THE great pyramid of Giza once stood for centuries as the tallest building in the world. It became a monument for a civilization that reaches to the heavens and to the stars. But today, our skyscrapers dwarf the great pyramid. With new technology and engineering feat, the men of this century attempt to defy the pull of gravity and reach for the sky with concrete, glass, and steel. Though the ambition is different from our ancient one, the 21st century is driven by necessity. Le Corbusier puts it as marrying the worldly necessities of men in function and form that radiate art and inspiration.
For the next thirty years, population in the Philippines would approximately grow by upwards of fifty million people and there would be a need of two hundred new cities to accommodate them. With 70% of the population projected to live in the urban areas by 2050, the resurgence of the skyscraper city is one of the most important discussions in architecture, engineering, and planning today.
This week, leading experts in the field of architecture and planning around the world are meeting in New York to discuss vertical growth of our cities while ensuring livability, resilience, and high quality of life, all within the theme “Global Interchanges: Resurgence of the Skyscraper City.” While the event is organized by the Council of Tall Building and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), it is a concern that transcends everyone especially the urban dwellers. As CTBUH Fellow and Regional Representative, I am also a participant in the discussions and share my vision plan in the Philippine setting.
The intention of our buildings
With the new challenges that our society face today, the way we think about our buildings should be changed. A building is not simply a structure; it is rather a community living in a given space while ensuring a high quality of life. Instead of hundreds of square meters being allotted to a family of six, a building multiplies space to accommodate hundreds of families, thousands of workers in office spaces, and leisure centers below that distress the members and provide an avenue for other necessities. Buildings in New York had added another feature to this building community, which include urban farming, water collection, and energy generation.
A building efficiently multiplies space enough to fit a thriving community. This outlook is called mixed-use development. It transforms the skyscraper from being merely a monument to the actual living quarters that people need.
As 19th century art patron John Ruskin proposed, we seek two things of our buildings. First, we want them to shelter us. Second, we want them to speak to us– to speak to us of whatever we find important and need to be reminded of. In the words of Winston Churchill, “We shape our buildings, therefore they shape us.”
Manila Megalopolis 2021
For the past years, I have been sharing my vision for Manila Megalopolis, and the rest of the nation. It began as my term paper while I was studying at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. It aims to address the distortions of poverty, unemployment, urban blight, population congestion, and numerous aesthetically offensive districts within the national capital. The plan hopes to create a proactive rehabilitation-cum-development initiative that can span several growth decades. This vision plan has also been chosen by the CTBUH to be featured in their 2015 New York Conference, as part of the collection of state-of-the-art, multidisciplinary papers on tall buildings and sustainable cities.
The plan calls for a change in our mindset on how we look at our cities, our buildings, and our streets. They are for people. Then, we should change how we orient our roads from being car-centric to a community that walks and bikes, making them pedestrian-centric and human-centric. One of the reasons our city is filled with dirt and irritating traffic is because we made cars a necessity. We live far from the places where we work, mostly because we have no other option. Many of our fellow Filipinos who make up the bulk of the work force are themselves priced out of the housing market near the Central Business Districts (CBDs). After these deceivingly simple steps, then we can reimagine our buildings, a building that is not concentrated in one function but by multiple.
Metro Manila and the rest of the Philippines can well expect major transformations. It can become a city that is breathable, clean, and pleasant. One of the major benefits of these phases is that it actually reduces carbon emissions and conserves enough space for agricultural produce. The problem right now is that our developments have sprawled without order, and in effect created a weak chain.
The way we use our land is so wasteful that traffic alone costs us about two billion pesos daily. If we are to accommodate the challenges of the 21st century, Metropolitan Manila is currently not ready for the task.
We can be part of the top 20 economies of the world by 2021 if we can immediately start to change. Let’s hope that in the 2016 elections, we elect leaders who will promote good governance, good planning, good design, political will, and visionary leadership.