The Loss of Grouping Effects: The Execution of Civic Institutions of Manila Plan from an Urban Perspective
This piece of writing is a continuation of the posts The Built Public Institutions of Manila’s Plan and Adapting to the Tropical: William Parsons’ Execution of Manila Plan in the Architectural Scale. Please refer to the previous two posts for background information. This essay will particularly map out the public institutions that were actually constructed and evaluate their importance in terms of location, grouping effects and symbolic image as a whole with reference to their original planning by Daniel Burnham.
To begin with, if we look at the chronological sequence of construction time, an interesting finding is that educational buildings, social clubs, hospitals and hotels were finished earlier, whereas the government group such as the legislative congress, city hall, department of agriculture and finance were constructed much later. In fact the planned legislative building was never built, the congress just moved in and adapted the national library for their own use.
Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that although the finishing dates were much later, the design and construction was in progress for quite a while and several architects were involved to finish these government buildings. Thus the implication of this timing difference might be two-fold. On one hand, it might be due to the fact the government buildings require a higher standard of construction quality and more cautious decision-making. Parson mentioned in his annual report in 1906 that “A higher standard of design in public buildings” is “essential to the dignity and permanency of their purpose”(Brody, 2010). On the other hand, it also reflects the constantly changing colonial economics and politics. In early 20th century, the congress was dominated by Americans. Later with the pass of Jones Act and the application of electoral system, a Filipino-controlled legislation gradually came into being with a short period of self-governance. From 1930s onwards before independence, the system changed from bicameral to unicameral and back to bicameral again with a period of Japanese control (Velasco and Sylvano, 1989).
Secondly, in terms of location, while most of the executed educational, recreational and charitable buildings corresponded to their planned zones, there is a clear shift of the government group from the original central location along the axis of the new Luenta towards the North (fig.1&2). At the same time the legislative congress had been relocated to the national library and therefore merged into the new shifted cluster. In this new group, only the Department of Finance and Agriculture were along the central axis facing each other as drafted in the plan. Two other major buildings – the city hall and the legislative congress were placed in the planned cultural zone.
Along with the shifting towards north, there is also morphological transformation (fig. 3). The planned government zone in Burnham’s scheme was a symmetrical solid mass around a square facing the sea. Whereas the actual situation is a belt stretching from the square along the Taft Avenue towards the Pasig River to the north.
In view of these aspects, therefore, the executed civic buildings as a whole is not considered to play as important and effective a role as Burnham’s city planning drafted. The centrality of the government group and therefore the imperialist symbolic importance are lost. Meanwhile, although the Court House was built on its planned location south of the government group, the reading of hierarchical relationship with the main group no longer existed. Burnham wrote in his 1905 report that the court house should be “a thing apart, a thing majestic, venerable and sacred” and should be given “a separate location”. Yet now the administrative, legislative and judicial institutions turned out to be a few pieces scattered around and their relationship became vague. When we look at the actual map, although it might not be noticeable by the first sight without knowing the initial intention, there is somehow an awkward juxtaposition of the strong axial, symmetrical quality of the new Luenta and the belt-like government and legislative group (fig. 4). This is a visible tension between different socio-political ideals manifested in urban form. Even in current days, there are still constant debates and reviews on the impacts of Burnham’s 1905 scheme and whether it should be continued. All these reflect Manila’s struggle for its distinct cultural identity during the process of colonialization and decolonialization.
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.
Velasco, R. and Sylvano, M. (1989) Evolution of the Philippine Legislative System. Brief History of the Philippines Congress. Philippines: Republic of the Philippines House of Representatives. Available at: http://www.congress.gov.ph/about/index.php?about=history (Accessed: Dec 21 2015).