Manila is a historic city. No doubt about that.
From the time Spanish colonizers organized the city in the 16th century to today, the city, for better or worse, played a pivotal role in shaping the country’s modern history.
For many historians and heritage conservation advocates, one event in Manila’s history certainly stands out. It is the Battle for Manila, which played out between Feb. 3, 1945 to March 3, 1945.
That month as World War II neared its end marked a turning point in Manila’s history.
The period marked the destruction of a significant chunk of Manila’s Spanish cultural heritage and opened the door to the reconstruction of the city and with it, new challenges.
More than 70 years later, the legacy of Manila’s destruction is still being felt today, from the rise of urban blight and the attempts at urban renewal.
That’s where the work of heritage conservationists become important. Their efforts allow modern urban needs to adapt with the need to retain and preserve the city’s character and history.
One such effort is being done by the group known as Proyekto.
During a personal tour of Intramuros and Fort Santiago one weekend, I came across a simple booth maintained by Proyekto to showcase its Manila Heritage Model.
The Manila Heritage Model is intended to be a 3D rendition of a map of Manila focusing on the World War II battle to liberate the city in 1945.
Why a map?
For Proyekto’s heritage conservation advocates, a map was a “symbolic depiction of a place, an area or a district” which can enable us “to see the relationships between the elements of space”, namely the objects, the buildings, and districts that define a location.
“Manila is home to a wide rage of architectural styles encompassing the rich history of Filipino architecture,” the group Proyekto explained. “In this old city, heritage structures offer a diverse selection of building types and aesthetics dictated by their time of creation.”
The group noted that despite surviving World War II, the city’s architectural heritage had become “victims of continuous neglect and decay, all but hidden in the chaos of urban growth.”
“These buildings are eduring examples of architects designing according to their times and adapting them to the Filipino’s needs, climate and aesthetics,” the group added.
Thus, the group believed in building the Manila Heritage Model.
The Manila Heritage Model was “originally a Finals project for the History of Architecture class of DLS-College of San Benilde School of Design and Arts-Architecture Program.”
Proyekto explained that the students involved in the finals project had selected heritage buildings from old districts of Manila, namely Intramuros, Luneta, Quiapo and Binondo, and presented them through 3D modelling and 3D printing.
“The project allowed them to learn the architectural styles and historical background of each building and the Filipino architects of each period,” Proyekto said. “The selection of buildings features colonial buildings, houses, as well as modern mid-rise structures of the American Period and Post War Manila.”
The Manila Heritage Model right now is a work in progress.
According to John Ray Ramos, a heritage conservation advocate and history instructor for Far Eastern University, Diliman campus, the Manila Heritage Model will include a light and sound show centered on the 3D map portraying the events of the Battle of Manila.
Ramos, who is also the historical consultant for the Manila Heritage Model, expressed the hope that this project will inspire more Filipinos to be interested in Philippine history and the country’s rich cultural heritage.
The people manning the booth, which was set up within the grounds of the Fort Santiago, certainly expressed their passion for culture and history as they explained to me what the map was all about.
Afterwards, Ramos took me to a personal tour of the old Fort, proudly showing me the newly restored portions of the Spanish fortress, and parts of Intramuros that, to this day, reveal the legacy of the Battle of Manila in 1945.
So much death. The deaths of those thousands of Filipinos during that grisly battle should never be forgotten. It’s part of a larger tale, a story which stretches from Dec. 8, 1942 when Japan first attacked the Philippines, to the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, the return of U.S. Gen. Douglas Macarthur, to the surrender of Japanese General Yamamoto in Northern Luzon.
The liberation of Manila in 1945 also meant the destruction of most of the city’s heritage buildings. Of the several Spanish churches in Intramuros, only San Agustin Church survived. All the rest were reduced to rubble. Later on, the Manila Cathedral was rebuilt.
Much of Intramuros was also destroyed. A restoration effort was begun several years later and is still continuing to this day.
The latest restored building is the one used by the first Philippine Assembly in 1910. It can be found in the main plaza of Intramuros across from the Commission on Elections building. G