Vertical urbanism in the Philippines
June 8, 2019 | By: Arch. FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR., FUAP (first published in The Manila Times last June 6, 2019)
AS of 2015, the population density of the National Capital Region reached 20,785 persons per square kilometer based on the 2015 Census of the Philippines Statistics Authority, which is three times that of Hong Kong’s and two times Singapore’s. Because cities in Metro Manila have adopted an urban sprawl type of development, the very rich are located close to the city, and business centers are surrounded by low-density housing that have prevented a healthier mix of income classes in the city. A lack of mixed-income housing has caused an imbalance in the daytime and nighttime population of Metro Manila’s CBDs. Employees who are priced out of the housing stock in CBDs travel each morning to work and are forced to spend hundreds of hours of their lives in traffic. This is the equivalent of 16 days per year stuck in traffic, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group. The preference toward car-oriented development in our cities is manifested by the dominance of roads and expressways rather than vertical, compact, and more self-sufficient city centers.
The resurgence of urban development through vertical urbanism will help alleviate rapid urbanization issues by providing more compact, high-rise residential towers for mixed-income employees. Adapting vertical urbanism will save on space, land and utilities. Makati currently holds the most number of tall buildings in the country. According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, Makati has 58 buildings that exceed 100 meters, followed by Taguig with 24 and Mandaluyong with 15. Makati is where the country’s forthcoming tallest building will be located, the Park Central North Tower along Makati Avenue, which will be completed in 2025. It is a two-tower residential structure right beside the Ayala Triangle that features various shops and restaurants. It will be within walking distance of the financial center and commercial hub of Makati.
Another CBD in Metro Manila is the Ortigas Center that was begun in the late 1960s. A former suburb, Ortigas Center has risen over the years to be among the most important CBDs in the country, covering three main cities: Mandaluyong, Quezon and Pasig. Its major streets are lined with vertical mixed-use buildings that are easily accessible and walkable for residents and employees. Last but not least is the Bonifacio Global City (BGC), located at the cusp of Taguig. According to Pronove Tai International Property Consultants, a real estate service company, BGC has surpassed Ortigas Center as the second largest financial district in the country with 1.9 million square meters of office space, overtaking Ortigas Center’s 1.6 million square meters. What was once part of a military base has emerged as a premier business and residential center with a wide range of corporate offices, residential condominiums, schools, shopping centers, and recreational facilities. It is the home of the third tallest building in the Philippines, the Grand Hyatt Metrocenter. These CBDs greatly benefit from vertical urbanism because it allows the synergy of the basic components of an economic hub — interconnecting places to work, live, learn, shop, dine and play that are cross-generational, mixed-income and mixed-use with 24-hour cycle activity centers.
The rise of vertical planned communities is not merely a trend. In some ways, it is a return to what many see as the very best element of community design (Kettler, 2005). One such example is the Rockwell Center, which used to be the site of an industrial power plant that was closed in 1994 to give way to the redevelopment initiated by Lopez Inc. At the time, there was no land use zoning category for mixed-use developments in Philippine zoning laws. There was only a provisionary category under the law for “special use” in place. Rockwell was the first development of its kind in the Philippines intended for mixed-use. We at Palafox were privileged to lead the master planning of Rockwell Center to be a self-sustaining community where key facilities are all within walking distance. Rockwell was conceptualized to be a garden setting, near the major transport artery of Metro Manila’s EDSA and two major CBDs, Makati and Ortigas. As such, Rockwell Center is the first master-planned integrated development in the Philippines that set standards for future inner-city developments. The initial master plan was focused on the first five towers: Luna Gardens, Hidalgo Place, Rizal Tower, Amorsolo East, and Amorsolo West. The Rizal Tower, in particular, stands out due to its elliptical footprint, making it a landmark in the Makati skyline.
Vertical urbanism saves space, and more of it can be allotted for green areas and public spaces. We hope to see more tall buildings adopting sustainable architecture and green design that provide more green spaces that will contribute to a healthier environment for all. Compact, tall, mixed-use structures infused with networks of gardens and spaces that enhance people’s connection with nature encourage people to walk or bike more. These developments must not be limited to Metro Manila only. I strongly support planning and establishing urban centers applying sustainable vertical urbanism in other regions. It was a great opportunity for us at Palafox to help design developments like the Pampanga Megalopolis in cooperation with the provincial government of Pampanga, the Comprehensive Master Development Plan and Business Plan of Clark Freeport Zone with the Clark Development Authority, and the Metro Davao Urban Master Plan with the Mindanao Development Authority. By implementing these plans, we can attract developments to the rural areas and unlock the immense potential these provinces have in creating an equitable and a sustainable future for everyone.
As architects and urban planners, we have put forward recommendations to change land use zoning, thereby increasing densities in floor area ratios, building heights, and deed restrictions to the government, clients, landowners, developers, and their associations of land and building owners. We believe these recommendations are crucial in creating progressive and well-planned communities that can spur urban renewal and challenge the existing trend for urban living in our country.