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Burnham and the Philippines

The Philippine Islands became an American possession after the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Filipinos had expected to gain independence as an outcome of the war. When this did not happen, a war for independence, led by General Emilio Aguinaldo, raged until 1901, when Aguinaldo was captured. Guerrilla-style fighting continued in the countryside until 1913. The U.S. government quickly moved to impose authority on the Philippines by establishing an American presence that was meant to assert its power, but was also shaped by Progressive Era reform thinking. American plans to develop infrastructure as well as health and educational programs in its new colony were ambitious, intended to demonstrate the superiority of an American administration to Spanish or local rule. Among the most significant projects were the remaking of the existing capital city of Manila and the creation of an entirely new summer capital at Baguio, located in the mountains 155 miles to the north.

After considering landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and architect Charles McKim, the U.S. government awarded Daniel Burnham the commission to prepare plans for the two cities. Burnham surely saw the opportunity to make the urban environment an expression of American imperial and cultural power. In Manila, the aesthetic of the City Beautiful would become not only a mark of foreign institutional power but also of unity among the diverse peoples of the Philippine archipelago’s thousands of islands.

Burnham applied successful aspects of his earlier urban design projects, particularly the plan for Washington, D.C., to the modernization of Manila, which had functioned as the Spanish colonial capital for more than 300 years. Burnham recommended improving Manila’s transportation system by imposing diagonal arteries radiating from a new central civic district—an idea he had used in his design for the United States capital and would employ again in the Plan of Chicago a few years later. Burnham also suggested expanding the city’s parks to provide space for recreation.



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, 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928.

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

Reed, Robert E. City of Pines: The Origins of Baguio as a Colonial Hill Station and Regional Capital. Center for South and South East Asia Studies Research Monograph No. 13. Berkeley: University of California, 1976.

U.S. Bureau of Insular Affairs, A Pronouncing Gazetteer and Geographical Dictionary of the Philippine Islands, United States of America, with Maps, Charts, and Illustrations. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1902.