Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of being one of three speakers at a Zoom webinar sponsored by the Ayala Heritage Library and the US Embassy in the Philippines. I spoke about the urban history of Makati, while Noelle Rodriguez spoke on Zamboanga City, and Prof. Meloy Mabunay presented Iloilo City’s colorful past.
Close to a thousand people attended the two-hour event. The Q & A section elicited hundreds of questions and comments. Who says urban history does not interest anyone?
I enjoyed presenting Makati, especially the 1960s-1980s, because I shopped at the commercial center as a kid there, and I worked in the district from the late 1970s through to the 1980s. I even lived for a spell in a condo in the late ’80s.
The 1960s was an exciting time for the developers of modern Makati, as well as for those who set up offices, building modern structures that were the best examples of modern Filipino architecture of the day.
The architects who created this new district included the likes of Leandro Locsin, Carlos Arguelles, Gabriel Formoso, Cesar Concio, Jose Zaragoza, Angel Nakpil, William Conscolluela, as well as the landscape architect IP Santos. Locsin, Zaragoza, Nakpil and Santos would later be named National Artists, not in small part due to their work in Makati.
Many of these architects would also move their offices to the district. I worked for Cesar Concio for a brief period and for IP Santos for four years. I always marveled at the pace of construction in the district as seen from our drafting rooms and offices.
The district became the modern face, not just of Makati, which was still just a town of Rizal Province, but of greater Manila. Ayala Avenue became the Wall Street of the capital and its skyscrapers (albeit short by today’s standards) became the backdrop of many pictorials. Fashion shoots and advertisements featured Makati landmarks as backdrops to lend an air of progress and sophistication.
Ayala and Paseo de Roxas Avenues, where we worked, were then strictly zoned as offices. Each building was only allowed one cafeteria or restaurant to service its occupants and visitors. I remember that we had to bring packed lunches or otherwise walk all the way to the Makati Commercial Center for food. These eventually led to the rise of jollijeeps, or our ’70s equivalent of the food truck, parked behind buildings and swarmed by everyone except executives of companies.
The commercial center was the site of many memories. My favorite place there was Rizal Theater, where I watched Disney flicks and the first Star Wars. Liela’s restaurant on the ground floor of the theater served the best arroz ala Cubana in the world. Next to the theater I loved the bookstores: Erewhon, the Philippine Education Company, Goodwill, and eventually National Book Store.
The Makati Supermarket was the place for groceries and spaghetti. I was never able to eat at Sulu Restaurant (designed by the Mañosa Brothers), but it was a visual and culinary landmark for everyone.
Rustans’ Mies van der Rohe-like department store designed by architect Jose Sala was an architectural gem, although I could not afford to buy anything there in the ’70s as my salary was a mere P600 a month.
Of course we all enjoyed the commercial center’s landscape malls, a creation of National Artist for Landscape Architecture IP Santos, whom I worked for in the late 1970s. I came into that office as the central Glorietta and the final phases of the outdoor malls were completed around the Quad and SM buildings.
The success of the commercial buildings on the two main avenues of Makati led to Salcedo and Legaspi villages being converted into mixed-use sections, when originally they were intended just as residential zones. This mix of uses —residential condominiums, offices, and eventually more restaurants and bistros — led to more vibrancy in the district from the 1990s onwards.
The accepted strategy of development today, even in business districts, is a mix of uses and more amenities at the ground and lower levels. My professional involvement with this evolution had been fairly constant since the late 1990s when MACEA, the local building owner’s association, retained my firm to design the streetscapes of the district.
Makati is today chock full of real skyscrapers pushing densities and heights four to five times the pioneer structures of the 1960s. However, it has improved its mobility systems to allow for full pedestrian circulation with elevated, underground and sidewalk systems that are now at par with cities like Singapore and Hong Kong. Additional greenery and landscape enhancements have also been constant. Like in progressive cities elsewhere, all streets in Makati have trees.
Makati is a model for urban development in the country, but the best lesson it offers to other Philippine cities is that this urbanity must constantly evolve and improve based on what people, and not just cars and buildings, need.
The next 50 years looks even more exciting for Makati.