MAKATI CITY, November 30, 2002 (STAR) by Paulo Alcazaren - Writing the feature on the Architectural Club last week brought back memories of Makati. I belong to that generation of young urban professionals who started working there, instead of starting out in one of the older districts of Manila. This was the late ’70s and by then, the locus of business had shifted to the rising towers of modern Makati. It was a drastic change from crowded-urban to sprawling-suburban. The change continues today, even as we look back to assess its influence on design, architecture and our daily lives.
The first change for most people was the commute. Suburban villages sprouted around old Manila and along EDSA. I lived in Baryo Kapitolyo, Pasig. It was a short commute compared to today. In 1978, it took about 15 minutes at rush hour. From the village, I turned left at Pioneer Street and into the Wrigley compound (which smelled agreeably of chewing gum) and continued down to turn left on EDSA. That’s when you would always find the first and only snag in the trip.
The jam was (and still is) at Guadalupe. The bridge had not been widened yet and the Guad (Guadalupe Commercial Center) added to the traffic. Crossing the bridge and driving uphill was still a bit pleasant with no billboards crowding out every inch of one’s field of vision. You could still see the statue of the Virgin. The view up the road was also clear until they built that monstrous Makati Eagle. I thought at first that it was going to be the base of a flyover, but I was mistaken. That massive landmark was to stay for another 20 years.
Paseo De Recuerdos
I normally made the next turn at Buendia (now Gil Puyat Avenue) turning left at the start of Paseo de Roxas. The landmark at that corner was Juan Nakpil’s round PNB building. This was one of the maestro’s last projects and was architecturally important, being one of the few modernist buildings of the era (in that geometry) – along with Locsin’s UP chapel, Otilio Arellano’s Philippine Pavilion and Jose Zaragoza’s Union Church in Legaspi Village. Sadly, both the PNB and the Union Church are now gone. The Union Church was replaced by a new facility (also round), but the PNB site is still a gaping hole, a physical memory lost.
Paseo de Roxas is one of my favorite Makati streets. It has wide tree-shaded sidewalks on both sides (although the Legaspi Village side was narrower). In the late ’70s, I worked for the famous landscape architect I.P. Santos, who had an office on the penthouse of the Dońa Narcisa Building. The atelier of Gabriel Formoso was our neighbor. He was also the architect of that elegant building, which I consider to be his best work. It was detailed exquisitely, with well-proportioned stairs and corridors, wide cantilevered sunshades and local stone for accent. It has now been replaced by a glass-and-steel structure that is more functional but less warm.
From that height, we gazed out at a growing Makati. Architects and landscape architects worked all days of the week including weekends. We had some entertainment, however, from the soccer matches played on Urgarte field across the road. Certain Saturday nights were also a treat, as on the way home in the evening, we would bump into the loveliest women in the city. They came with their "handsome" dates for a regular shindig at Patio Alba de Makati (which we would never hope of crashing because the affair was for same-sex-inclined couples). Ugarte is gone, Patio Alba has moved but the women (God, they were lovely!) will always be in our dreams.
Philippine Architecture At The Crossroads
Nearby was Ayala Avenue, the Wall Street of Manila. This was a change from the crowded streets of Binondo, the old business district. There was also more parking and less traffic than in Manila. But Ayala Avenue was not as friendly as Paseo de Roxas. There was less shade and traffic soon made walking less pleasant. Besides, the original design neglected to provide through-passages at mid-block for people to get to either Legaspi or Salcedo Villages on the other side of the "Wall." This was probably because the original plan was to limit the office buildings only to Ayala (planners had no idea how successful Makati would become).
The corner of Ayala and Paseo de Roxas avenues was the nexus of the CBD (Central Business District). These crossroads were defined by three notable pieces of Philippine architecture – Cesar Concio’s Insular Life Building, Jose Zaragoza’s BPI headquarters and the San Miguel Building (who’s architect I still have to trace). The Insular Life and San Miguel buildings provided auditoriums, which became alternative venues to Rizal Theater for plays and musicals (The Rep started at the Insular Life). Abueva’s mural lent a humanizing touch to the otherwise cold demeanor of Ayala Avenue.
The BPI was replaced by a building designed by Engracio L. Mariano, a noted architect whose good work has escaped the public’s notice. The San Miguel was replaced by a retro-deco twin tower designed by foreign architects and it seems that we will lose the Insular Life building, with its mural having made the flight to suburbia last year. (At least that major piece of art was saved.)
Seventies At The Center Makati
On suweldo days, we would walk down to the Makati Commerical Center to catch a movie at the Rizal Theater or have a meal or snack at Makati Supermarket (spaghetti), Dulcinea (chocolate y churros), Laila’s (arroz a la Cubana). If one had money, he went to the Sulu restaurant or the Jeepney Bar at Hotel Inter-Continental. Juan Nakpil’s Rizal Theater is now gone, replaced by the Makati Shangri-La Hotel, Dulcinea has moved and Laila’s turned into the Rizal Café and moved to Greenbelt. I miss the jeepneys at the Intercon (all that’s left are license plates and a small relief on the wall). What most people did not miss, however, was the real maddening jeepneys of central Manila.
The Makati Commercial Center (or the Center Makati, as it was renamed in the ’80s) was a great place to unwind and shop. The arcades in Old Escolta were already a distant memory. The new center’s different structures were clustered around and connected by a beautifully landscaped, outdoor pedestrian mall designed by I.P. Santos. You could walk from the Maranaw Mart past Sulu and the Makati Supermarket to the Glorietta and onward to Angela Arcade, Quad and finally the Hotel Inter-Continental Manila. Outdoor sculptures by Filipino artists lined the mall. There were fountains, outdoor cafes and yes, clean air.
There was some nightlife in Makati, although most of the wilder stuff was still in Malate and Roxas Boulevard. The Intercon provided the choice spot in those disco-fever days. Where else could one go except Where Else? Mini-skirted servers and multi-level, transparent dance floors made for great fun. More fun was to be had in smaller venues with minus-one entertainment. Karaoke was unheard of then, so DIY music was provided with a three-piece band to accompany many an inebriated man. Pasay Road (now Arnaiz) turned commercial and hosted a number of these bars and restaurants … and I miss the steamboat at Whistle Stop after a night out.
Flight From Blight
Makati changed many people’s lives. Work, leisure and suburban living in more salubrious settings were perceived and much appreciated results of Makati’s development. This flight from inner-city blight was welcome then. Today, the flight continues as urban blight has increased its perimeter to the bulwarks of Makati. The metropolis continues to spread wider and farther. This flight is now untenable from both environmental and social standpoints. Recalling Makati’s, and the whole metropolis’, development is not just an exercise in nostalgia.
We need to understand why and how a city grows and what factors will keep further urban growth contained or more properly and sustainably oriented in the future. We need to define and maintain acceptable levels of livability in the city as benchmarks for future development.
Memory is a vessel but it is also a source – of insight into our human (and increasingly urban) predicament.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
2002 by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS
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