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How ‘adaptive reuse’ can be done right in Makati

/ 03:14 AM September 16, 2015

Barangay Poblacion was the first settlement of Makati during Spanish times. Defined by the Pasig River to the north, Barangay Bel-Air to the south, Guadalupe Viejo to the east, and Barangay Valenzuela to the west, it was the old civic and commercial center of Makati.

Today, Barangay Poblacion —bounded by the streets of J.P. Rizal, P. Burgos, R. Palma and Kalayaan Avenue—is where Rockwell Center and Century City are. It has recently been classified as a heritage district.

Back in the late 1940s, the small streets in Poblacion had families joining the annual Good Friday processions; everyone knew each other in church and compared notes in the public market.

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Civic pride

There was a sense of civic pride; people cleaned their own front yard and tended small gardens.

Whether they owned fancy or modest homes, they were proud of their abodes. It was an old Makati neighborhood experience that predated the gated villages.

Enriquez Street is an example of what one of these streets used to be. Today, there are only a few houses that have been left intact to hark back to those times.

In between old and decaying houses, you may find a couple of better maintained ones overrun by the usual shabby tarpaulined eyesore here and there, or a sari-sari store wedged in between a car repair shop and a beauty salon.

The fact that it is only a short walk to the Saints Peter and Paul Church, built by the Jesuits in 1620, and the Makati public market, shows how this small, hilly settlement beside the river was a hub where the community gathered, in an era when social and commercial activity revolved around landmarks of community identity and pride.

If you look hard enough, you will see remnants of the old neighborhood.

But, it is slowly becoming an example of how this area behind Rockwell, now popularly called Backwell—a portmanteau of “back” and Rockwell—may well be on the rise. There are a few ongoing renovations and upgrades.

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Among the mix are structures that have been remodeled and turned into bars and small eateries. Slowly, this side of Barangay Poblacion is being energized.

A small demographic shift has been happening as millennials begin to see the allure of urban life and the charm of refurbishing older houses. There is a return to these old neighborhoods, leaving traces of suburbia behind.

Young people have been moving back into the urban centers where new destination hubs offer a wider amenity base—from retail and entertainment to health, fitness, medical and therapeutic services.

Heritage district

Jon Ramos is one of them. His dreams and advocacy include improving on the quality of life by increasing a desire for people to live, visit or stay in a heritage district.

After studying in the United States, Ramos based himself in Hong Kong and Canada for a while.

Coming home to the Philippines, he moved out of the ancestral compound in Quezon City to Alabang, then eventually to Rockwell to start a business and put down stakes in Makati.

Barangay Poblacion was a place that interested him. It still had character and, being bounded by renewed urban core destinations like Rockwell and Century City, it was clearly on the rise.

This informed Ramos’ decision a few years ago to live and work in the area.

The house, on the corner of Enriquez and Fermina Streets, was a two-story dilapidated structure built in the late 1930s and was already falling apart. The ground floor was inhabited by five families.

Ramos would often walk past it, envisioning a major reconstruction, even a transformation, of the old community. He was always looking for dilapidated houses he could rebuild.

After two years, the great wheel of providence turned and Ramos’ broker called him to say that an old house on Enriquez Street was for sale—which turned out to be the exact same one he had been eyeing.

He bought it, and the angels of heritage preservation sang “Laudate Dominum” that day.

Repurposed

Repurposed old structures and adaptive reuse deepen our connection to those who came before us. They enrich our modern lives because we have a true need to know our past and to make the most of old architecture.

By keeping and reusing architectural elements and features, it implies the worth of the old structure for what it was and the place it occupied in the fabric of the old community.

The old house was dismantled; all reusable materials were salvaged for reuse in the new structure.

Ramos was going to adapt it as a bed and breakfast. The salvaged pieces, like the old sidings and all the window frames, were still used in most parts.

The entire house was taken down piece by piece and placed back together; however, the new structure was raised three feet from the ground.

The entire rebuild was held by temporary supports on the outside, while the extended foundation was being constructed below.

“The stairs were moved to the center of the house,” Ramos explained. “It used to be on the side and could practically be used immediately as you enter. We reconfigured the whole layout. The house was taken down piece by piece. It was, for all practical purposes, a rebuild using as many of the old components as much as possible and integrating them with new ones.”

What was reusable was adapted. What was broken or missing was painstakingly copied and fabricated, like some of the balusters.

He bought lumber from old houses built in the late ’40s and early ’50s that were being torn down. He looked for glass panes that were no longer being produced to replace the broken ones, so that there would still be many details and references to the old house. The doors were all cleaned and reused.

A few original pieces of furniture, like the mid-20th century narra Ambassador sala set, were also used.

Inside the house, some sections were painted a light shade of green in deference to its original color. An atrium was added, and small en suite bathrooms were placed in all the rooms.

The dominant theme indoors is mid-century Filipiniana in color, texture and pattern. The decorative accents are simple, yet visually appealing.

His design preferences were informed by a Filipino Ilustrado aesthetic and in line with the architectural character of the house. Hence, the atmosphere you get inside is true to its heritage and the formality of its era.

New prominence

Outside, what changed was that the house grew taller. It now sparkles with a new coat of white paint. The wraparound wrought-iron grill fence gives it an airy sense of enclosure.

The house setback is minimal, but it is filled with plants that enhance the entry. The main door with its tiny pergola provides a nice visual transition from the street to indoor.

The house retains much of the same form as originally conceived. It just gained a heightened poise and a new prominence. It does not take up the entire footprint of the old house, but uses most of the old perimeters.

The ground floor, which was like the lowly silong, was liberated, raised and given a new function.

Once completely overlooked, the house is now earning lots of attention, standing proud with a new stature.

Sense of place

“I believe in having a sense of place,” Ramos explained. “In the case of La Casita, I wanted to create a Filipino home, which is rare nowadays. I try to represent the country in my own small way, simply but with conviction. Everything in a house like this should be easy to maintain and respond to the climate. That’s why I like everything to be light and airy. Everything should go with its architectural character.”

Ramos hopes La Casita Mercedes would inspire more adaptive reuse projects in the area, enough to re-energize it for future generations of young entrepreneurs and their visions and urban dreams.

“Adaptive reuse should be the done whenever possible, as it is not only environmentally friendly, saving precious building materials and waste; it also preserves heritage and makes a city more interesting,” he stressed.

“Poblacion still retains an authentic Filipino vibe,” he added. “It is not another mall of consumerism or foreign-themed gated village. Being in Makati, it is one place where you can walk—five minutes to Rockwell and Century City/Makati Avenue and around 15 minutes to the central business district. It is fast gaining favor with creative types moving in or setting up shop.”

And so, La Casita Mercedes, a bed and breakfast, now stands on the corner of Enriquez and Fermina Streets in Barangay Poblacion.

It is Ramos’ small contribution toward revitalizing the historically significant district.

More than that, it stands out like a proud beacon of hope in the face of so much heritage already lost. May we all gain civic pride and optimism in that fact that hope still lives in small pockets of human scale and the tireless efforts of a few.

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TAGS: Barangay Bel-Air, Barangay Poblacion, Barangay Valenzuela, Guadalupe Viejo, La Casita Mercedes, Makati, Pasig river, Rockwell Center
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