The United States occupation of the Philippines in 1898 ushered a new phase in Philippine architecture. America established an American-style of government and urban planning that served the needs of secular education and public services.
In 1904, the Chicago-fame architect Daniel H. Burnham came to the Philippines on an invitation from the government to plan a modern Manila. The city then had a population of only a hundred thousand, but Burnham envisioned it as a metropolis inhabited by millions, with multi-laned avenues radiating from its central districts. He proposed that the old moat around Intramuros be reclaimed, that Luneta be enlarged into a 30 acre-park, and that a seaside boulevard be built from the Manila waterfront to Cavite.
Burnham’s vision for Manila was a government center occupying all of Wallace Field, which extends from Luneta to the present Taft Avenue. The Philippines Capitol was to rise on the Taft Avenue end of the field, facing toward the sea, and would form, with the buildings of different government bureaus and departments, a mighty quadrangle, lagoon in the center and a monument to Rizal at its Luneta end.
The Burnham Plan, which the London Times called “a miracle by an Alladin,” was approved by the Philippine Legislature, which agreed to set aside two million pesos every year for the execution of the plan. When the fund had reached some 16 million, however, President Manuel L. Quezon decided to use the money on irrigation projects instead. Quezon noted that rice fields were more important than fine structures for Manila.
Of Burnham’s proposed government center, only three units were built: the Legislative Building (originally intended as the National Library) and the building of the Finance (currently the Museum of the Filipino People) and Agricultural (Tourism Department) departments, which were completed on the eve of the War. By then, Mr. Quezon had doomed the Burnham Plan by creating a new capital outside Manila, which was named after him –Quezon City.
The Legislative Building was started early in the 1920s. Construction was sporadic, lasting until 1926, and cost about six million pesos –a bargain price today. When the building was half-finished, the Philippines solons decreed that it was to house, not the national library, but the legislative session halls and offices. Later, the national library was allowed to occupy the basement.
According to Nick Joaquin, the building (Legislative) along with the old Jones Bridge was undoubtedly our happiest achievement in the neo-classic manner. For a moment in our history, the style of the Romans suited our temper perfectly and we created a structure that had grace and dignity. The postwar edifice still glows with the serene spirit of the original and stands as a memorial to Burnham’s glorious dream and to the days when we felt like noble Romans, gravely founding a republic.