DANIEL Burnham believed that an ideal city could be both beautiful and commercially efficient, which can be best seen in his city plans of Chicago and Washington, DC and reflected in his architectural designs.
When Daniel Burnham visited the Philippines in the 1900s to plan the cities of Manila and Baguio, he was already a well- known proponent of the City Beautiful movement. But back then, the Philippines was undergoing a struggle for Philippine independence, and Burnham was the personification of America trying to assert control over its new colony.
Thus, even with Burnham’s encompassing plan that gave respect to the future Filipino architects and engineers that will help create his vision, if we are to review his plans, not even half of the city plan had been implemented. What were Burnham’s specific plans for Manila and Baguio? Can these still be implemented today?
The five- outlined plan for Manila
Burnham wanted Manila to be The City Beautiful of the Orient—the Pearl of the Orient. Manila was to be a mesh of Rome, Paris, and Venice. When Burnham visited Manila in 1904, Metro Manila had two hundred thousand inhabitants and he had only less than a month to plan it. However, Burnham predicted that Manila would be home to millions of people before the century was over, so he planned Manila accordingly.
There were five interrelated major proposals in Burnham’s Plan of Manila. One was to develop the waterfront and the location of parks and parkways so as to give adequate opportunities for recreation and ample breathing spaces in every quarter of the city. In it, he planned a new Luneta that would be placed about 1,000 feet farther out in Manila Bay on a reclaimed land, and as an added urban design element, create fountains all over the city somewhat reminiscent of Rome.
The second plan focused on the establishment of a street system which would secure direct and easy communication from every part of the city to every other sector or district. On top of the basic grid, circulation system radiated from the government center. Burnham stressed that the street plans should address requirements of the future and not what the present required. For dense communities, a Burnham recommended a rectangular block system that would allow sunlight to penetrate the building on all sides.
The third plan focused on proper location of building sites for various activities. A new hotel was envisioned to be a world class resort and casino, and boat clubs would be placed on both sides of the new Luneta. More importantly, the University area should be sited at Sta. Mesa Heights for conducive learning. Intramuros, he said, should be preserved despite objections from many that its walls obstructed traffic and ventilation.
The fourth plan was to develop Manila’s waterways for transportation. Burnham saw Venice, Paris, and Naples in our esteros and envisioned the Pasig River, the Binondo canal, and the other waterways as major transport systems. Riverbanks, Burnham wrote in his report, would be created with shaded drives.
Last but not the least, Burnham pushed for the provision of summer resorts. He cited the nearby provinces of Laguna and Bataan as excellent and most accessible summer resorts.
William E. Parsons was given the responsibility to provide designs, drawings, specifications, and estimates for all public buildings in the city. The building designs during that time resembled the Greek and Roman temples showcasing monumentality, simplicity, and formality.
Had even only half of it been carried out, Manila would still be the best-planned city in the Orient. Today’s picture of Manila is a congested city suffering from despair and social maladies. The continued influx of migrants from other provinces has saturated most of Manila’s urban areas.
The Burnham plan for Manila has inspired Palafox Associates to come up with what we called “Postcards from the Future.” We took photos of the blighted areas in Metro Manila and came up with our proposals of what these areas would look like in the future—a beautiful and functional metropolis. It is the hope of my firm Palafox Associates, to revive the once glorious city which Burnham envisioned to be one of the best master- planned cities in the world, in the same breadth as Washington DC. (Part 2 appears on Thursday next week)
Manila Times, 7 Aug 2014 ARCHITECT FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.