Joel Aldor wants to preserve historic Filipino architecture one photo at a time.

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This profile is part of a series about history and geography on Wikipedia.

"Inmaculada Concepcion Parish Church, Guiuan, Eastern Samar (Before and After 2013 Typhoon Haiyan)" by Joelaldor, under CC BY-SA 4.0
Inmaculada Concepcion Parish Church, Guiuan, Eastern Samar (Before and After Typhoon Haiyan in 2013)
“Inmaculada Concepcion Parish Church, Guiuan, Eastern Samar (Before and After 2013 Typhoon Haiyan)”by Joel Aldor, under CC BY-SA 4.0

The Spanish colonial buildings in the Philippines have served as bastions of the country’s rich and colorful history and culture. But after the Bohol Earthquake and the deadly onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan, much of Filipino historical architecture threatens to crumble. That’s why a number of volunteers from Wikimedia Philippines have decided to take on a long-term project to photograph and document their country’s architecture on Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons as a means of preservation.

“[The] Philippines is a very culturally rich country but at the same time vulnerable to a lot of threats that would damage and destroy our collective history as manifested in our built heritage sites,” says Joel Aldor, member of Wikimedia Philippines and head of the Philippine Cultural Heritage Mapping Project, who currently resides in Makati.

<a href="">"Portrait of Joel Aldor in front of San Pablo Church Ruins"</a> by <a href="">Joelaldor</a>, under <a href="">CC-BY-SA-4.0</a>
Portrait of Joel Aldor in front of San Pablo Church ruins
“Portrait of Joel Aldor in front of San Pablo church ruins” by Joel Aldor under CC BY-SA 4.0

Aldor points out that although it’s been a year since Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines,the effects of its onslaught are still strongly felt. For instance, the town of Palo, a historic town in the province of Leyte, well-known for its stately ancestral houses and exemplary Spanish colonial architecture, has been heavily affected by the impact of Typhoon Haiyan. Ancestral houses are currently being demolished to pave way for road widening projects by the national government in preparation for the Papal visit in January 2015.

San Pedro Apostol Parish Church, Loboc, Bohol (before and after the 2013 Bohol Earthquake)
”San Pedro Apostol Parish Church, Loboc, Bohol (Before and After 2013 Bohol Earthquake)” by Joel Aldor, under CC BY-SA 4.0

“A lot has been destroyed by the typhoon. Today a lot of them are barely recognizable,” says Aldor.

The case of towns like Palo that have buildings in danger of destruction, along with a good number of historic towns at risk, inspired a number of Filipino Wikipedians to take a stance in safeguarding their country’s built heritage.

Aldor is an IT project manager by profession, but architecture has been his life-long passion. He has been engaged in heritage documentation around the Philippines since 2008, driving across the Philippines and keeping a photo database of more than 30,000 photos of churches, houses and other architectural details. His recent work has been highlighted with Project Kisame, a comprehensive documentation project on ceiling paintings of colonial churches in Bohol, Cebu and Siquijor, which was funded through a government grant early this year.

San Isidro Labrador Parish Church, Tubigon, Bohol (Before and after the 2013 Bohol Earthquake)
“San Isidro Labrador Parish Church, Tubigon, Bohol (Before and After 2013 Bohol Earthquake)” by Joel Aldor under CC BY SA 4.0

He became involved with the Wikimedia movement when Josh Lim, an active chapter member of Wikimedia Philippines, noticed Aldor’s photos of historic church ceilings published under a Creative Commons license, released at that very fateful day of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Bohol. Aldor has expressed his intention to donate all his photos to Wikimedia Commons, and since then has become very involved with Wikimedia Philippines.

“I do believe that Philippine architecture is just as unique as every other Asian architecture. We want to showcase our beautiful masterpieces of art and colonial architecture, which exemplifies a fusion of East Asian and European architecture, and is something that we think every citizen should know.” says Aldor.

“It’s very daunting and so while we’re doing it [we realize] there’s so many towns that didn’t have a definite cultural map up till now,” says Aldor. “We get surprised ourselves when we found some some interesting structures that were not documented for so many years.”

Finding undiscovered historical sites excites Aldor, along with the other project volunteers, which highlights the importance of the chapter’s work. For the next six years of the project, the chapter will focus on building a comprehensive database using mapping standards from the premier universities in the Philippines.

Currently the project team includes 22 certified volunteers who will be mapping a series of Philippine towns that are largely underrepresented in academic textbooks. The team has already plotted out a roadmap for the project up to the year 2020.

"WikiExpedition Santa Ana 007" by  Smart Communications, Inc. under CC BY-SA 4.0
Members of Wikimedia Philippines
“WikiExpedition Santa Ana 007” by Smart Communications, Inc. under CC BY-SA 4.0

“Next year we will start working to normalize our database and work with data analysts to come up [with] a more sound and robust database that could be reused and distributed across several platforms that could make use of our data in tourism and education,” says Aldor.

By 2016, he wishes to assist the government’s efforts in promoting and preserving his built heritage using Wikimedia platforms and help develop a more data driven policy on both a local and national level.

“We’re coming up with a list of accounts that we’re going to start mapping – focusing on unknown obscure towns that haven’t been properly documented yet,” says Aldor.

Aldor plans on going on a series of WikiExpeditions to map a number of towns as part of the volunteers’ continual training and immersions, such as the last WikiExpedition in Santa Ana, Manila back on September 13th, and another one scheduled on November 29th at the historic town of Sariaya, which has many art deco buildings and grand, stately houses built by wealthy families. According to Aldor, many of the grand houses have survived World War II and a series of fires, but needed protection from an impending road widening project that the Department of Public Works and Highways wants to push forward with.

"Assunta de la Nuestra Sra. Parish Church, Dauis, Bohol (Before and After 2013 Bohol Earthquake)" by Joelaldor, under CC BY-SA 4.0
Assunta de la Nuestra Sra. Parish Church, Dauis, Bohol (Before and After 2013 Bohol Earthquake)
“Assunta de la Nuestra Sra. Parish Church, Dauis, Bohol (Before and After 2013 Bohol Earthquake)” by Joel Aldor, under CC BY-SA 4.0

”So we’re going to map all built heritage sites that we can identify and submit all the cultural mapping data to the national historical commission of the Philippines and will ask them – petition them – to determine and delineate a core buffer zone for the historic center.” says Aldor. “That way the whole district can be protected and any plans on at any infrastructure projects that can impact these structures must have to go through a consultant consultation process, which is something that is never has almost never happened before.”

Although Aldor considers the Wikimedia Philippines chapter to be considerably young, he says its efforts are increasingly being noticed and appreciated by community members. He says he hopes to attend Wikimania in 2016.

“I only knew I can share my knowledge in the best way I know.” says Aldor. “I hope our product can also serve as inspiration for other other movements especially in the global South.”

Profile by Yoona Ha, Communications Intern

Interview by Victor Grigas, Wikimedia Foundation Storyteller

Archive notice: This is an archived post from, which operated under different editorial and content guidelines than Diff.

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