Naturalization or Hybridization of Housing

As has been pointed out, in the past decade much effort has been made to improve our knowledge of residential architecture during the early modern period. This information, together with the climatological context previously elaborated, will be very helpful for the correct analysis of Manila. Indeed, because of these efforts, it is now possible to discuss a broadercomparison, focusing on the hybridization and naturalization of European models overseas. The difference between these two terms is that the first references a development of a new solution from two or more previous traditions. The second refers to building in the previous manner, without much adaptation apart from building material. To understand the Spanish model better, the Ordenanzas of Seville (1527) serves as an essential document. According to it, there were different types of houses:

  • Casa común (common house)
  • Casa principal (principal house)
  • Casa real (royal house)

In Manila, the royal house corresponded with the Governor Palace’s on the main square, while the principal houses were owned by elites, especially around this point; and the common houses were the rest. This classification is not useful enough to go further in this analysis. For this reason, various scholars have recently developed categories to analyse this architecture. According to Crespo Rodríguez, the most common used in the Spanish documents are:

  • Rancho (ranch)
  • Casa pequeña, casa accesoria y casa tienda (little house or shop-house)
  • Casas grandes y casas principales (principal or big house)
  • Callejón (alleyway houses)
  • Casa huerta (house with orchard)
  • Celda (cell)
  • Casa de chácara (chacara house)
  • Tambo, venta (inn)
  • Quinta y casas de recreo (country house)

All these can be grouped into rural and urban contexts. Leaving aside the rural options, the variety is rather limited within urban cores. In addition to the common house (casa pequeña) and the elite residence (casas principales), there were other types of little houses called callejones (alleyway houses). This group of little houses connected by an alleyway were used by lower classes on the borders inside the walled cities. Finally, some American capitals with numerous convents used some of their cells for rental. In spite of this, in Manila the number of convents was few, any rental of cells during the initial decades of Spanish settlement being at present unknown. Furthermore, alleyway houses have not been found in any description of the city. The solution was close to both Asian and European patterns, and could be a good method for introducing the native population into the walled city.


Maria Dolores Crespo Rodríguez, op. cit., pp. 133-160.

The Spaniards, more interested in keeping their social position, decided to reject this design for themselves. Only two of the aforementioned houses, therefore, have been found in early Manila: principal and common. Both maintain the main characteristics throughout the Spanish territories. On the one hand, the principal houses were usually built with two floors, and have at least a courtyard in the middle. On the other hand, the common ones are usually one storey high and the courtyard is replaced by a larger orchard at the rear.

After this traditional differentiation, based on historical categorization, it is important to understand how the previous models of housing, both native and Western, were used by the elite, middle, and lower classes. Although it may be thought that the richer solutions would be closer to the traditions of the conquerors, the development may be followed in both principal and common houses without significant differences.

Philippines. Mahayhay. Eighteenth-century house. Interior. Detail of the lower storey. Photo by the author

Figure 4.1 Philippines. Mahayhay. Eighteenth-century house. Interior. Detail of the lower storey. Photo by the author.


In Manila these houses were known as casas grandes, big houses. AGI, FILIPINAS, , ff. 420r-422v and 478v-481v.

68 Cross-Cultural Dialogue

Naturalized Elements

The sources used in this research permit the reconstruction of the works carried out in many houses during the initial decades of the seventeenth century. From this information, it is possible to understand how several parts of the house were maintained or transformed. First, those that can be identified as naturalized Spanish elements will be presented. More specifically the use of bodegas, kitchens, zaguanes, mezzanines, balconies, oriels, courtyards, staircases, whitewashing, and even the manner of organizing the house facades are reminders of Spanish houses. Although the origin of these solutions can be associated with the metropolis, naturalization does not signify a simple copy of the originals, but rather a necessary adaptation. Later, some of these adaptations were intersected with new proposals by natives, creating hybrid versions, which will be addressed later.

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