SURELY, a lot of people are familiar with the Taj Mahal in India. This marvelous piece of architecture, which Indian guru Rabindranath Tagore referred to as “a teardrop on the cheek of time” and a favorite destination among tourists and building enthusiasts, was a creation of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal in 1631.
The symbolism of perfect love is evident in the Taj Mahal’s beautiful design, elegant prominence and its symmetrical arrangement and balance, which one would notice upon entry into the vast garden in front of it. The symmetry, wherein similar elements like the minarets and smaller buildings are seen on both sides, highlights the importance of the domed building.
Now, just imagine building a towering edifice at one side of the building, ruining the flawless balance of the composition? It might evoke a feeling of uneasiness that would make Shah Jahan squirm in his grave.
Yes, buildings and structures can be bad “photobombers” just like the Torre de Manila sticking up like a sore thumb behind the Rizal monument in Luneta Park. Cebuanos might witness a “photobomber” building if the proposed 20-storey provincial resource center gets constructed very close to an American-period government building designed by respected Filipino architects Juan Arellano and Antonio Toledo. Some people might consider this issue as something trivial but giving value to the few remaining historical buildings reflects a lot on the character of the people living in the city.
The Cebu Capitol Building, which was declared a National Historical landmark, was built for a purpose at the end of the long Osmeña Boulevard, which passes through another historical spot, the Fuente Osmeña rotunda, and connects to the downtown area. This linear arrangement of tree-lined boulevards terminating in monuments and important civic buildings is inspired from the City Beautiful Movement, an aesthetic movement in American urban planning of the late 1800s that aimed to improve cities and eradicate social problems by beautification. The Americans believed that a beautiful and orderly city would inspire loyalty and attract more productive activities into the city centers. The spot where the Capitol building with its grand Neoclassical façade, stands befits its function and character as a seat of government for the province.
It’s ironic how Filipinos admire beautiful landmarks and picturesque cities which they see during their travels abroad and yet continue to ignore historical gems in their own backyard, which are as Instagrammable or even more than those found in other countries. Government leaders aspire for tourism yet often dismiss heritage as passé and outdated. These iconic buildings from the colonial eras are important reminders of the country’s rich history and are bright spots in the current urban chaos that pervade cities today.
Preservation of heritage buildings does not equate to being antagonistic against progress, development and practicality. It is just that new buildings, just like children, should respect the older ones especially those that have valuable historical significance. Old and new should converse harmoniously and should contribute to a better urban image that speaks a lot of how the city and its people have progressed through many years.