Built Tradition of the Aduana Building in Cebu City

We are all familiar with Cebu City for its well-known landmarks, like the forts, churches, and balay nga tisa. Alongside these Spanish-influenced structures are civic buildings and infrastructures established during American rule in the early 20th century. One of these is the former Customs House. Today’s #BuiltTraditionThursday presents a declared National Cultural Treasure standing along Cebu City’s harbor area, the Aduana also known as the Malacañan sa Sugbo.

During the American occupation, the Philippine Commission under Act. No. 1495 promulgated the appointment of William Edward Parsons as the consulting architect, which he occupied from 1905 to 1914. He was tasked to supervise the realization of the development plans of Daniel Burnham for the cities of Manila and Baguio. In addition, Parsons is in charge of designing all public buildings in Manila and in the provinces. Later in his career as an urban planner, he developed a plan for the City of Cebu. Central to the plan is a main axis that connects important civic buildings, one of which is the Customs House. 

Located at the port area of Cebu City near Fort San Pedro and Plaza Independencia, the Aduana or Customs House sits on a reclaimed land area along the harbor. The Aduana, built in 1910, is designed by Parsons in a rectangular plan with an open courtyard. The structure has two levels with a deck, where a small tower sits in the center, offering a panoramic view of the rest of Cebu City and the Mactan island farther south. The monumental, symmetrical, and geometric edifice is similar to its contemporaries from the same era, which can be seen in most of the country’s cities and some municipalities. 

Built of reinforced concrete, the Aduana embodies American-influenced architecture while incorporating local building traditions. The use of capis shells in place of glass for window panels, which fill expansive interiors with soft pearlescent light, is a distinctive Filipino design element. The interiors are shielded from the elements by canopies, which crown the large windows and supported by metal corbels decorated with fleur-de-lis. Ornate grille work decorates the main portal to the building, the balcony balustrade, and corbels, typical in Parson’s design.

The Aduana Building housed the Customs office until 2004 when it was turned into Malacañan sa Sugbo, the official residence of the President in the Visayas. In 2013, the building sustained damages and was rendered unsafe after the magnitude 7.2 earthquake. In December 2019, the Cebu Port Authority (CPA) and the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) entered a usufruct deed to allow the latter to use the building and to facilitate the building’s preservation and restoration.

Guided by Parson’s design, the Aduana is currently undergoing careful restoration to newly function as the National Museum of the Philippines – Central Visayas Regional Museum. The former Customs House continues its prominence as we anticipate it as a new venue for showcasing the Cebu island’s endearing history and culture.

Text and illustration by Ar. Marie Bernadette Balaguer, Photos by Ar. Armando J. Arciaga III


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Hines, T. S. (1972, February). The Imperial Façade: Daniel H. Burnham and American Architectural Planning in the Philippines. Pacific Historical Review, Volume 41 No. 1, pp. 33-53. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3638224 Retrieved 10 January 2023.

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