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ADB signage
Mandaluyong,  Pasay

Manila and the ADB

On December 19, 1966, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was formally established as a regional bank that will serve the growing region of Asia and the Pacific. It would also mark the beginning of a long and fostered relationship between this institution and the Philippines, and in particular of what would become Metro Manila. A relationship that has lasted until this day.

To understand this story better, it is important to know first what the ADB is about and how it came to be in the first place.

About the ADB

The Asian Development Bank is not a regular bank that caters to individuals and corporations. On the contrary, the ADB is an international financial institution (like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) whose shareholders and/or clients are actually sovereign countries through their respective governments. These international financial institutions provide loans like regular banks, albeit for sovereign countries, as well as finance various development programs, projects, and the like.

As the name implies and as somewhat mentioned earlier, the ADB primarily serves 49 member countries in the Asia-Pacific region, along with 19 countries like the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Japan currently is its main shareholder, which should not come as a surprise considering that it was Japan who helped make the ADB possible in the first place. In particular, it was the efforts of Takeshi Watanabe, a former director of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and would become ADB’s first president, who helped lay the foundations of the institution that we know today, having established its policies on the onset.

Takeshi Watanabe, “father” and first president of the Asian Development Bank (photo courtesy of the ADB)

Choosing Manila

This raises an interesting question: if Japan was the driving force behind the ADB, how come its headquarters is in Manila? In answering this question, we have to look at the ministerial conference held in Manila in November 1965 which aimed to finalize matters on establishment of the Asian Development Bank. And one of the things to be finalized was the location of the future institution’s headquarters.

A meeting of the consultative committee of experts on November 1965 that would pave the way for the found of the ADB (photo courtesy of Banking on the Future of Asia and the Pacific: Fifty Years of the Asian Development Bank by Peter McCawley)

With a homecourt advantage of sorts, the Philippines lobbied hard for having the headquarters located in Manila, despite the fierce competition from the likes of Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Tehran, Colombo, and, of course, Tokyo. Heck, the Philippines pulled out all the stops which included putting up a large sign on the land they were offering for the headquarters which read “Permanent Site of the Asian Development Bank.”

After 3 rounds of voting among the delegates, ultimately Manila emerged as the winner, albeit with only a 1 vote margin against Tokyo. Ultimately, it proved to be a sound decision as having the bank’s headquarters in Manila helped the ADB be more accessible to the developing countries in the region which would benefit more from its projects and programs.

The first headquarters in Pasay

With the location of the headquarters formally secured, work would now proceed on constructing the actual headquarters itself, a 12,200 square meter property along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay, near the intersection with Libertad (now A. Arnaiz Avenue). For this, a design competition was held, won by a Cresenciano de Castro, a Filipino architect whose works included the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus and, reportedly, many of SM‘s early brutalist concrete department stores. Overlooked today among Filipino architects, de Castro was actually one of the pioneering architects who employed brutalist architecture, the one that emphasized the heavy use of concrete in buildings. And the ADB headquarters was no exception.

De Castro’s design involved the construction of a 14-storey tower with slightly curved sidewalls and a five-storey podium building. Helping him out were Nestor De Castro and Lor Calma, both of whom did the interior design of the headquarters. Work began as early as December 1965 and would be completed in November 1972.

Moving to Ortigas Center

The ADB stayed in its Pasay headquarters for almost 20 years, during which its operations grew alongside the challenges facing the developing countries in the Asia-Pacific. Thus, there was a need for a bigger space to house its operations. This time, it was moving up north at heart of the growing Ortigas Center in the Mandaluyong side where a 6.5 hectare land was available.

Alongside this need, there was also a growing consciousness for environmental sustainability in which the planned headquarters is envisioned to lessen energy consumption and minimize carbon footprint. The ADB tapped the services of American architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) which proceeded to design a sustainable headquarters the bank envisioned.

Work would begin on the new headquarters by the late 1980s and was formally inaugurated in May 1991 and has served as the institution’s home since. The old ADB headquarters was eventually acquired by the government and now serves as the office of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Sustainability and accessibility

In designing the ADB headquarters, SOM had in mind was not skyscraper-high buildings that were beginning to rise at that time. Instead, it would be comprised of (originally) 2 buildings of up to about 9 storeys tall with skylight windows and light wells for generous natural light to save on electricity. In addition, there is also a podium building, a courtyard garden, and lagoon area surrounded by lush greenery. The complex provided for a spacious and bright ambience throughout complex, both indoors and outdoors.

The ADB complex was hailed for being one of the most PWD-accessible buildings in which it received an Apolinario Mabini Award in 1991. Not one to count on its laurels, more improvements followed, including the installation of solar panels which would generate 613 megawatt-hours of electricity and the construction of a 3rd building, completed in time for the institution’s 50th anniversary in 2016.

Perhaps the most notable of these achievements is the gold certification given to the ADB headquarters in 2016 by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), one of the first (if not the first) office complexes in the country to be given such distinction. It is also the only international financial institution to obtain LEED gold certification and among the biggest Asian buildings, in terms of floor area, to do so.

Continuing legacy

With over 50 years of history together, the Asian Development Bank and the Philippines have formed a bond that has become ingrained in the country’s identity. More so especially between the ADB and Manila as its structures have become landmarks that have shaped the metropolis’ skyline today and for the years to come.

Happy anniversary to the Asian Development Bank!

Acknowledgements as well to the Asian Development Bank, Philippine History and Architecture on Facebook, BusinessWorld, and the book Arkitekturang Filipino by Gerard Lico

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