(A slightly longer version of this story first appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Lifestyle section sometime in September 2012. This blogger was privileged enough to be the first journalist to get a tour of the Zuellig Building from its owner and designers.
(The building, which is probably one the most beautiful high rises in the Philippines today, was then undergoing finishing touches. This Thursday, November 8, it will formally open its doors to the public. President Aquino is expected to grace the event.—AYV)
THE 33-story Zuellig Building, the first high-rise office building to rise in Makati’s Central Business District in ten years, is almost finished. And this early, the structure is already making heads turn not for its height, but for its unique appearance.
With a total price tag of more than P7 billion, the seemingly floating glass tower at the corner of Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenues is also the first structure of its kind in the country to be pre-certified gold by the US Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
There have been other gold-certified LEED buildings in Metro Manila before, but none of them are high rises. Foremost examples are the British Embassy and Sun Life of Canada buildings at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.
Premium-grade office tower
Zuellig Building’s developers, Bridgebury Realty Corp., led by director Daniel Zuellig, chose to conform with the stringent standards imposed by LEED in the real estate company’s bid to create not only a premium-grade office tower, but also a green, sustainable building designed for the future.
“The requirements are pretty straightforward,” said Zuellig. “The challenge really is to do it right.”
Bridgebury hired the services of seasoned architect William Coscolluela, who, in turn, tapped New York-based Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) as his design consultant. Leighton Asia Ltd., an Australian firm, and Manila-based EA Aurelio Landscape Architects were also hired as contractor and landscape developer, respectively.
“Our design brief is quite simple,” said Zuellig. “We just want a very efficient office building. Apart from space efficiency, we want something that complies with the expectations of the 21st century, where sustainability is a big factor.”
In this regard, Coscolluela has been Bridgebury’s ultimate guide, “leading the way, giving us all the directions to get to where we are now,” Zuellig added.
Since the project’s groundbreaking in 2009, LEED auditors and consultants have been constantly monitoring the building’s progress by using an exacting point system that includes use of durable and sustainable materials, proper disposal of waste and adherence to world-class safety standards, among other measures.
Costlier and slower
“It’s a costlier and slower process,” said Zuellig, whose Swiss grandfather first travelled to the Philippines as a teenager and settled here for good a little over a century ago. “But it’s been worth it.”
In fact, Bridgebury could have done away with LEED’s exacting requirements, and simply build a sturdy, imposing and modern-looking building without an environmental body breathing down its neck.
Instead, it chose to do it the right way by installing, among other features, a network of underground sprinkler systems that uses gray or rainwater for watering plants and flushing toilets.
“Watering from above using an old-fashioned sprinkler system wastes a lot of water,” said landscape architect Efren Aurelio, president of EA Aurelio. “The water only tends to evaporate. And instead of allowing the water to simply seep through in different directions, we installed plastic receptacles underneath the soil to store some water. The plants’ roots have a way of absorbing them.”
Rather than make do with a cheaper variety of glass from China, Bridgebury, based on SOM’s recommendations, went for US-based Viracon’s more expensive sheets of double-glazed glass or curtain wall with a series of trademark ceramic-baked bamboo frits that run parallel from the building’s lower level up to its 33rd level.
These frits aren’t superficial stickers, as people viewing the building from the outside would normally assume. They’re baked during production and, thus, are integral to one of the double-glazed glass panels. But as Zuellig loved to point out, “they’re sophisticated stickers.”
“If you look at some of the glass made in China and Japan, they’re also good,” said the veteran Coscouella, whose more recent high-rise projects include the RCBC Plaza and Philamlife Tower, both in Makati. “But since this building is the first glass tower of its kind in the country, the owners wanted to do it right.”
It didn’t hurt that the frits, apart from being functional, impart the building with an organic aesthetic, which is quite apt for a growing Asian country like the Philippines.
“Asia is not only about China,” said Zuellig. “Aside for from getting gold pre-certification from LEED, we were also able to get the project recognized by MIPIM in the office building category.”
As Zuellig described it, MIPIM, a French-based body, is like the Oscars of the property development industry. With this development, Zuellig Building is already assured of a place in one of MIPIM’s categories: Best Office and Business Development.
“We’re in the top three, together with an entry each from Hong Kong and mainland China,” said Zuellig. “It was tough because China alone fielded 55 entries in various categories.”
In November, MIPIM will choose which of the three buildings in the said category gets gold, silver and bronze. Zuellig and his team are keeping their fingers crossed.
“If Mr. (Brilliante) Mendoza could get awards in Cannes for his films, it would also be good for the country if a building in the Philippines is recognized internationally,” he said.
But before committing himself to the look, Zuellig and his Filipino consultants, including Coscolluela, travelled to the US, where the use of frits on glass buildings is quite common, to see for themselves how effective they are.
Several airports as well as the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York use frits in the form of either lines or polka dots.
“For me, it was a courageous move because it has never been applied here in the Philippines,” said Zuellig. “My main concern was it might look messy from the outside, or it might distract those working inside the building.”
Based on SOM’s research, Zuellig’s fears were unfounded. In fact, occupants of glass buildings with frits welcome them, as the feature allows them to look at the world outside and still be insulated from the environment’s harmful effects. It’s certainly better than working in a box with a handful of windows, respondents said.
“The tinted, double-glazed glass with frits beneath them both have a decorative and functional purpose,” said Zuellig. “They deflect the glare and insulate the building from the afternoon heat, resulting in more natural light and lower use of air-conditioning, especially during daytime.”
“It’s a misconception that glass buildings, because they’re transparent, trap heat,” Coscolluela added. “If you use the right kind of glass, your building will, in fact, be cooler.”
LEED puts emphasis on lower energy consumption in its point system. At the same time, it has limited Zuellig Building’s underground parking to 660 slots. There’s adequate space for several bicycle stands as well as shower areas to encourage office workers to take their bikes to work.
Zuellig sees this project both as a statement and an investment in the future for his company as well as for the fragile environment.
“Nowadays, we should all be aware of sustainability issues and the need to reduce our carbon footprint,” he said. “Modern technology should be used for better energy efficiency to lessen the impact of our presence on the planet.”
At the same time, by adopting the LEED system, Bridgebury hopes to position Zuellig Building to office tenants, big and small, who would be willing to pay premium rental rates.
“These are all companies who also subscribe to sustainability,” said Zuellig. “They share our vision.”
When LEED came onboard, Bridgebury was also required to devote 2,500 sq m of its 8,000 sq m lot to an outdoor garden and water feature on the ground level. Since space is premium in Makati’s CBD, the decision in itself already entailed a great deal of expense.
A series of gardens using indigenous foliage such as eugenia, pandakaki, white champaca, filiciums, podocarpus and local bamboo varieties was replicated on the second and third levels, where the future food court and retail areas will be, and on the 32nd level, an ideal semi-outdoor venue for parties dubbed as Sky Garden.
“One of LEED’s requirements is to prioritize the use of indigenous plants,” said Aurelio. “We chose a number of shrubs with lush leaves that cover the soil, thus, preventing water from evaporating quickly. And in keeping with the building’s signature bamboo frits, we also planted pole bamboos on the second and third levels as well as the Sky Garden.”
Since Zuellig’s latest baby has accumulated enough points to exceed gold, he hopes to eventually get a platinum certification from LEED once the building goes through another round of auditing when it formally opens in November. A number of tenants, including Zuellig’s pharmaceutical company, have started moving in.
Zuellig Building can lease out a total 56,000 sq m. The terms could range from as big as 1,800 sq m to as small as 188 sq m. Takeda, a pharmaceutical company, Misys and Agoda, a travel agency, have already made the big move.
“I also have to give credit to the multinational team of architects, engineers, landscape artists and consultants responsible for making this project a reality,” said Coscolluela. “The contractor may be an Australian firm, but the people who work in the building’s construction are all Filipinos.”
In all the years he’s been designing buildings, this is the first time Coscolluela has worked on a project following LEED’s standards. The requirements may be stringent, he said, but they’re doable and, in the long run, quite practical and make a lot of sense.
“I won’t have second thoughts recommending it to colleagues and future clients,” he said. “The success of a project of this scale really depends on the client. In spite of the added expense and time to do it, the client really has to be totally into it.”