Revisiting Daniel Burnham’s plan for Manila and Baguio

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Second of two parts

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“The space of time in which a great work can now be accomplished is not marvelous. Brain, muscle, materials, and the means of rapid transport are instantly at command. If one has capital and a well-considered plan, the thing does itself.”
-Attributed to Daniel Burnham in Charles Moore (1921) Daniel H. Burnham,
 “Architect, Planner of Cities”

Baguio is aptly dubbed the Philippines’ Summer Capital, and Daniel Burnham, who visited the city in 1909, was commissioned to develop a plan for a health resort where “American soldiers and civilian employees could find respite from the sweltering lowland heat.” The plan provided the first physical framework plan for the City that would pave the way for rapid physical development. The skeleton of the plan remains in the city center, but just like Manila, the city’s urbanization became too rapid to control, and the plans lay forgotten.

A sustainable mountain city
Baguio city is located 5,000 feet above sea level. This city of the north has attracted thousands of people from all walks of life, eager to escape the sweltering humidity and smog of Metro Manila.

Burnham, in his early plans for Baguio, advocated a strictly controlled growth and development, and the acquisition of the hills and forests as part of public domain to protect the fine view of pines. The physical framework embodied in the plan integrates a road and park systems into one, a compact garden city for 25,000 to 30,000 people. The concentration of business and the necessary public activities should be in a single compact group.

After identifying the three horizontal areas in Baguio, Burnham recommended the placement of commercial and governmental activities in and around the Baguio Meadow, the largest identified horizontal area. The municipal buildings should be kept close to the business quarter, on the northwest ridge of the valley, a location that shows unmistakable dignity. The National buildings should be placed on Governor’s Mountain, on the southeast of the Valley, on a high plateau that would make the buildings pop out and show their preeminence over all other buildings in the city. From a macro scale, the municipal and national buildings face each other from the opposite ends of the valley, bisecting it and forming a natural main axis for the town.

Just like Manila, Burnham laid out three fundamental elements in the Baguio Plan. The first one focused on the street system. Since Baguio is a mountainous area, its street system must be planned carefully and follow the contours of the valley, carrying the lines of streets to commanding points on the hillsides where the monumental buildings are located. Burnham and his partner, Pierce Anderson, envisioned Baguio’s streets like the hill towns in Italy, France, and Japan where the lines of the level streets are carried steeply up the hillsides to terminate the vista at points of special interest. A railroad system was also planned in Baguio and would serve as a gateway to the city.

In terms of the placement of important institutions, the plan designated the hills surrounding the Baguio plain as sound locations for schools, hospitals, and churches. The Pakdal site in Baguio should be a fashionable quarter for the residences of the more wealthy people, while the edge of the plateau at Outlook Point should be the site for a public terrace. A mall-like park, now called Burnham Park, is located at the center of the city.

Since Baguio is planned primarily as a recreational area, most of the principal axes are planned with green areas and continuous parkways, open-air theaters, and recreational fields. Burnham and Anderson even suggested a way to maintain the predicted urban sprawl in the city by recommending that the government take protective measures from the “energetic lumbermen that will soon cause the destruction of this beautiful scenery.”

When Palafox Associates helped create the masterplan of Camp John Hay in Baguio, we made sure to follow Burnham’s plan for Baguio and the principles behind it. One of our recent architecture plans for a residential condominium on Outlook Drive respects the surrounding pine trees that envelop the property.

Baguio City is now a highly-urbanized city with a population of more than 300,000. The city has now become the center of business and commerce known for its thrift shops (ukay-ukay) as well as the center of education in the entire Northern Luzon. The urban basin that Baguio City has now become is slowly losing its character as a vibrant and green city for residents and visitors alike. But the spatial character that, Burnham created can still be seen and forms a significant part of the city’s urban landscape, a surviving evidence of the American colonial planning in the Philippines. Today, Filipinos only remember the name Burnham for the park named after him in Baguio.

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1 Comment

  1. Arch. Angelito (Lito) L. Mallonga on

    I stayed in Baguio City for almost 3 years just to observe. I have seen it all.
    We no longer smell the Pine Trees and too much pollution by all those
    jeepneys .Bunrham Park is no longer as it is before. We have lots of
    concrete structure including houses on the high side of the mountain.
    When an earthquake hit Metro Baguio again , I am pretty sure most of
    them will roll down below.

    Water supply is always a problem in Metro Baguio, The biggest problem
    here and the rest of the Philippines, we build beautiful building but we do
    not address first the Infrastructures. Power Supply, Treatment Plant, Garbage segregation , Reforestation.

    The worst of all is the Dumping of all the garbage that we do not care.
    Those garbage dumps should be provided by thick layers of felt so those
    residues will be contained as it will affect those from below towards La Union. Environment should be the priority by both the National and LGU specially the Philippines with almost 7,100 Island are surrounded by sea, lakes and rivers.

    They always mention about Baguio Pine Trees. This are the Douglas Fir
    and Hem Fir (Structural Wood) that are brought by the First Nation.
    All the local natives of Mountain Province are descendants of the First Nation
    of both Canada and USA. Just observe the way they dance, the way they
    eat and their resemblance has the same.

    I am to develop a largest project outside Baguio soon that will be a
    new community that meets International Standards including Building Code
    that needs to be upgraded specially on FIRE SEPARATION and
    FLOOR SPACE RATION (FSR).

    All the above mention on Infrastructure will be address first and all roads
    will be ASPHALT( Follow Specification ) as it can be recycled and be
    used right away.