Mandarin Oriental Hotel: Out of business, soon out of sight?

Kim Arveen Patria
Kim Arveen Patria
Yahoo Southeast Asia Newsroom
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Makati City (Photo from Mandarin Oriental's Facebook page)

There was an outpouring of nostalgia Tuesday, especially among Manila’s high society, as a famed five-star hotel shut its doors. But this only marks the beginning of the drama yet to unfold.

Soon, Mandarin Oriental, a hotel that stood at the heart of Makati’s central business district since 1975, may not only be out of business but also completely out of sight, replaced by more modern structures.

The hotel building, designed by national artist for architecture Leandro Locsin, is among those that may be demolished to make way for a planned redevelopment by property giant Ayala Land Inc. (ALI).

ALI said the site of Mandarin Oriental, as well as the Intercontinental Hotel, another building designed by Locsin, will be part of the new complex to be built around Makati’s Ayala Triangle Gardens.

International hotel chain Mandarin Oriental Group, for its part, confirmed in a Facebook post that it “will return to the city in 2020, with a new luxurious 275-room Mandarin Oriental hotel.”

Locsin’s legacy

The possible demolition of the Mandarin Oriental and the Intercontinental Hotel has alarmed the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS), which called the Makati hotels “two of the finest works” of Locsin.

“The impending demolition of the Manila Mandarin staggers the mind that still reels at the loss of the old Ayala Museum and of Benguet Center,” said architect Dominic Galicia of the HCS’s advisory council.

He was referring to Locsin-designed buildings that have already been torn down: The Ayala Museum, on whose site a modern building now stands, and the Benguet Center in Ortigas, the site of an SM project.

“Perhaps one may argue that we need not preserve every structure that Mr. Locsin built, but must we destroy his best work? Did Mr. Locsin have to build so well, and plant those images so deeply in our imagination, so that it is only there that they would eventually abide?” Galicia added.

Protected by law

HCS has also argued that buildings designed by Locsin are considered “important cultural properties” and must be protected under Republic Act 10066 or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.

The law says that unless otherwise declared by the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA), all works by a national artist and a manlilikha ng bayan are important cultural properties.

RA 10066 consequently imposes punishments on whoever intentionally “destroys, demolishes, mutilates or damages” any important cultural property, among other properties protected by the law.

ALI has however said plans for the Makati hotels “are still being studied at this point, and with the architectural consultancy work of LVLP in the case of the Mandarin Oriental site."

LVLP stands for Leandro V. Locsin Partners, the architectural firm now led by the national artist's son, Leandro “Andy” Locsin, Jr. The firm was behind the redesigned structure that now houses Ayala Museum.

Lost ‘reference point’

Plans to demolish the Locsin buildings, an expert said, reflect a lack of appreciation for culture and heritage among Filipinos. This problem, he added, could be rooted in a “warped” understanding of history.

“Even in our school curriculum, history seems to take daily life for granted,” said Rene Luis Mata, an architecture professor at the University of the Philippines and a member of HSC’s advisory council.

“For many Filipinos, unless an important event in history happened in one place, it cannot be a historical site,” he said in an interview with Yahoo Philippines, lamenting the fate of old landmarks.

“Why can’t younger Filipinos appreciate buildings like the Mandarin Oriental, for instance? Because they don’t think it’s a historical structure. They don’t identify with it,” Mata went on to say.

The architect tagged landmarks that have woven themselves into areas as “reference points.” Tampering with such, he said, impacts not only the landscape but also the way of life in the area.

Other options

Asked to comment on claims that Mandarin Oriental has to be demolished because it is no longer structurally sound, Mata said, “That’s bull. You can always retrofit a building without tearing it down.”

Mata’s colleague Galicia, for his part, said there is a “more sophisticated approach of adaptive reuse, or of re-using existing buildings, in whole or in part, as the context of new construction.”

In the case of Mandarin Oriental, Galicia said an option could be to use the Locsin building as the base of a new and taller tower that blends with ALI’s design for its redeveloped Makati complex.

“Imagine a state-of-the art steel-and-glass skyscraper, translucent, transparent, light, soaring above the stolidity of Locsin’s Mandarin. It could be one of the most sophisticated buildings on earth,” Galicia said.

A 1978 photo of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Makati City (Photo from Mandarin Oriental's Facebook page)