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Dolly Perez: The first lady of landscape architecture

By PAULO ALCAZAREN, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 05, 2022 5:00 am

Last week we sadly lost a pioneer Filipina designer, Dolores “Dolly” Quimbo Perez. She was the first female landscape architect in the country. In the early 1960s, along with IP Santos, she pioneered the profession, an allied art of architecture that specializes in the design of outdoor spaces for people’s use and enjoyment.

In a career that spanned five decades, Dolly completed a few hundred private gardens, commercial spaces, parks, and plazas. She helped establish a professional organization for landscape architects, as well as taught in the first university program for landscape architects at UP Diliman. She was mentor and mother to us, the second and third generations of Filipino landscape architects.

For all her contributions to the profession and the development of two generations of students, she was dubbed the “Mother of Philippine Landscape Architecture.”

Dolly graduated with a degree in architecture from the University of Santo Tomas in the late 1950s. The dean of the college at the time, the noted architect-planner Angel Nakpil, recommended she take a master’s degree in landscape architecture overseas because of the lack of Filipinos in the field.

Dolly's garden designs strove to meld the outdoors and indoors in an era when lanais and patios were in vogue — as they should be again in a post-pandemic world.

Dolly opted for the University of California, Berkeley. She received her master’s degree in Landscape Architecture from USC in 1962. She was schooled in modernist landscape design as espoused by the likes of James Rose, Garrett Eckbo, and Dan Kiley.

California landscape styles that provided clean, functional spaces complementing mid-century bungalows also informed her body of work here in the 1960s and 1970s. Dolly brought Californian suburban outdoor living to close to 200 residential gardens when suburban living was taking root in Metro Manila’s gated “villages” in the ’60s and ’70s.

Dolly worked in designs for pool layouts to complement residents' requirements and entertainment needs.

Dolly herself lived and raised a family in two of these villages: Greenhills, and then Valle Verde. She entertained a lot and parties were often outdoors, where she designed settings to complement Filipino lifestyles.

I remember her teaching us to understand the needs of clients for outdoor dining and partying. This, in terms of where buffet spreads were best placed, tables and chairs laid out, where BBQs needed to be, or providing for caterer’s needs for larger parties. Clients will attest that her well-designed outdoors made their home, a haven — and heaven — to live in. Home, Haven, Heaven, in fact, was the title of her first book (published in 2007).

In her book Home Haven Heaven, Dolly Perez talks about planning and building one's dream house.

Dolly wrote extensively. This started after her first major commission: the first phase of the Luneta’s transformation to Rizal Park. She had been approached by Manila to improve the blighted spaces around the national monument, as well as behind the Quirino Grandstand. She applied her US training to produce a modern park, highlighted by clean lawn areas, sculptural fountains, and playgrounds (by Billy Abueva), with lots of seating and good lighting.

Dolly started her career after graduate studies in the US with designs for Rizal Park.

Dolly continued her advocacy for green public and private green spaces in local broadsheets and weekly women’s magazines, writing for over two decades until the 1980s. Her practice continued to thrive after Rizal Park, to other government projects like the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani and The Dambana ng Kagitingan.

Dolly designed the area behind Quirino Grandstand into a family-friendly space with wonderful views of the Manila sunset, which unfortunately today is lost to ill-advised additions to the breakwater.

Aside from residential gardens, she provided landscape architectural designs for projects like the Meralco compound and the Benpres Building, both in Ortigas. She also provided outdoor designs for resorts and hotels like the Philippine Village Hotel.

Dolly's commercial work included resorts and hotels like the Philippine Village Hotel pool and gardens.

In the late 1970s and through the 1980s Dolly taught at the UP College of Architecture for both undergraduate and graduate programs in landscape architecture. She was my professor for both programs. She blended her interest in holistic human development into physical design, emphasizing cultural sensitivity and the need for all of us to get in touch with our inner selves, so we could most creatively express ourselves though our work.

The ’70s and ’80s saw her active participation in the founding and running of the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects. She served as president of the association and championed initiatives to bring the profession to the attention of the pubic and allied professionals, eventually leading to a law recognizing the profession and regulating its practice via the PRC (Professional Regulation Commission).

Dolly slowed down her practice in the 1990s. She had transitioned her original practice of pure landscape architectural work into a multi-disciplinary practice, collaborating with architects and other designers like noted architect and conservationist Augusto Villalon, as well as a new generation of young graduates (mostly from the UP).

Dolly published two books, both inspirational and practical for those looking to blend the outdoors and indoors for suburban living.

In the 2000s Dolly focused on her books. After her first one, mentioned above, she published Your Garden, Your Eden (2009), where she featured the work of her students and others she mentored. Both books show her thorough understanding of residential space and functions, both indoor and outdoor. This was because of her background in both architecture and landscape architecture.

Dolly was both mother and mentor to three generations of Filipino landscape architects: She is shown here with former UP Dean of Architecture Maryanne Espina and former head of the Landscape program Zenaida Galingan, as well as Madonna Plopino Danao, faculty of LA at Bulacan State University, and April May Tanedo Emocling, a third-generation graduate.

For all her contributions to the profession and the development of two generations of students, she was dubbed the “Mother of Philippine Landscape Architecture.”

Her presence at association events was always welcome, and something that was a given through all these decades. She never failed to show up to grace every major occasion. She carried this grace and elegant fortitude in her private life, as mother who raised six children and loving wife to Spanky Perez. She was always a steadying presence to them and her wider professional family.

This tribute to Dolly can only end with her own words:

I am the SOFTNESS of a lazily drifting cloud…
Over the LOFTINESS of Buri Palms—tall and proud,
I am the GRACEFULNESS of the Bamboo trees,
Swaying with the GENTLENESS of the summer breeze.

I am the velvety TEXTURE of the Begonia,
the fleshy NATURE of the Pepperonia,
I am the SUPPLENESS of the climbing Philodendron,
The SENSUOUSNESS of a fullgrown giant Selloum.

I am the SERENITY of the sea in the horizon.
The TRANQUILITY of the hills beyond my vision,
I am the PROMISE that each sunrise sings
And the PEACE that every sunset brings.

I am all these… and MANY MORE
Thanks to you… my LORD and CREATOR.

Godspeed, Dolly. You will be missed.