AN IMPORTANT advisory body to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has passed a resolution stating that the construction of the multistory Torre de Manila violates the visual integrity of the Rizal Monument and urges “all national authorities of the Philippines … to develop and implement conservation measures for the protection of the … monument and its setting.”
The resolution was passed last November during the 18th general assembly in Florence, Italy, of the International Committee on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), says conservation architect Augusto Villalón, president emeritus of Icomos Philippines.
Icomos is an international nongovernment organization that is the sole adviser to the Unesco for heritage conservation and protection. It is an interdisciplinary network of 9,500 members, among them architects, urban planners, historians, archeologists, anthropologists, engineers, tourism planners, lawyers and landscape architects.
The Philippines is one of the 110 national committees of Icomos.
In its Resolution 18GA 2014/31, Protection of Cultural Heritage in Relation to Real-Estate Development: The Rizal Monument, Manila, Philippines, the Florence resolution notes “that the monument in the City of Manila to the Philippine National Hero, Dr. José Rizal, whose remains are buried in it and near to the scene of his execution in Luneta Park, has been an enduring, honored, and iconic site for all Filipinos ever since it was inaugurated on 20 December 1913…”
The resolution also notes “with grave concern that construction has begun on a 46-story residential building located 400 meters from Rizal Park, which may significantly compromise key sightlines of the Rizal Monument and could have detrimental impacts on the heritage values and on the setting of this national monument.”
Thus, Icomos “encourages all national authorities of the Philippines to work in cooperation with Icomos Philippines to develop and implement conservation measures for the protection of the Rizal Monument and its setting.”
Villalón explains the Icomos position:
“The Icomos position is that the Torre de Manila building violates provisions on landscape and setting stated in Republic Act No. 10066, the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, and international principles stated in the Unesco World Heritage Convention, Icomos Charter of Venice, Australia Icomos Burra Charter and others, specifically provisions regarding the setting of historic monuments, which include guidelines on protecting the visual integrity and landscape settings of monument with regard to skylines and silhouettes that form the backdrop of a monument when seen from key vantage points.”
The Rizal Monument was declared a National Monument by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (which cleared the construction of Torre de Manila) and a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum.
Even if Torre de Manila is located at a distance to the back of the monument, “its height volume disrespects the Rizal Monument by visually usurping its importance,” Villalón says.
“The skyscraper shifts the visual focus away from the monument, seriously diminishing the harmony of the visual ensemble that gives eminence of the memorial to our National Hero, and destroys the visual integrity of the skyline and silhouette that form the monument’s backdrop when seen from key vantage points.”
Villalón concludes: Torre de Manila is “serious visual disruption to the solemnity of the Rizal Monument and, therefore, must be removed.”
Broad visual setting
The broad view of the visual setting of a monument or a site is well within international conservation principles, Villalón says.
“Unesco mandates that all visual obstructions and distractions are to be strictly managed whether these are within the site’s core or protective buffer zone, or even if the obstruction or threat is at a distance far removed from the buffer zone boundary,” he says.
Icomos gives a number of examples in Asia and Europe wherein high-rise development projects in the vicinity of heritage sites were either cancelled or scaled down, the most notable of which would be the case in Istanbul, Turkey. (See related story on this page.)
International standards are set in the Unesco World Heritage Convention and Icomos Charter of Venice.
The Venice charter’s concept of historical monument includes its setting.
Villalón also notes that the NHCP’s own Guidelines on Monuments Honoring National Heroes, Illustrious Filipinos and Other Personages cites the Venice charter.
“Furthermore,” he says, “both the Icomos Charter of Venice and the Australia Icomos Burra Charter specify that the setting of monuments goes beyond the monument itself to embrace the urban setting in which it is found, and that the sites of monuments must be the object of special care in order to safeguard their integrity, to ensure that they are cleared and presented in a seemly manner.
“These are international conservation guidelines likewise violated by the Torre de Manila construction.”
Visual integrity, Villalón adds, can also be taken to mean the capacity of heritage to maintain visual distinctiveness and visually demonstrate its relationship with its surroundings, a relationship “between a historic, heritage monument and its surroundings that the Torre de Manila does not demonstrate.”
“The visual-integrity criteria formalized during the Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, meeting in 2012 and the Agra Expert Meetings in 2013 empowered Unesco to take a strong stand on the removal of visual encroachment on heritage sites,” Villalón says. “A similar stand should be taken against Torre de Manila. ”