Manila, P.I.: Plan of Proposed Improvements (1906)

This plan, submitted to the Secretary of War and the United States Congress, was written as a supplement to the plan Burnham had submitted the year before. Burnham’s time in the Philippines was so limited, he explained, that “the plan had been drawn from general impressions, rather than accurate and detailed surveys.” It was truly intended as “a group of suggestions” rather than a comprehensive blueprint. Burnham selected William E. Parsons, a Yale-educated architect, to carry out his plans. Parsons thus became responsible for the interpretation and development of the designs for Manila and Baguio. In the nearly nine years he spent in the Philippines, Parsons adapted Burnham’s plans while remaining faithful to their original intent. Although Burnham’s scheme would not be fully implemented, it nonetheless left an indelible mark on the city’s orientation, public transit system, and waterfront park.

Burnham’s planning efforts in the Philippines were intended to contribute to larger American initiatives, both public and private, to fully realize the potential of the United States’ newest possession. The Plan of Manila would focus on three basic improvements to the city: implementing modern transportation networks, expanding urban parks, and selecting the best sites for civic buildings. Burnham recommended improving Manila’s transit systems by imposing diagonal arteries radiating from the new central civic district into areas at the outskirts of the city, which were as yet largely unoccupied. He had explored this concept a few years earlier in his design for the U.S. capital city. Burnham would return to any of the key features in the Plan of Manila – especially those relating to transportation, civic buildings, and parks – in the Plan of Chicago.

Burnham’s vision for the Philippines also incorporated spaces for a civic district and urban parks. “Every section of the Capitol City should look with deference toward the symbol of the Nation’s power,” Burnham wrote. His plan created a location for a national Filipino monument in a plaza in front of the government center. In Burnham’s scheme, all of the new buildings were to be without lavish ornament, but carefully designed and well proportioned. He proposed a mixture of historic and Western architectural features, including government buildings with whitewashed concrete, for instance, which would emulate the Spanish colonial style and be practical in the tropical environment. Burnham also suggested draining the moat around Manila’s old walled city, which, he believed, would eliminate a public health hazard and free up land for recreation.

See also:

The City Beautiful



Barrows, David. A History of the Philippines. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1907.

Burnham, Daniel H. “Report on Proposed Improvements at Manila,” and “Report on the Proposed Plan of the City of Baguio, Province of Benguet, P.I.,” as reprinted in Charles Moore, Daniel H. Burnham: Architect, Planner of Cities, vol. 2. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1921.

Forbes, W. Cameron. The Philippine Islands, vols. 1-2. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928.

Parsons, William E. "Burnham as a Pioneer in City Planning." The Architectural Record 38 (July 1915).

Daniel H. Burnham, et. al., Manila, P.I.: Plan of Proposed Improvements (Washington: Government Printing Office. 1906). The Newberry Library, map4F G8064.M5 1905 .B8, no. 1