The potential of brownfield development for PH cities



WITH the rapid urbanization of cities in the Philippines, creating a balanced development becomes a gargantuan challenge. Planning and implementing proper land uses is more important than ever. In Metro Manila alone, we see the nice skylines of the Makati CBD, Fort Bonifacio Global City, Ortigas Center, and Manila Bay. These are surrounded by gated communities and military camps that reduce the accessibility of major thoroughfares. Moreover, employees working within these business districts are priced out of housing near their places of work. This results in an average of three to four hours’ travel time to and from work per person, which could have been easily spent with family or other productive activities instead.

Gated communities and military camps in Metro Manila might have been the right land use at the right time 50 years ago, but today, they are the wrong land use at the wrong time. At present, and in preparation for the future, these lands should accommodate higher density developments. Instead of just four families in one hectare of land, the same area can accommodate up to 200 families through more compact and high-rise developments.

Along with redeveloping gated communities and military camps, another way of conserving land is to redevelop brownfields, or lots that were previously developed or built upon such as factories, power plants, and gasoline stations. By definition, a brownfield is an “abandoned, idled, or underused industrial and commercial property that has been taken out of productive use as a result of actual or perceived risks from environmental contamination (Government Institutes, 1998).” Instead of building on land reserved for much needed parks and open spaces that serve as “lungs of the city,” brownfields could be cleaned up and redeveloped into more suitable mixed-use development, integrating places to live, work, play, shop, dine, and worship, among others. Brownfield redevelopment is done through a series of processes that includes a detailed assessment of the site’s economic viability, historical data, and environmental analysis, etc. Clean-up may include environmental remediation to ensure that the redeveloped brownfield will be safe for habitation.

Learning from Rockwell Center
The Rockwell Center, which used to be a power plant, is an example of brownfield redevelopment in the Philippines. Indeed, Rockwell is the first master-planned integrated development in the country. We took inspiration from Copley Place in Boston, Embarcadero San Francisco, Canary Wharf London, Pacific Place Hong Kong and of course the Rockefeller Center New York.

The challenge was to transform a power plant into a functional site. The other challenge was to change its land use from an industrial power plant into a first-class, mixed-use development, which was not yet within our zoning standards at the time. These were new challenges and the positive element was our client, the late Eugenio Lopez Jr. “Geny” Lopez gave us a free hand in applying the best practices in architecture and planning in the Rockwell project. I remember the options we had: To do nothing and just sell the property was the basic option; the second was to design two-story residences similar to the ones found in the adjacent villages; and the third was to make high-rise, mixed-use development, live-work-play-shop-dine-worship in a walkable community, proposing about 15 variations of urban design and architectural concepts.

Moreover, the client allowed us to have more generous open space, so the Rockwell plan had 49 percent open space with only 51 percent saleable area. Indeed, it was a groundbreaking to plan for mixed-use development integrating a place to live, a place to work, shop, and dine, a place to learn, a place of worship – all within a walkable community. So, if you live at Rockwell, all urban amenities for modern living are within reach. In this community, you park and walk.

We started the master plan in 1992, its architecture in 1994 and its construction in 1996. This entailed work on the overall master plan and the concept plans for all the buildings, conceptual and urban design work up to the schematic design development and working drawings of the first five towers: Luna Gardens, Hidalgo Place, Forbes Tower, Amorsolo East and Amorsolo West.

Through the use of different shapes and different forms, we were able to create a dialogue among buildings within Rockwell, from the high to the low rise, projecting the attractiveness of the site through generous spaces in between buildings. A panoramic view framing the Makati and the Ortigas areas, Pasig River, Laguna Lake and the Manila Bay sunset from all points of Rockwell dramatizes the centrality of its location. These resonate lessons learned from the history of architecture which teaches the creation of dialogue in the design of structures. Moreover, the architectural vocabulary of projects, an achievement in Rockwell, should reflect the best practices in the world in a Philippine urban setting.

While some may argue that redeveloping brownfields are more expensive than building on raw land, the success of the Rockwell Center tells otherwise. Brownfields are usually located in sites that already have access to roads and transportation as well as readily available infrastructure for water, electricity, and sewage. These advantages should be considered instead of building on raw land. With ingenuity, good planning, good design, and effective collaboration, we can make these underutilized land productive again and, at the same time, regain green and open spaces for our cities.


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