Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

11/03/2009

Imperial Manila (part 1)

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

This was an exciting assignment. I got to wander the halls of the National Museum and take a step back into Philippine history. So much of what the Philippines is now is due to the American influence and part of that story is the presences of these buildings just outside the walls of Old Manila. I got to use my photography skills to boot. This definitely ranks as one of my favorite assignments.
~*C
American colonial architecture seeks to inspire civic duty and responsibility in the Philippines
Text and photos by: Carren Jao
Edited by: Judith Torres

MORE than a showcase of design prowess, the renovation of Manila under the American rule was also a political symbol utilizing the visual language of historical Greek architecture. Conjuring the seminal articulations of democracy in early Greek history, Neo-classic style was “considered one of the finest styles in the U.S…It’s the underlying principle for all groups of men who believed ancient Greece ‘seemed the last epoch of ideal life,’” writes Associate Professor Norma Alarcon, in The Imperial Tapestry: American Colonial Architecture in the Philippines.

Planned by Daniel Burnham and informed by the precepts of the City Beautiful movement, the construction of grand structures in the Neo-classic style were thought to inspire commensurately lofty moral and civic aspirations. Sure enough, as portions of these structures come into view, one is immediately transported—back into an imagined time of progress under American tutelage.

National Art Gallery
Along the Padre Burgos Street, a looming structure partially obscured by slender black grills stands the National Art Gallery, which most everyone mistakes for the actual National Museum due the words emblazoned above it. Originally designed as a public library by American consulting architect of the Bureau of Public Works Ralph Harrington Duane, and his assistant Antonio Toledo, its plans were eventually revised by Juan Arellano when it was decided that the Legislature would make use of the building.

Beginning construction in 1918, it was only inaugurated on July 16, 1926 at the cost of P4,075,000. Sadly, after World War II only the central portion of the building survived. Reconstructed, it now bears the light yellow and gray colors it once bore, evidenced by scraps of underlying paint recovered by restorers.

Today, the front exhibits a four-column portico two-stories high bookended by metal sculptures of Manuel Quezon, former Senate President, and Sergio OsmeƱa, former Speaker of the House. Above it, rarely seen by visitors looking up from its steps is a triangular pediment containing sculptures meant to depict the three major island groups of the Philippines, Law and Learning, and Commerce and Agriculture. All along the sides are pilasters also made in the same Corinthian style as the columns; these pilasters were once engaged columns before the bombing of Manila in 1945. [continued in next post]

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