Cebu Capi­tol’s somber 80th birth­day

Cebu Daily News - - OPINION - Kyut­nga­sawa@ya­hoo.com

The grand Cebu Capi­tol Build­ing turns 80 to­day in a somber mood as plans for a 20-storey build­ing con­tinue. This “loom­ing tower”, to bor­row the ti­tle of Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize-win­ning book on the rise of Al Qaeda, will soon stick out like a sore thumb on the land­scape of the Cebu Capi­tol if noth­ing damp­ens plans to build it.

When Pres. Manuel Que­zon in­au­gu­rated the neo­clas­si­cal Cebu Capi­tol Build­ing on June 14, 1938, who would have imag­ined that its mag­nif­i­cence and the grand­ness of its vista would be chal­lenged 80 years later. I won­der how its de­sign­ers, Juan Mar­cos Arel­lano and An­to­nio Toledo, the two giants of mon­u­men­tal ar­chi­tec­ture of that pe­riod, would re­act at the mod­ern 20-storey struc­ture set to brood down on their ar­chi­tec­tural opus.

For­tu­nately, there are pos­si­ble chal­lenges to this mon­stros­ity of a build­ing. As I wrote last week, the Na­tional His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion of the Philip­pines (NHCP) is weigh­ing in on the mat­ter and has not ap­proved this loom­ing tower as it were. Now, no less than her­itage ar­chi­tect Melva Ro­driguez-Java, her­self a con­sul­tant of Vice-Gov. Agnes Mag­pale, has also ex­pressed her op­po­si­tion to the build­ing, sug­gest­ing that it be scaled down.

I won­der how the per­mit­ting process of this new build­ing will fare with the re­cent pro­nounce­ment of Cebu City Mayor To­mas Os­meña to limit high-rise struc­tures in the city? Back in Jan­uary in the wake of the Metro Ayala fire, Os­meña an­nounced this cap. And then in March he rec­om­mended split­ting high­rise build­ings into twin tow­ers if they were above four sto­ries high. This 20-storey build­ing will be a good test for the mayor’s in­ten­tions of en­sur­ing ac­cess to emer­gency re­spon­ders and for the lo­cal fire de­part­ment to put out fires in­stead of wait­ing for the flames to die down.

If there’s one thing good about this de­vel­op­ment, it is the fact that her­itage ad­vo­cates are fi­nally look­ing se­ri­ously at form­ing a Cebu Her­itage So­ci­ety or some­thing like that to en­sure that this and other her­itage as­sets in Cebu get pro­tected be­cause of the lim­i­ta­tions of R.A. 1006, the Na­tional Cul­tural Her­itage Law. That law de­fines the buf­fer zone to five me­ters of the vis­i­ble perime­ter of a her­itage as­set. Speak­ing of that perime­ter, what if the law meant the ac­tual perime­ter walls of the Cebu Capi­tol and not of the struc­ture it­self?

That is one food for thought as we mark the 80th birth­day of one of Cebu’s ar­chi­tec­tural gems.

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