Adapting to the Tropical: William Parsons’ Execution of Manila Plan in the Architectural Scale

While Daniel Burnham drafted the master plan of Manila, it was William E. Parsons who mostly executed and detailed the work. Following Burnham’s guidance on learning from the precedents to adapt to the tropical climate which is hot and humid, Parsons invented an architecture combining the Philippine vernacular, Spanish Colonial prototypes and industrial buildings of the modern movement, which was regarded of “warmth, efficiency and simplicity” by historian Thomas Hines (2009).

To begin with, materially, a fusion of local materials which was readily available and industrial materials which provide better stability and endurance. The Spanish precedent mainly use timbre, masonry and tiles for roof construction. Parsons continued the use of timbre and promoted the use of local hardwood over imported Oregon Pine for small structure (Cody, 2003). Whereas for larger public buildings, the industrial material ferro-concrete with Spanish tiles were adopted over wood and cheap iron roof to provide better fire-resistance and stability. The higher building quality of public infrastructure was also believed to have a model effect for private construction (Brody, 2010).

In terms of building form, Parsons generally continued the Spanish-Philippine prototype consisted of undecorated, broad surface and overhanging roof topped with tiles (fig. 1). The pitched, cantilevering roof form is especially suitable for drainage in the tropical context. In the example of the typical Parsons provincial Philippine school building (fig. 2&3), it can be seen that the building had been elevated slightly from the ground to reduce the level of humidity being transferred from the soil to the interior. There was also the continuation of application of window screens with mesh grilles to reduce solar heat gain while still getting daylight during the summer time.

The most important architectural feature of all, however, is the introduction of wide archways, shaded loggias and porches (Hines, 2009) (fig. 4&5). This is probably inspired by the original Spanish prototype in which the second story usually projects out to provide shading to the lower storey (fig. 6 & 7). Despite the practicality of the overhanging second storey, it was prohibited from new construction due to the difficulty in positioning telegraph and telephone poles in the context of narrow streets by the municipal board before Burnham was laying out the plan (Burnham, 1905). It is deduced that Parsons took the former example and transformed the projected-out area into an occupiable space which in the end became the loggias and porches. They acted as a buffer zone between the cool interior and the hot exposed exterior. Often planted with greenery, the semi-pubic loggia spaces dedicated to a healthy comfortable living.

Although many of the Burnham’s plan was unrealized, the executed architectural prototype by Parson was quite successful in terms of its adaptation to tropical context, use of local materials and concise language. It was much more simple and direct towards what it wants to achieve compared to the magnificent Beaux Arts neoclassicism of Burnham’s plans in his home country (Hines, 1972). Parson’s design was of genuine architectural quality that remained the model that had a great influence even after the Second World War when Philippine gained independence from the American.

 

Brody, D. (2010) ‘Building Empire: Architecture and American Imperialism in the Philippines’,  Visualizing American Empire: Orientalism and Imperialism in the Philippines. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 140-163.

Burnham, D. H. (1905) ‘Report on Improvement of Manila’,  Sixth Annual Report of the Philippine Commission 1905. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, pp. 627-635.

Cody, J. W. (2003) ‘US Military Victories in 1898: Confidence, Commerce and Construction’,  Exporting American Architecture, 1870-2000 Planning, History and the Environment Series. London: Routledge, pp. 45-49.

Hines, T. S. (1972) ‘The Imperial Façade: Daniel H. Burnham and American Architectural Planning in the Philippines’, Pacific Historical Review, 41(1), pp. 33-53.

Hines, T. S. (2009) ‘The Imperial Facade: The Philippine Plans of 1905’,  Burnham of Chicago, Architect and Planner. 2 ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 197-216.

Huetz de Lemps, X. (1994) Manille au XIXe siècle croissance et amenagement d’une ville coloniale (1815-1989).

The Elevation of a Distillery Owned by Benito Legarda © 1895, Xavier Huetz de Lemps
Figure 1. The Elevation of a Distillery Owned by Benito Legarda © 1895, Xavier Huetz de Lemps

 

Typical Eight Room provincial Philippine School Building © 1910, Architectural Record
Figure 2. Typical Eight Room provincial Philippine School Building © 1910, Architectural Record
Typical Two Room Provincial Philippine School Building © 1912, Architectural Record
Figure 3. Typical Two Room Provincial Philippine School Building © 1912, Architectural Record
Front Facade of Philippine General Hospital © 1910, Architectural Record
Figure 4. Front Facade of Philippine General Hospital © 1910, Architectural Record
Open Air Corridors of Philippines eneral Hospital©1910, Thomas S. Hines
Figure 5. Open Air Corridors of Philippines eneral Hospital©1910, Thomas S. Hines

 

 

 

Section and Elevation of a Former Spanish Colonial Building in Manila©1893, Xavier Huetz de Lemps
Figure 6. Section and Elevation of a Former Spanish Colonial Building in Manila©1893, Xavier Huetz de Lemps
Diagram of the Antillan House© 2000, S. Salvan
Figure 7. Diagram of the Antillan House© 2000, S. Salvan

2 Comments on “Adapting to the Tropical: William Parsons’ Execution of Manila Plan in the Architectural Scale

  1. Architecture is realized in stages of imagination of ideals and execution of ideas in the real context. There is always a heated debate among the imagined and the executed as discrepancies often exist between the two. It is especially effective for one to understand and start critique on a particular project which exists both in the planned level and executed level, just like Daniel Burnham’s plan. The execution followed by Parsons detailing the ideas in architectural scale with respect to tropical climate, is, in fact, quite successful in response to Burnham’s vision. Perhaps the question is how does the distinctive details Parsons set up combine to affect the city in a larger context, say,in urban scale? Was there major challenge encountered by the implementation in changing the face of the city? Does that relate to the reason why Burnham was never able to execute his plan? All these might help construct arguments against/ for the idea if one can see a bigger picture of the issue.

    • Thank you for your suggestion! I agree with what you say but just that I think it would be too long to discuss all of the issues in one post so I divided them into several smaller themes. For the context in urban scale please refer to the post of THE LOSS OF GROUPING EFFECTS: THE EXECUTION OF CIVIC INSTITUTIONS OF MANILA PLAN FROM AN URBAN PERSPECTIVE. For the evaluation and reasons why the plan was not fully realized, please refer to THE EXECUTED PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS OF MANILA’S PLAN and also THE OVERLOOKED SOCIAL ILLS AND THE HOLLOW SYMBOLISM OF BURNHAM’S MANILA PLAN.

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