The Podium towers

From a Locsin to The Podium: the history of an Ortigas Center property

The property on the northwest corner of ADB Avenue and Julia Vargas Avenue has seen a lot of changes over the past 30-some years, with structures come and go and/or changed. That last part may seem like there’s some complicated history there, one which the Urban Roamer shall be diving right in as we look at what we know today as The Podium.

A National Artist’s “tribute” to the Rice Terraces

Our story begins in the early 1980s when mining firm Benguet Corporation decided to build its new headquarters in Ortigas Center, at that corner of ADB and Julia Vargas Avenues. At that time, the company was at a high with the growth of its operations so it made sense that its building would reflect that. Proof of that is the fact that they tapped none other than Leandro Locsin, the most prolific and renowned architect of the period and future National Artist, to design the structure.

Leandro Locsin (photo courtesy of the Manila Times)

Locsin drew inspiration from a renowned attraction, the Banaue Rice Terraces in neighboring Ifugao Province. Of course one might ask why not draw inspiration from something or someplace from Benguet instead which would have been more appropriate. But it can be argued that Benguet and Ifugao, particularly the Rice Terraces, share the same topography, are part of the same Cordillera region, (though the idea of a Cordillera region had not yet been fully formed then) and evoke the same overall imagery people in the city have of the Cordillera area. Another thing worth noting is that the Rice Terraces was built on stone, paralleling Locsin’s preference for stone-based brutalist architecture. The result was this imposing structure with layers of horizontal levels and of vertical slabs.

Benguet Center (photo courtesy of History of Architecture)

The building was inaugurated in 1983 as the Benguet Center. Along with the nearby San Miguel Corporate Center, the building would change the landscape of Ortigas Center and help make the district a worthy competitor to the Makati CBD of the Ayalas.

Henry Sy takes over

The 1990s spelled trouble for Benguet Corporation. Its push for diversification left the company in huge debt by 1992. Soon enough, the company had to make a tough decision. In its effort to stay afloat, it had to let go of some key assets. Including Benguet Center itself.

Ultimately, Benguet Center was put on sale which soon caught the attention of retail magnate Henry Sy. At that time, Sy was looking to expand his presence in Ortigas Center, especially after opening SM Megamall in the area a year earlier. So he ended up purchasing the property and transformed Benguet Center to be the head office of his growing banking venture Banco de Oro (BDO). The building’s name was retained at least officially and it was spruced up with the addition of a cube-like metal sculpture designed by another National Artist, Arturo Luz.

The Podium (Phase 1) opens

By the late 1990s, as SM was looking to expand its dominance in the Philippine retail industry, the idea of an “upscale SM mall” was being considered. For sure, SM wanted the piece of the upscale market that was then dominated by Ayala Center in Makati and Megamall neighbor Shangri-La Plaza Mall.

The Podium (Phase 1), taken circa 2012-13 (photo courtesy of SkyscraperCity)

Work would begin for this “upscale SM mall” project in the early 2000s at the property facing ADB Avenue beside Benguet Center. While normally at that time SM would build their projects themselves, for this particular project, they surprisingly went for a joint venture arrangement with Singapore-based developer Keppel Land. And when the project was completed and opened to the public in 2002, it did not bear the “SM” name. Instead, it became simply known as The Podium.

The Podium Phase 1

At five storeys high, The Podium originally was not much of an attention-grabbing structure. As such, it was easy to miss in the midst of the taller structures nearby and the presence of its more mainstream relative SM Megamall. As such, it did not have that much of foot traffic but it made for a “less crowded” shopping experience.

The Podium Phase 1

Tearing down the “old” for something bigger

In 2011, SM announced that it will be demolishing Benguet Center for a planned new corporate building for BDO, a move that surprised and saddened many. Despite opposition on the account that the building was a work of a National Artist, work proceeded on its demolition.

Around the same time, plans were afoot to expand The Podium and add more retail space in a bid to be more competitive as a retail destination. Somehow this and the BDO corporate center plans were merged into a grander masterplan.

With input from architecture firms Arquitectonica and Felix S. Lim and Associate, the new masterplan involved the construction of a two-tower structure with The Podium serving as sort of a base for these two towers. At the same time, The Podium was to be expanded as it now reached the area along Julia Vargas Avenue, with more space to accommodate larger and more upscale tenants.

The new look of The Podium Phase 1 along ADB Avenue
The Podium Phase 2 along Julia Vargas Avenue

The first to be completed is 47-storey high The Podium East Tower in 2016. It serves as the home of some departments of BDO, thus it’s also known as the BDO Corporate Center Ortigas. (its actual head office is still in Makati)

The following year, the expansion of The Podium was completed, giving the mall a radical makeover in the process. It now has a more stylish look and now has a rooftop deck which could be utilized for events.

Then last September of this year, The Podium West Tower was completed. The 48-storey building will serve as a general office tower available for lease.

Finally, the property at the northwest corner of ADB Avenue and Julia Vargas now has an iconic landmark that stands tall in Ortigas Center. Too bad it had to tear down the work of a National Artist to do it. Not to mention the fact that the folks at Keppel Land (SM’s The Podium partner) are a bunch of greedy, snobby, effin’ assholes who blocked a pedestrian walkway project which would have been a convenience to the people in the area all because such project “ruins” the frontage of The Podium.

Note: (01/20/2021) it was previously written that the Locsin family gave the go-signal to proceed with the demolition of the Benguet Center to build the Podium West Tower. This was found to be inaccurate and deleted accordingly. Apologies for the trouble that previous comment caused.

Acknowledgements as well to The Podium West Tower, BluPrint, Funding Universe, The Daily Tribune, SkyscraperCity, and Wikipedia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.