FEU Manila is a university in the center of a chaotic city with a history engraved on art deco buildings restored and built after World War II.
The busy roads of Manila having people rush on everything to meet the demand of everyday life. Coming back and forth to Quiapo, Mendiola, Espana and Recto, you would never know that in the center of Morayta, the center of the places just enumerated, lie an institution full of history engraved on each art deco building that surrounded the entire university. That is Far Eastern University in Manila, FEU Manila.
I am not an alumna of Far Eastern University, nor knew someone who graduated from it. FEU Manila is a school that I passed by each time I made an errand to Recto. The FEU Campus Tour just popped on my newsfeed after I attended a free Postal Tour with Walk with Chan. And joining the FEU Campus Heritage Tour, I never expected it will change my perspective about this institution.
Far Eastern University
Far Eastern University (FEU) is located in Manila, Philippines. The university was born in 1928 by its founder, Dr. Nicanor Reyes. The length of this time has them the long history to hold historical art deco buildings.
What is an art deco?
Art Deco is a style of visual arts that influenced the design of buildings, its architecture, furniture and everyday objects.
Art deco originated in 1920 in Western Europe and the United States during the 1930s.
Modern technique is applied to the existence of elegant craftsmanship. The use of art deco declined with the destruction brought by World War II. The style shifted to modern architecture.
The situation is different with FEU. The university reopened in 1945 after almost all the facilities burned and destroyed when the Pacific War broke out. The university learned to stand and restore art deco buildings to be presented to their students and to the world.
FEU Campus Heritage Tour
The tour hosted by FEU Guides consisted of students enrolled in different courses together with an adviser. Mr. Renze Chan of WalkwithChan was also present contributing his depth knowledge. They all emphasized art deco in 3Ss: shapes, symmetry and subtlety.
19 Facts of Interesting Art Deco and Creations of our National Artists and Renowned Sculptors:
1. Bas Reliefs of Italian Sculptor Francesco Ricardo Monti
The four bas relief sculptures present different eras in history. Here is one, the Industrial Era. In this artwork, the motion of a man trying to use a jackhammer in a road had been clearly presented. It is an almost “in action” picture making the artwork seem alive. The flexion of arm muscle had clearly delivered the effort of the man doing the “jackhammering”.
2. Symmetrical Pillars
The four, art-deco inspired pillars standing symmetrically signify the color of FEU, green and gold.
3. FEU Auditorium
FEU Auditorium is an art-deco theatre that gave its audience not only a presentation on the stage but an art deco in every corner you want to look at. The diamond ceiling lights, geometric shapes applied in the walls and aircon ducts, the stage and the symmetrical VIP areas. The balcony, orchestra and VIP area can accommodate 1,050 persons.
This auditorium, became the cultural center at that time, had featured the Orchestra and Ballet Philippines. They had an almost everyday presentation before when Metropolitan Theater was damaged during the war.
The auditorium has a revolving stage in which performers like Atang dela Rama performed without a microphone. Microphones were a luxury thing in that period of time. The revolving stage is still attached to its place today, though it is not anymore in use. It needs to shut two buildings to be able to generate electrical power to make it work. A little too expensive to handle.
4. Longest Mural in the Philippines
The longest art deco mural was done by muralist Antonio Dumlao entitled “Empowering the Youth through Education”. The mural conveys the mission of the establishment: to give the best education to the youth. The art deco is on the folds of the worn pants of men. In addition, it is also visible in the palm plant and even on the wave of the hair of the woman. The particular woman is holding the FEU building on her hand. It is in the center of the mural that brings the central thought of the mural. Every aspect shouts about education. You can see the finance and medicine education seal. The physical door of the wall is a book-end. Perfect! The length covers one of the walls of the Admin Bldg.
5. Stained Glass of Antonio Dumlao
We had seen Antonio Dumlao’s longest mural, and now, as a Stained Glass Innovator and Artist. Stained glass refers to the artistic representation put together from deliberately shaped pieces of transparent colored glass. Here is a stained glass artwork from 7-up, medicine and beer bottles. Glasses were shaped into pieces and artistically put together to form three panels entitled Sarimanok, Prow and Tail.
6. Skylight Atrium
Skylight is a round opening in the ceiling to let the sunlight come in and be the passage of air on earlier days. Its opening consists of consecutive rings overlapping the other set of rings, still maintaining its art deco design.
7. Bronze Sculpture of a Tamaraw
On their Memorial Park, stood a bronze sculpture of a Tamaraw, the much-loved symbol of Far Eastern University Tamaraws. The university had also a campaign to save the Tamaraw which was about only close to 500 in number today.
8. FEU Chapel
The tile mosaic of Our Lady of Fatima is the artwork that will welcome you on the facade of the Chapel. It is intricately done by National Artist Vicente Manansala.
It is only the welcoming part. When you step inside the Chapel and your eyes fix on the altar, a piece of National Artist for Visual Arts Carlos “Botong” Francisco will unfold. The Crucifix. The altar is elevated so people could see it from outside. The Chapel can only accommodate about 300 individuals.
On the near side, is a masterpiece broken into two for each half of the Station of the Cross.
Each seemed a story of half of the station of the cross. It was drawn in succession that it gives a continuous story. You cannot detect where the next station actually started. The other half on its opposite side had the same characteristics as the first set.
Proceeding to the right side of the Chapel is the fiberglass sculpture of National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva reproduced from Michaelangelo’s Pieta. Features of the faces are of an Asian look. Before, the sculpture was golden in color. But, as time passed by, and as many handkerchiefs that had been wiped on the sculpture especially on examination days, it now turned black.
9. The Blocks
The art deco designed concrete blocks that serve as walls outside the chapel made the floor of this part of the chapel so solemn that when the light of the sun strikes these concrete blocks, it produces a shadow of crosses laid out on the floor.
10. Smiling Tamaraw Garden
We then proceeded to the Smiling Tamaraw Garden. Here is a landscape featuring a smiling tamaraw that you would also break into a smile as you set your eyes on it. The statue of Nicanor Reyes Sr, the founder of FEU, is standing here. A time capsule is embedded in the garden floor that will be opened in 2028, the FEU’s centennial year celebration.
11. The Assemblage
A picture cut into 12 equal portions and given to 12 student artists. Each artist drew the part they had received and here is the outcome, an assemblage.
12. Special Collection
Special Collection is a section of literary arts. Rare Books from years 1608-1945 were preserved. The intention of the founder of FEU, Nicanor Reyes, to preserve the Philippine culture gave strength to these books to survive the disasters of the war and natural calamities. The books were encased in glass to prevent them from holding. It may cause crumbliness of the books’ leaves.
There is a letter from F. Zobel for his friend Payo which was written on April 23, 1907. It was written in Spanish and translated as: “Friend Pozo: Please draft the program, for the function (performance) on May 4th so that it can be printed. If you can give it tonight to Lorenzo and if not, prepare it for tomorrow so that I can pick it up at your office. A thousand thanks and your most affectionate, F. Zobel.” A piece of paper survived for us to see that the people on earlier days had experience changing letters.
13. Nick Joaquin
Nick Joaquin is a National Artist of the Philippines for Literature who had his works displayed here in FEU. But this time, this National Artist held a special place in the heart of the Tamaraws, for he was the one who wrote the FEU Hymn and wrote the biography of the FEU founder.
A place was built in honor of him here in the Special Collection Section with a banner: “Nick Joaquin, National Artist: His Works and World”. Passport, receipts, telegrams, voter’s ID and donor card are lined up on a sealed table. His books, works and a typewriter are arranged so anyone can take a good view of them all. Touching is not allowed for it may break the treasured works. It is nice to see the preservation of these elements of a National Artist to be shared on the world especially to serve as an inspiration to the students of FEU.
14. Far Eastern University Facade in Quiapo Gate
We went down and exited on their Quiapo gate. It is in front of the Recto underpass. This underpass leading to and from Quiapo Church, the home of the Black Nazarene, is passing under Recto Avenue going to Quezon Boulevard, or from Quezon Boulevard passing Recto underpass going to Central Market or Lerma.
Standing here and facing FEU, you would first recognize the Baybayin font of the name of the school. The school is not that tall compared to earlier days because the ground floor had been elevated due to flooding. The ceiling is not that high anymore compared a generation ago.
And as the renovation continued, so its design and the university’s name font. As of now, they used the Baybayin font representing our own. The facade has a continued theme from the inside of the campus. Here, as you can see, it resembles a part of the ship on the engine section. Inside the campus, the Admin building has the design of the front side of the ship with the stairs depicting the waves of the sea.
15. Floating Stairs
The effect of an art deco design on a handrail of one of the stairways made you look that it is somewhat floating. That is just only one stairway. As you go around, almost every stair on this university had art deco handrail.
16. Old & New, Father & Son Buildings
We came back inside the campus. While standing in the ground overlooking the buildings, one can view the artistically blend of all the structures. On the old and new buildings wherein the new one was built on the side of the old maintaining the continuous art deco style that is a really captivating scene. Not only that, each building had its own story to tell. Two buildings are known as father and son because the father built the first one while the building on its side was built by his son. And father and son connection continued as the two buildings interconnected by a bridge and still maintaining the artistic effect. A very nice concept.
As FEU continued to build and improve, they maximize the space and maintain the concept that had first been implemented right from the start of all the construction.
17. Bronze Sculptures
Bronze sculptures in Nicanor Reyes Memorial Square sculpted by National Artist Vicente Manansala represent Dr. Nicanor Reyes’ thoughts on education, freedom and justice. This is a big contribution to the best urban campus in the Philippines.
Kiapo is a water lily plant placed on a flowering box under one of the bronze sculptures of FEU park. It is intentionally laid down where it faced the Quiapo side. Quiapo derived its name from these Kiapo flowers when it was still overflowing on the rivers and canals of Quiapo, on earlier times. You can view an article of mine about Things to Do Around Quiapo to know more about the place.
19. More Arts
The list would never stop for even the little things, small arcs and twists had all something to do with arts. A 70-year old elevator, painted with shapes and subtlety is still working. Yes, it is still working because we rode from the higher floor. There are the floor tiles that had survived the war. The wooden and old floor in the Admin building will give you a nice walk. Luneta Park resembles in their Memorial Park. The place was wet and damp because of the heavy rainfall. But their park’s serenity represents an art itself. It blends with all the artworks on the campus. The maintained lawn, the trees, all blended artistically.
The UNESCO in its Asia Pacific Heritage Awards had given FEU a recognition from all their artistic and cultural preservation, The award that had satisfied all the hardship and creativeness of the whole university to stand-up bravely and lead in restoring this elegant style of Art Deco. It had fulfilled their dream and gave them the strength to continue what they had started.
Now, the FEU community carries a sense of pride for their campus hosts the largest Art Deco that managed to survive World War II. And their doings did not stop for they continually build more, all in the pattern of preserving Art Deco.
Being belonged in the FEU community is the sensation of feeling that FEU Manila housed works of our National Artists. Not only one National Artist but lots of them like Nick Joaquin, Napoleon Abueva, Carlos “Botong” Francisco and Vicente Manansala, such a historical art museum.
This Campus Heritage Tour that the university conducted through their FEU guides was a real success. I had clearly witnessed the passing of time through the murals, paintings and art deco building, and much more art. The enthusiastic presentation of FEU guides has been felt. Not only that their eyes radiate every time they speak about their university and its artistic characteristics, but you would also feel the spirit of pride in every word released. And the whole tour took about four hours, but these guides never felt exhausted. The excitement on their voice in welcoming us on the first minute of the tour was maintained throughout the four-hour tour.
Now, I will not look at FEU Manila for just a mere university that I happened to pass by. Or a diploma mill in Recto. The Campus Heritage Tour had changed my perspective on this institution. Far Eastern University deserves respect and recognition. The way the FEU community silently restore every inch of their campus is such a humble act for their huge concern to preserve a great art I never knew existed, here in the chaotic world of Manila.