Repurposing container vans into art exhibit spaces

The artist’s rendition of the proposed Guiuan Museum, made of container vans.

In the wake of the destruction by supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013, the local government of Guiuan in Eastern Samar converted donated container vans into municipal offices so that its operations won’t be disrupted.

In recent years, the containers were deteriorating in the dump, until an opportunity to reuse them came up when the Guiuan Quincentennial Exhibit was organized.

This is in connection with the National Quincentennial Commemorations spearheaded by the National Quincentennial Committee and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

Four container vans were converted into exhibition spaces to showcase the rich history and heritage of the scenic coastal town.

Artifacts from World War II.

This will eventually become part of a bigger Guiuan Museum in the future.

The Guiuan Quincentennial Exhibit, located on the municipal hall grounds, is designed and curated by historian and municipal administrator Kinna Kwan, with exhibition text written by Ari Mabansag and graphic design by Jonathan Gamalinda.

Mabansag said: “The exhibit reminds us of ancient and contemporary stories of extraordinary kindness, pure generosity, and simple humanity that Guiuan, her islands, her people displayed in half a millennia, repeatedly, enduringly” because “kindness is the easiest thing to do in a difficult world.”

ArtifactS from the White Russian refugee camp. / PHOTOGRAPHS by EDGAR ALLAN M. SEMBRANO FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE

Guiuan Museum

The proposed Guiuan Museum will be housed in 15 container vans, including the four used in the current exhibition, relics from Yolanda’s wrath.

“It shall stand as a symbol not only of our resilience and our story of surviving and recovering from typhoon “Haiyan,” but as a symbol of a new and brighter and richer beginning for us and the new generation,” Kwan said.

Kwan added that the museum will have a green design — from the solar panels to the water catchment facilities.

She stressed the value of appreciating a locale as the main goal of putting up the museum.

“I believe every development begins with love of place, and this proposed museum intends to generate that love, especially among the young,” she said.

Rich history

The current exhibit showcases Guiuan’s history from the precolonial period to the arrival of the Magellan-Elcano expedition in 1521, the Palau castaways in the late 17th century, and its Spanish colonial past with its fortified church, now a National Cultural Treasure.

Guiuan’s role in the Second World War, including the hosting of the biggest United States naval base in the Far East and the White Russian refugees of 1949 to the early ’50s, is also highlighted and will be part of the much larger museum, described by Kwan as “the repository of our memories and our history and a vessel for our future.”

In her speech at the exhibit opening and the launch of the museum design, Guiuan Mayor Annaliza Gonzales-Kwan said it is important to remember the memories which are “precious to our collective consciousness.”

“Before we, Guiuananons, forget, before we lose the stories and lessons that we took from our grandparents’ knees and laps, let us try then to build the most enduring of all memory-keepers: A museum.

The Guiuan Quincentennial Exhibit showcasing the town’s history.

“What better vessels then, to hold to our memories than these landmarks of resilience that these container vans have become. What better structures to hold our identity than one designed, curated, and erected by Guiuan skill?

“I wish to bring all these momentous moments into the fore, that it may not remain simply as stories from the past and then forgotten by the incoming generations for lack of appreciation of its lessons and significance to the future.”


The elder Kwan pointed out that the memories, heritage, and history of Guiuan need to be seen and celebrated especially by its residents.

“Otherwise, this beautiful Guiananon heritage will lose its momentum and be relegated once more to the darkest corners of Philippine history and consciousness,” she said.

“Tribes, ethnic groups, and nations through eternity have embraced storytellers, historians, teachers, keepers of our identity flames for this very purpose (and) without this fire, we walk in darkness, groping our way into an uncertain future,” she added.

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