six units for Dapitan side
six units for España side
four middle section (or paraninfo)
two stair section adjacent to tower and elevator core

The main building was at first all but "touch and go" in regards to room arrangements with the second-floor facing Espana served for the Fathers-in-residence while the ground floor facing P. Noval st. became a boy's dormitory. But as the student population continues to grow paved way for its original purpose especially those of a classroom. It even started to feel getting "congested" as the University had to align with the standards such as those of making once two or three year into a four year course such as in Education, Liberal Arts and Pharmacy.

Obviously, the main building itself was the University other than the one at Intramuros during those times. With a growing student population somehow became both boon and bane for the institution trying to improve  and modernise while at the same time maintaining firm its strong moral and spiritual foundation.  And despite the issues sough after, it all had pave way for a massive improvement plan for the new campus with Ruaño  both as Priest and Professor of the Faculty of Engineering, also served as the University's Architect and Engineer.
And again, he supervises and took part in improving everything around then "new" Sampaloc campus regardless of paying much bank loans and trying its effort to save both for the order and for the University.

His legacy

Fr. Ruaño lived to see how his beloved campus grow such as those of its two major buildings (the Gymnasium and the Central Seminary) completed although they had been designed by Pablo Ocampo with his designs approved by the father himself.

However, his steadfast work costs his health. He was diagnosed with a heart ailment and became visibly sick. But on March 1, 1935, he was collapsed from a heart attack and eventually died. Decades later, in honor of his achievements, an edifice was named after him. It was in the corner of España Boulevard and A. H. Lacson Avenue (formerly Gov. Forbes), at first it was called Architecture and Engineering Building. In its inauguration in 1950, the site was named after him, the Roque Ruaño Building houses the students and faculty members of the Faculty of Engineering.

Obviously, it would say that Ruaño is a pragmatic person, trying to keep firm the moral and spiritual foundation while yet he afford to bridge the mediaeval past and then modern present not just in order for the institution such as UST to survive. According to Calbayog Archbishop Pablo Singzon, in his address prior to the construction, said:

" In the new University dominates the most refined architecture, a desirable comfort, a well-received modernism, different studies, and a more scrupulous hygiene in the chapel, Paraninfo (main hall), laboratories, museums, libraries, offices, classroom, seminary, hospital, clinics, salons, living spaces, parks, plazas, and other departments of an original and modern edifice."

Starting with the main building would say that the late archbishop's statement had been realized by the efforts of Ruaño despite problems such as money. It would also say that Ruaño's quest, like any other architect or engineer tends to bring forth ContemporAnqiquity such as those of making things durable and modern side by side with those of making it closer to heritage as a centuries-old institution. But to think that he prefers wearing those of a Foreman and doing hands-on would say he prefers to stay closer to the people the way the order wanted to bring closer its adherents to the faith just like his fellow religious that focused entirely on education and to some extent, building of communities. After all, to a religious person, faith and good works are interconnected with each other that brings good fruit in an everyday life.

Perhaps, if Ruaño lives he would made some durable and carefully-studied mass housing and ecclesiastical-related sanctuaries.
He would have opposed measures on further reclaiming portions of Manila bay to avert problems involving soil erosion as well as reclamation for immoral purposes.
And lastly, He would instill every promising Engineer and Architect treating their chosen profession as a way of serving the Almighty especially those of providing ideas, not just in Engineering and Architecture, but also in urban and environmental development in par with those of sustainability and reality given some of the terrain in the Philippines as much prone to possible calamities.

This writer would also convey to make a sketch out of him wearing his prefered attire such as those of a foreman all after reading his life making everything possible such as those of the main building of the University.  Perhaps, there are others who can do what Ruaño did, or even better in regards to making strong structures with conducive, cozy interiors, and to think that all after seeing most who did nothing but edifices without any value, perhaps better to revisit those that made everything remarkable that somehow contributes to the well-being of the society.

Or in his words, taken from an old liturgy:

"Qui Salvandos Salvas Gratis"

 You gave us salvation free.

And with the Almighty's help would say that his efforts, and even those who make things possible makes salvation free.


Jose Victor Torres, "In Transition: The University of Sto Tomas during the American colonial Period" (UST Publishing House, 2007)

Tiburcio, R.A. (2007). Earthquake resistant: Structural features of the UST Main Building. Thomasian Engineer Journal, 47(2), 20-23.