It was less than a month ago, to be exact on April 15 which was Black Saturday, when news of Alfonso Yuchengco’s death thrust the country’s business community in greater mourning since the passing of Mercury Drug’s founder Mariano Que the previous day.
Unlike many of the country’s taipans, Alfonso Yuchengco, known to many as AY, was born to an already prosperous family, thanks to the efforts of his father Enrique Yuchengco, a Fujian-born immigrant who managed to establish some thriving businesses, notably the China Insurance and Surety Company which became the leading non-life insurance company in the country. But to his credit, AY managed to grow the insurance business, evolving into what is now Malayan Insurance and expanding into other businesses such as life insurance with Grepalife (which eventually entered into a partnership with Sun Life to become Sun Life Grepa Financial), banking through Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), and education through his purchase of Mapua Institute of Technology.
In addition to being a businessman, AY also served as a diplomat, having served as ambassador to Japan, Korea, China, and even the United Nations. Not to mention having served as special envoy for a number of diplomatic missions.
Alfonso Yuchengco’s legacy, both positive and negative, is very much visible with the presence of his businesses in different parts of the country. But perhaps what stands out the most as far as his legacy is concerned is the iconic building at the corner of Ayala Avenue and Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue: the RCBC Plaza.
The RCBC Plaza was envisioned to be an iconic landmark in the Makati Central Business District. And all the stops were pulled to make it so. For one, the architectural design of the structure was done by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the same US architectural firm who did the design for many notable buildings around the world, including the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Helping SOM was the project’s local partner W.V. Coscolluela & Associates, who have helped design some notable landmarks such as the Zuellig Building and the Metro Manila World Trade Center.
Construction began in 1996 and managed to continue despite the Asian Financial Crisis that hit the following year which affected other planned projects like the Tower 2 at the Ayala Triangle. Perhaps what helped kept the project afloat was that it was actually a joint venture between the Yuchengco Group and the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation.
Work was finally completed by 2001 and it was formally inaugurated on February 5. Incidentally, the EDSA People Power 2 Revolution just kicked out then Pres. Joseph Estrada a few days earlier on January 21. In a symbolic manner, the inauguration of RCBC Plaza was to show that things were getting back to normal after the political turmoil brought about by Estrada’s impeachment and ouster. (Interestingly somewhat related, a sculpture by the late Eduardo Castrillo would grace the courtyard of RCBC Plaza called “The Spirit of EDSA,” immortalizing the People Power Revolution’s contribution in the country’s history.)
When people finally got to see RCBC Plaza up close, it was a building unlike any other that the metropolis, and the country, has seen before. On the outside, the 2-towered structure and its base had the appearance of a sleek, shiny, modern office complex. But on the inside, it had an industrial vibe with white painted steel pillars sticking out as exoskeletons and glass windows surrounding the lobby. It is also one of the most modern office buildings in the country in the time of its completion, with advanced safety and security features that made it a location of choice of a number of diplomatic missions in the country (more on that later).
RCBC Plaza is considered to be the 16th tallest building in the country with its tallest tower, Yuchengco Tower 1 at 46 meters and Tower 2 at 41 meters. Plus it has a whopping 7 levels underground for parking facilities. It primarily serves as the head office of many of the companies under the Yuchengco Group, particularly RCBC. But it also notably serves as office for some diplomatic missions in the country, particularly that of Australia, Canada, Germany, South Africa, as well as the European Union and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (the “sort of official” embassy of Taiwan in the country).
Apart from its diplomatic importance, RCBC Plaza is also an IT hub with a number of business process outsourcing (BPO) and tech companies that have made the complex their base of operations. As such, it is considered one of the first buildings that have taken advantage of the BPO boom in the country that started in the 2000s. In time, more and more tenants and services were opening in the complex, from food outlets to pharmacy, and a gym.
There are also some unique sections in the building as well. For one, there is the presence of a graduate school Owing to AY’s academic roots at De La Salle University (DLSU), the RCBC Plaza became the site of the extension campus of DLSU’s Graduate School of Business.
It also has its own theater, the 450-seater Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium which has become a popular venue for plays and other live performances.
There is also the Catholic chapel, the Teresa Yuchengco Chapel, named after AY’s late wife.
And of course, the Urban Roamer would be remiss if this piece does not mention the Yuchengco Museum. To know more about it, read up a previous entry about this storied museum.
Regardless of what one may think of Alfonso Yuchengco and his contributions to the country, there is no doubt that his legacy as imposing as the RCBC Plaza will dominate the landscape of the metropolis, and perhaps of the country, for a foreseeable future. In itself, the structure is a showcase of modern architecture that should serve to inspire architects here to be able to build modern iconic structures that will stand out from the rest.