Pacific Star Building
Makati

The Paradox of the Pacific Star Building

The corner of Makati and Gil Puyat Avenues is considered to be the northern gateway of the Makati central business district. And it seems apt that marking this northern gateway are two iconic buildings: the classic Development Bank of the Philippines Building, completed in 1965, and its towering and the towering and more contemporary neighbor across, the Pacific Star Building, completed in 1989. The Urban Roamer actually briefly touched upon the DBP Building before, so it’s about proper that we talk about the Pacific Star Building, which has a more interesting but a sad tale behind it.

To talk about the Pacific Star Building, it’s important to also learn a little bit about a small country (3rd smallest in the world to be specific) in the Pacific Ocean called Nauru. If you ask why, that’s because that little Oceanian country actually had this building built. In fact, you can see the building’s Nauruan heritage with the 12-pointed star figure (not a sun mind you) on top which is the same star that you will see on the Nauruan flag.

the flag of Nauru (via Wikipedia)

But how could such a small country afford to build a building that tall in a pricey development as Makati’s? Well, at that time at least, Nauru could afford to.

“Kuwait of the East”

From its independence in 1968 up until the 1990s, Nauru was one of the richest countries in the world. A huge deal of wealth that it owes to its enormous supply of phosphate. And phosphate is an important mineral because it is a key ingredient in agricultural fertilizers (thus a huge contributor to the global food supply) as well as for nutritional supplements and industrial chemicals.

While phosphate mining in Nauru has been around ever since it was discovered in 1900 under German and, eventually, Australian-British-NZ rule, the Nauruan government not only continued but accelerated phosphate mining and export activities for the huge revenues the country gets in return. Nauruans were all too eager to showcase this wealth by living rich and large, earning Nauru the monicker of being the “Kuwait of the Pacific.”

A story on the New York Times Magazine in 1982 declared Nauru as the “world’s richest little isle” The story can be read here

With such huge wealth, one might think the Nauru government would take measures to set in place some sustainable, long-term planning for the country’s future, especially in the event the phosphate runs out. However, the government had other ideas. Through a government-owned company called the Nauru Phosphate Corporation, what the Nauruan government opted to do was to venture into real estate properties and earn from the revenues generated by these properties. Beginning in the 1970s, the Nauru Phosphate Corporation was building posh hotels, towering office buildings, and residential towers in different parts of the globe, including Australia, Fiji, Guam, United States, New Zealand, and, of course, the Philippines.

Nauru House in Melbourne, Australia, which was once the tallest building in Melbourne, built by the Nauru Phosphate Corporation (via Flickr)

For the Philippine project, the Nauru Phosphate Corporation tapped the services of architect Gabriel Formoso (who was also behind the Peninsula Manila) to design the edifice. The result is the Pacific Star Building, a tw0o-building structure consisting of a 29 storey high-rise and a 6-storey low-rise, both of concrete with vertical arched glass windows, along with a fountain that ornaments the driveway. At the time of its completion in 1989 until 1991, the building, which was also called the Nauru Building, actually held the record for being the tallest building in the country, somehow fitting Nauru’s preference for the grandeur and the iconic in its ventures and its lifestyle.

Photo courtesy of the Pacific Star Building Facebook page

Tragic decline

Eventually, the high life Nauru enjoyed came crashing down by the 1990s. The accelerated mining, which was often unchecked, caused Nauru’s phosphate supply to quickly dwindle by that time. It also didn’t help that the government’s Nauru Phosphate Corporation was suffering from mismanagement and disastrous investments like investing in a flop musical of Leonardo da Vinci. Suddenly, the Nauruans who were enjoying the rich lifestyle were now nearing the throes of poverty.

The now depleted phosphate mine at Nauru (photo by Reuters via International Business Times)

As a way to alleviate the worsening situation in the country, the Nauru Phosphate Corporation decided to sell off those properties it invested in. Pacific Star Building was one of them, which was eventually acquired by Century Properties, the property firm that would go on to build the Century City development in the nearby Poblacion area.

However, the money received from those sales were not enough to save the company and Nauru. Eventually, the company was reorganized, downsized, and renamed the Republic of Nauru Phosphate Corporation. Nauru, on the other hand, was no longer exporting as much phosphate as before and even those phosphate exports could no longer sustain the needs of its population, thus relying on aid from Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan (Nauru is one of the very few countries that officially recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state).

Legacy

The story of Nauru is a cautionary tale of unchecked management of a country’s natural resources, unmitigated greed, and lack of foresight and planning that leads to disastrous consequences. However, the Pacific Star Building is a paradox, especially to those who are aware of the sad story of the people and institutions who helped build it. For many, it’s seen as this iconic Makati landmark, a gateway of sorts to progress but not aware that there is this depressing story related to it.

The Urban Roamer has yet to verify if Nauru actually had a diplomatic mission in the country and if it was located in the Pacific Star Building. But at present, Nauru has no diplomatic mission in the country, or in many other countries today as a result of the sharp decline of its economy brought by the phosphate dwindling. As such, the Pacific Star Building serves as a tangible reminder not only of the link between the Philippines and Nauru but also of a time when Nauru had the ambition and confidence to make its presence known in a grand manner.

On a less depressing note, the Pacific Star Building set the stage for the transformation of the Makati CBD and beyond. Since its completion, taller buildings would be built in the Makati CBD, trying to be as iconic as the Pacific Star Building in their own right. But some structures actually took inspiration from the building. The most notable example is the Makati City Hall New Building which bore the arched vertical windows of Pacific Star. In fact, former Vice President and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay admits that the new City Hall building took inspiration from the Pacific Star Building.

Acknowledgements as well to Wikipedia, and Pacific Star Building

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