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Towers of power: Makati as financial center

The GT Tower makes a clear point that the company it represents has reached the top.

All fine architectural values are human values, else not valuable. — Architect Frank Lloyd Wright

In almost all great cities, the grand edifices in th2e central business district (CBD) usually showcase the commercial and aesthetic ambitions of each society’s top business leaders, realty developers and architectural visionaries. In the Philippines, that financial center has started to move since the 1950s from Manila’s historic riverside Binondo district to the Zobel Ayala clan’s formerly worthless hacienda Makati.

For centuries from the colonial era up to the post-World War II years, the financial and trading hub of the Philippines was downtown Manila in the south bank of the Pasig River called Binondo. In the mid-19th century, my paternal ancestors who were lumber pioneers had what was already considered a minor landmark in that era, a three-story office building.

One of the earliest contributions of Ayala to urban renewal came in 1888, when forebear Jacobo Zobel Zangoniz pioneered Manila’s first public transport of the tramcar. This writer recalls seeing old photos of beautiful pre-war Manila’s Binondo, its iconic church, its buildings like the luxurious Hotel de Oriente where Jose Rizal once stayed in Room 22, also the elegant La Insular Cigar and Cigarette Factory in the early 1900s. 

The 1876 headquarters of Ayala was a two-story building in Calle Echague in Quiapo, then a distillery started by the Zobel Ayala clan’s Roxas ancestors and producing Ginebra San Miguel. This site and the distillery were in 1924 sold to the Chinese immigrant “Alcohol King” Carlos Palanca (Tan Guinlay) of La Tondeña.

In the early 20th-century Manila, the old headquarters of the then church-controlled Bank of the Philippine Islands was across the elegant six-story Mariano Uy Chaco building of a hardware taipan — now owned by Philtrust Bank — standing near the foot of Jones Bridge and near then fashionable Escolta. The Philippine version of Wall Street in the colonial era were Juan Luna St. and Dasmariñas St., with my paternal grandfather’s second-cousin “Lumber King” Dee C. Chuan moving his China Bank headquarters from Calle Rosario (now Quintin Paredes St.) to a new landmark Neo-classical building exactly in that corner location in 1924. 

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After the horrific Japanese military occupation, the formerly worthless swampland Makati hacienda of their Roxas forebears was developed by the Zobel Ayala clan as a masterplanned community under the dynamic leadership of in-law Joseph McMicking, who was then managing partner of Ayala. This audacious project helped revive the clan’s fortunes as well as strengthened their reputation as the Philippines’ foremost realty developer.

The visionary 25-year Makati master plan was unveiled in 1948 and Forbes Park was launched in 1949 with lands sold at only P9 pesos per square meter. The Ayala firm developed its lands with a new strategy that corrected the deficiencies of pre-war Manila’s urban developments, taking a new policy “for long range planning with the deliberate purpose of turning Makati into a model integrated industrial, commercial and residential area.”

Ayala ensured strict compliance to development regulations by lot buyers in the new district. Unlike the government’s poorly planned old Manila, Ayala imposed that all commercial buildings in the original sites along Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas not occupy more than 40 percent of their lot, with the rest allocated for parking, service and landscaping.

Unlike the eyesores along modern-day EDSA Highway, billboards were not allowed in Makati and building signages were also strictly controlled. Utilities were buried underground, with roads, drainage and sewers provided even before the first buildings were erected. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, dozens of concrete, glass and steel edifices rose in this upstart new district. Next to Ayala Avenue was Paseo de Roxas with more buildings rising in the 1960s and 1970s, then followed developments in enclaves called Legazpi and Salcedo “villages.”

TOP TEN FIRST TOWERS

IN MAKATI (1960-1980) 

The Ayala House, 1960, designed by future National Artist Leandro V. Locsin

Insular Life Building, 1960, designed by architect Cesar Concio

DBP Bldg on Buendia, 1965, designed by architect Gabriel Formoso

Doña Narcisa Building, 1965, designed by Gabriel Formoso

PAL Bldg. (later JAKA Bldg), 1970, designed by architect Jose Zaragoza

San Miguel Building, Ayala Ave. corner Paseo de Roxas, designed by Jose Zaragoza

Manila Bank Building, Ayala Ave, 1968, designed by Gabriel Formoso

Makati Stock Exchange Building, Ayala Avenue, 1971, designed by Leandro V. Locsin, National Artist for Architecture, former Ayala Corp. headquarters.

First National City Bank Building (later the Citibank Bldg.), 1975, designed also by Leandro Locsin was the tallest building in Makati in the 1970s at 18 floors.

Bank of America Tower, 1979, designed by Gabriel Formoso

Near the emergent Makati central business district were suburban residential communities called “villages,” such as Bel Air, San Lorenzo, Forbes and Dasmariñas. Next came the rise of modern residential towers called condominiums.

The real estate boom years of the 1980s and 1990s witnessed the mushrooming of new taller and modern skyscrapers reshaping the Makati skyline, among the most outstanding landmark towers of which are: 

Tower One by Leandro V. Locsin and Partners with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP, headquarters of the Ayala Corporation and primary trading floor of the Philippine Stock Exchange. Thirty-five floors above ground, it was originally planned to be the first of three towers for the Ayala Triangle. This writer is eagerly waiting what Ayala Land has planned for the two more new and taller towers in this prime land at the heart of Makati, which I hope will become iconic architecture landmarks to symbolize 21st century Philippine progress.

Pacific Star Bldg., 1989, designed by Gabriel Formoso

BPI Head Office on Ayala Avenue corner Paseo de Roxas, 1982, designed by architect E.L. Mariano

Philamlife Tower at 1996 Ayala Avenue, 48 stories, designed by William Coscolluela

The Enterprise Center, Ayala Avenue, 40 stories, 1999, designed by Hong Kong-based Wong & Tung International Limited with local firm ARADS & Associates. Owned and developed by KSA Realty Corporation, a joint venture between Malaysian taipan Robert Kuok Hock-Nien (majority shareholder), ING, and the Zobel Ayala clan’s cousins, the Sorianos of Anscor Group. It is currently the 10th tallest building in Makati, and the 18th tallest building in the Philippines.

GT International Tower, Ayala Avenue corner H. V. de la Costa Street, developed by Federal Land of the Metrobank Group, completed in 2001, inaugurated in 2004, designed by  GF & Partners Architects and Recio + Casas Architects, in cooperation with Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. At forty-seven stories, this is the second tallest building in Philippines. “G.T.” are the intials of the tower’s owner, Metrobank Group/Toyota taipan George S.K. Ty.

Petron Megaplaza, Senator Gil Puyat (formerly Buendia) Avenue, built 1998 by Megaworld of young self-made taipan Andrew Tan. It rises 45 stories and is now the Philippines’ third tallest tower. The building was designed by top architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP. Construction works was undertaken by D.M. Consunji, Inc., whose founder David Consunji once told me that one of his first projects was the UP Chapel in the 1950s and got credit for construction supplies from my late dad’s sawmill. DMCI built many of Makati’s towers, from the old Rizal Theater, DBP, FGU in Ayala Avenue to Shangri-La Hotel Makati.

LKG Tower on Ayala Avenue was built by copra taipan Luy Kim Guan’s International Copra Export Corporation (ICEC) Land Corporation, and was designed by the renowned architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, in cooperation with local firm Recio + Casas Architects.

PBCom Tower, 2000, designed by GF & Partners Architects, in cooperation with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP. Located at Ayala Avenue corner Rufino Street, it is currently the tallest tower in the Philippines since 2000.

RCBC Plaza, 2002, designed by architect William Coscolluela, developed by the family of Malayan Insurance taipan Alfonso Yuchengco in partnership with the Singaporean government.

The low-key yet wealthy privately-held Zuellig Group (founded in pre-war Manila in the early 20th century) is now constructing a 33-story, P7 billion tower at the corner of Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue with the finest environmentally-sound and energy-efficient features, with William Coscoluella as lead architect. Scheduled to open in 2012, the project had its groundbreaking this year led by 92-year-old Manila-born patriarch Dr. Stephen Zuellig and guests President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former President Ramos, John Gokongwei, Jaime Zobel de Ayala, Oscar Lopez, Teresita Sy-Coson, Washington SyCip, and others.

The Zuellig family’s green tower project is a clear indication of the future and also a challenge to other developers to think beyond just constructing the tallest towers but also the most innovative in efficiency and the most trailblazing in architectural designs. The Zuellig paradigm is the way of the future for many new investors, as well as established locators in Makati CBD renovating and upgrading their properties.

Stalwarts of the Makati Commercial Estate Association (MACEA), the organization of all building owners and operators, told The Philippine STAR they are spearheading the upgrading of Makati. Ayala Avenue is being spruced up and the pedestrian and traffic system further rationalized to 21st-century global standards.

The Makati CBD is still the preferred address for the country’s top banks and businesses with their soaring towers of power and prestige, maturing in the last half century yet remaining vibrant and accommodating of new and expanding enterprises.

What are the secrets to Makati’s success which should ideally be emulated by other urban centers throughout the Philippines, and now also being replicated by Ayala Land in Bonifacio Global City and its new southern project called Nuvali in Laguna? A dynamic master plan with visionary development directions that ensure rising long-term value of property, controlled development, setting high standards of architecture, promoting nonstop improvements and continuous upgrades, balancing modern concrete-steel towers with the best of leisure, nature and culture.

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This is the fourth article in a 12-part series in The Philippine STAR in collaboration with Ayala Land.  “Perspectives” chronicles the success formula of urban development and progress, and gives readers a glimpse of the important elements in community development.

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