The revered national cultural treasure, the Manila Metropolitan Theater (the MET) along Padre Burgos Avenue in Manila, has finally completed its so-called “metamorphosis” that began in 2015. In time for the national celebrations of the momentous fifth centenary of the Victory at Mactan and 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) will be opening the doors of the MET for a special programme. Just at the beginning of the year, sneak peek photos of the restored elements of the theatre have gone viral on social media—showing excitement among visual and theatre arts enthusiasts as well as those who once had the chance to step on stage of this historic theatre either to perform or be, at least, enamoured of its productions.
Undoubtedly, the MET is the only existing art deco building of its size and integrity in Asia. A gem of the past, it was designed by the prolific Filipino architect Juan M Arellano who was commissioned by the US government to build what would be the first national theatre of the Philippines. Far different from his previous works that are stately and monochromatic neoclassicism in design, Arellano adapted the fanciful art deco style that originated in the Paris Exposition of 1925. He used familiar native motifs to assert cultural independence, like the country’s distinct flora and fauna for ornamentations, as well as details like bamboo banister railings, carved banana and mango relief and batik mosaic patterns. Arellano was assisted by his elder brother Arcadio and by Isabelo Tampinco, the leading decorative sculptor at the time, to execute the native iconography.
Another striking feature of the building that everybody has been dying to see in its former glory is the decorative window of stained glass on the façade. Kraut Art Glass, a company famous for their art glasses since 1912, was commissioned by Arellano for the alluring stained glass that is the central figure of the main entrance, designed to resemble a proscenium. With its series of pinnacles rising at the top like a crown, the iron grills depicting stylised birds of paradise, the brilliantly coloured tileworks and the sponged multicoloured paint reminiscent of batik, the front of the theatre is indeed an eye-catcher for passers-by.