Thursday, June 10, 2010
What do Washington DC, Chicago and Manila have in common? The answer: American architect and pioneering urban planner Daniel Burnham.
His life and works are extolled in an hour-long documentary which got its title from a favorite quote – “Make No Little Plans” – and to be shown in September by Public Broadcast System (PBS) affiliated stations.
There was a free showing of the film Wednesday evening at the Mall – that sprawling swath of open space that connects Capitol Hill, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial which Burnham conceptualized and helped make reality.
He perhaps has the distinction of redefining the look of three great cities.
Burnham actively vied for a US government contract to design the capital city of America’s prized jewel in the Western Pacific.
He won the commission in 1904, and set out for Manila in the winter of 1904.
As the documentary pointed out, he only spent six weeks in the Philippines but it took more than a generation to implement his dream. And what a dream it was.
Much of his vision can still be seen in Manila – Luneta (now Rizal Park), Dewey Blvd. (now Roxas Blvd.), the preservation of Intramuros, the old Congress and Senate edifices wrapping the Agrifina Circle – all these were Burnham influences.
In fact, the Rizal Park promenade – from the Quirino Grandstand through the Rizal Monument and stretching past the Sunken Garden to Taft Avenue where the old jai-alai fronton used to be – looks every bit a scaled down version of Washington DC’s Mall.
Burnham loved open spaces and bodies of water, a predilection borne by a childhood growing up near Lake Ontario in Henderson, New York.
But the encompassing character of his works was its utility – no matter how big or beautiful the structures, Burnham stressed, they must also be useful.
Thus, he envisioned parks where people can congregate, socialize, play and be entertained – indispensable (i.e, the ultimate utility) for living in crowded, impersonal urban centers.
Burnham also designed Baguio City, where the daily grind seems to revolve around the park that now bears his name.
In his address, Philippine Ambassador Willy Gaa noted Burnham’s legacy was just added proof of the enduring bonds between the US and Philippines.
Even then, the world was always small for geniuses. “Make no little plans,” Burnham is quoted saying, “They have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
No wonder his works are marveled wherever they may be, regardless of who’s looking at them.
And with the march of time, people like Burnham leave vestiges of their big dreams and big hearts which remind us that, notwithstanding the distance, how similar we all are.