In a metropolis whose shopping scene is dominated by the SMs, Ayala Malls, and Robinsons from north to south, there are a handful of “independent” malls that have managed to carve a spot in a competitive and shrinking retail scene. But as far as “independent” malls go, one has managed to rise above and, at the very least, give the retail giants a run for their money: Shangri-La Plaza.
Looking at the grander scale of things, you’ll find Shangri-La Plaza’s feat is even more extraordinary, considering that one, it is catered more towards the upper- and middle-class shoppers rather than the lower-income majority, and two, it is standing right next to SM Megamall itself. How the “Shang” managed to accomplish this can be attributed to a number of factors, one of them being its strategic location right at the corner of the busy intersection of EDSA and Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong.
Another thing going for Shangri-La Plaza is the people behind it, and quite heavy at that. The driving force behind it is the Kuok Group of Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok who earlier entered the Philippine market in 1987. The Kuok Group was looking to expand its Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts brand in the country, but along the way, they decided to establish its presence first through a concept that was alien to many Filipinos at that time, an upscale mall.
At the time, Rustans (which itself was not a mall but a department store) was the closest experience Filipinos had when it came to upscale shopping. The Kuok Group aimed to elevate the upscale shopping experience even further in the midst of doubts whether such a concept would take off. That time was also an interesting period in Philippine retail. Back then, the mall culture was in its infancy as SM was beginning to build its mall empire with the construction of SM Megamall right beside the property Kuok acquired for the mall. How could the Kuok Group with their non-mainstream concept compete with the rising retail giant?
If the Kuok Group’s Manila upscale shopping mall project was to succeed, it had to make a big impact. For starters, the company tapped the services of renowned Hong Kong-based architectural firm KNW Architects to design the seven-storey mall. Then, in a brilliant move, Kuok got Rustans to be its anchor tenant, further establishing the upscale brand of the mall.
Finally, in November 1991, just five months after the opening of SM Megamall, the mall was opened to the public as Shangri-La Plaza. A Shangri-La hotel nearby would open a year later, the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel. Shangri-La Plaza hold the distinction for being the first, and so far one of the very few (if not the only), non-Filipino brand that has penetrated the Philippine retail industry.
Immediately upon opening, Shangri-La Plaza was a hit, even among the lower-income shoppers. From the revolving doors when one enters the mall, to standing in awe of its 25-meter high ceiling from the ground up to the sixth level, express escalators that go from floor A to C (skipping floor B in the process), and posh interiors, it was a mall unlike any other, giving many a taste of what upscale shopping feels like even to those who do not have the finances to indulge in such.
But Shangri-La Plaza did not stop there as it tried to enrich the shopping experience there further. One was the opening of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum at the mall’s fourth level, which became a favorite destination for young and old who were fascinated with oddities and curiosities. There was also a theater, the William J. Shaw Theater, which served as a venue for plays and was the longtime home of Repertory Philippines.
The mall went through a number of changes since the 2000s, ranging from the redesign of the interiors, redeveloping the cinema and food court, and adding new areas like the alfresco dining area called Streetscape. It also meant, sadly, the disappearance of venues like the Ripley’s Odditorium and the Shaw Theater in place of more retail space.
It was around that time Shang Properties, the Kuok Group company that would oversee the mall and its other mixed-development properties in the country, would begin to further develop the area where Shangri-La Plaza and EDSA Shangri-La Hotel are located. (that area was eventually named the Shang Place) The first phase of this expansion of sorts was the completion of St. Francis Shangri-La Place, a two-tower residence standing at 213 meters high. Designed by Wong Tung International Ltd., in cooperation with Recio + Casas Architects, it holds the distinction of being the first building in the world to feature a revolutionary “damping” system designed by Ove Arup & Partners, which minimizes the standard wobble in high-rise buildings during earthquakes or strong typhoons. The towers do not have retail space though they have a direct connection to Shangri-La Plaza.
But it would be the next phase of the development that would evolve Shangri-La Plaza further. Immediately after the completion of the St. Francis Shangri-La Place, work proceeded on the construction of another twin residential tower development, the One Shangri-La Place. Apart from being taller at 227 meters, the structure designed by Casas + Architects alongside Hong Kong’s Palmer & Turner would have a 6-storey mall in its base, which would serve as Shangri-La Plaza’s expansion wing known as the East Wing.
One Shangri-La Place would be completed in 2014 but Shangri-La Plaza’s East Wing opened a year prior. Like the what is now known as the Main Wing of the mall, the East Wing features the same level of poshness as far as interiors go and five levels of window bridges connecting the two wings of the mall on both ends.
Throughout all the changes and the evolution it has gone through Shangri-La Plaza remains a pinnacle of the upscale mall experience in the metropolis. It continues to set trends and make an impact on the country’s retail industry almost 30 years on as a confident upstart in the midst of giants.