Picture perf-wreck buildings

By Karl Aries Emerson F. Cabilao, UAP

A SOCIAL media post from a photographer friend comes to mind when talking about “photobombers.” The post was of a photograph that was supposed to be an entry to a photo contest for the Sinulog parade. It showed what could have been a perfectly composed snapshot — dancers neatly lined up in synchronized motion performing their dance routine, their brightly colored costumes contributing to the attractive arrangement of figures building a dramatic perspective on the photograph. Then out from the lower corner of the frame, emerges the bald head of a man who seemed to force his way into the contingent to get his own piece of the action. Goodbye, award-winning photograph.

Illustration by Geraldine Sypiecco
Illustration by Geraldine Sypiecco

In a definition from the Urban Dictionary website, “a photo bomber is someone who either intentionally or unintentionally ruins an otherwise normal photo. The “photo bomber” will be doing such things as: making faces, gestures, naked, or getting naked, in a costume, or doing some other equally hilarious action.”

The term “photo bomber” has recently been connected to a condominium building undergoing construction in Manila. The Torre de Manila, described by its developer DMCI Homes as a “one-tower condominium” located “right at the heart of the city,” has been criticized by many city dwellers, design professionals and cultural heritage advocates for having “photobombed” the once vast, blue sky backdrop of the monument of country’s national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Well, it seems that this building is truly in the heart of the city but acting as a dagger piercing through it.

With all the blame-throwing that ensued after the issue was publicized, the “Torre de Manila problem” actually revealed two contrasting sides of our perception of development. One is that even with the people’s perception of progress now becoming typically connected to infrastructure and concrete components like highways, bridges and yes, more towering buildings, there are still a considerable number of Filipinos who possess an “aesthetic sense.” The Torre de Manila may be another symbol of progress but people are concerned about its effect on the scenic view of the Rizal monument glancing from the Manila Bay side.
This is where the importance of views and vistas come in in terms of keeping a beautiful and historically distinct urban design of a city.

Just imagine the same scenario happening behind the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Surely there would be an uproar. But the Parisians’ abstinence from the presence of skyscrapers in the “Paris proper” since the 1950s and having made their leaders implement building height laws in the area so as not to ruin the city’s visual character. Another closer example is Istanbul, Turkey, where three luxury apartments were ordered demolished by the country’s Council of State because it “photobombed” the scenic skyline of the place where the domes and spires of Ottoman temples and Byzantine buildings like the Hagia Sophia, define it.

Second, the issue actually shakes all of us up from deep slumber and insensitivity to coming up with realistic urban planning and design policies and more importantly, implementing them to the letter. In a recent documentary on local TV, a landscape architect lamented how majority of government leaders have little to zero sympathy towards maintaining and developing public open spaces. He said these spaces are supposed to be the “lungs” of a city, but their presence is continually being chewed up by more building constructions and paved parking lots. In the case of the Rizal monument and its location, the famed Luneta Park, the presence of Torre de Manila in the background creates a “wall” to what is supposedly an infinite view of the sky as a background to Rizal.

Cebuanos could somehow relate this to Fuente Osmeña in Cebu — it was a park feature introduced during the American colonial period, a vital urban element that stands in the boulevard that connected the Cebu Provincial Capitol to the city’s downtown area. At present, however, people seldom notice the connection, or worse, the presence of Fuente Osmeña as public open space, with all the tall buildings that have sprouted around the area.

As our cities and towns wait for carefully studied land use and urban design laws to force us to get some hold on how we plan, design and construct, let us appreciate what history has left us and embrace the beautiful spaces that surround us. All of these contribute to what we call as “spirit of place” where people can identify part of themselves and their history to every space in the city. Moreover, government leaders, private developers and the public must be always sensitive on how these spaces can be maintained or perhaps enhanced, so such spirit of place within the community will remain for the following generations even with all the development taking place.

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