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).