Winnipeg architect has a vision for a future Filipino district in city

A local architect has a vision for a possible Filipino district in Winnipeg that would celebrate the cultural group's impact on the community.

Mabuhay District could feature art galleries, retail spaces, music studios and more, says Joseph Orobia

Joseph Orobia is an architect with Architecture at Play. He'd like to be a part of creating a Filipino district in Winnipeg and elevating Filipino-owned businesses in the area. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A local architect has a vision for a possible Filipino district in Winnipeg that would celebrate the cultural group's impact on the community.

Joseph Orobia, inspired by a similar approach in San Francisco, is asking for local input on a district dedicated to fostering Filipino food, art, culture and heritage.

"It could be anything from makers' studios to music studios, artist gallery studios, even pop-up retail spaces. It could be a book store — it could be a whole number of things, really," he said.

"It would be a really great space where we could meet the traditional and the modern aspects of our community."

Orobia is the founder and head of the local firm Architects at Play and is Filipino himself. He wants his community to talk about what a Filipino district could look like.

"The more we pitch it to people, whether they're really young or they've been here for decades, they see the value in it. And so for us, it's important to really engage them, and bring them in and let them have their say," he said.

Orobia is calling his proposal Mabuhay District, after the Tagalog greeting that welcomes people. That's exactly what he envisions — a place where Filipino artists and businesses are fostered, and everyone in the community feels welcome to learn more.

San Francisco's 'Filipinotown'

Orobia wants to emulate Soma Pilipinas, also known as Filipinotown, in San Francisco, a city with a long history of Filipino culture.

Soma Pilipinas was officially recognized by the city as a Filipino cultural heritage district in 2016 to protect community spaces and preserve culture and heritage. The next year, it was recognized by the state of California.

Today it spans about 2.5 square kilometres, according to the Soma Pilipinas website, and includes a park, a community centre, public art installations, heritage buildings and a performing arts venue dedicated to showcasing emerging Filipino-American artists.

Joseph Orobia and the team at Architects at Play created a scale model of the Winnipeg neighbourhood Garden City. He wants the public to weigh in on a possible Filipino district, and whether it could be in Garden City or elsewhere in Winnipeg. (Paulo Castillo/Architects at Play)

"Here [in Winnipeg] we don't quite have that length of history, but we do have a good, rich history here," Orobia said.

"We're going to try and tell the stories of Filipinos in Canada and in Winnipeg in particular."

A 'gift' to Winnipeg

Elizabeth Cron is excited about the idea of a Filipino district in her hometown.

The marketing director for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is involved in a locally founded group called Kultivation Festival, a collective dedicated to celebrating the evolution of Filipino-Canadians.

Kultivation is involved in brainstorming what Winnipeg's Filipino District could look like.

Cron says Orobia's role is important; he's the only Filipino architect she knows of.

"It's definitely fitting for him to champion this district as part of his company, Architects at Play," she said.

She sees the district as a gift to Winnipeg.

"For our generation to kind of give back to Winnipeg and to almost gift this district to Winnipeg — to be a place where all cultures and all different ethnic backgrounds can come and be inspired — is really beautiful to me," Cron said.

Orobia isn't sure how long it will take to make the district a reality, but hopes the city will come on board and support the community effort.

"Hopefully in five to 10 years it'll become a reality."

This story is part of a joint project called My Garden City between Winnipeg's Filipino community and CBC Manitoba. A pop-up CBC bureau was set up at Garden City Shopping Centre from March 6-13.


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