Instead of being demolished, this 1937 Binondo landmark has been restored to its old glory



This year has seen a number of iconic heritage buildings come under threat. Just recently, the sound of heavy machinery, coupled with the erection of blue fences around the El Hogar in Binondo, Manila raised alarms in the conservation community. 2014 also saw the closure of the decades-old Mandarin Hotel, designed by Architect Leandro Locsin. What happens next to the structure is unknown, although conservationists have made moves to ensure the iconic 1976 building is protected.

In the fight of heritage vs. development, heritage has been on the losing end. Once in a while, though, there are success stories that give us all a little hope.

The Cobankiat Building, located along Juan Luna St. in Binondo, is one of those few happy stories. Originally constructed in 1937, it was called the SJ Wilson Building, named after a US-born businessman who came to the Philippines. This modest, 8-story structure was once the home of the Manila Stock Exchange, and housed numerous multinationals and leading businesses.

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“Juan Luna St., before the war, was like the Paseo de Roxas of its time. It housed major banks, mostly multinationals, and was also a prime hub for insurance companies,” said Ivan Man Dy of the Heritage Conservation Society, in a tour of the Cobankiat Building.

Some of the building’s former tenants include: Standard Chartered, Sun Life Corporation, Zuellig, and just two buildings away from Cobankiat is the the China Banking Corporation Building.

The Cobankiat Building is a remarkable story of creative and adaptive reuse of a decades-old structure. After being acquired by the Cobankiat family of Ace Hardware-fame, the new owners set out to bring back the old glory of the building.

While the restoration and reuse of the building is being done slowly and in phases, some of the floors already show a sleek and modern office space, while still retaining original elements. Notably, the original elevators (it’s one of the first buildings in Manila to have one), have been retained.



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An outdoor deck, located on the 4th floor and overlooking the busy Juan Luna St., is now an attractive lounge space that can accommodate small events. Lighting inside the renovated offices are LED, and the flooring, which in some areas was up to 19 inches lower, has been leveled.

Other floors, which have not yet been renovated, provide a great opportunity to contrast with the modern updates. Particularly interesting is the 8th floor, which still reveals the original steel truss work of the roof. With warped members, and now supported by wooden columns, they reveal the story of everything that the building has endured over the last 70 years.



“The decision to preserve and update an old building is very risky, and it entails a lot more work and expenses than to just build a new one,” said Architect Deo de Gala, the project architect of the Cobankiat Building.

“Initially some people doubted the idea, saying that we bought a broken building, but now nobody says that anymore. They love the building.”





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