The Story of Ayala Triangle: Center of a Rising Business District

As the airport operations at Nielson Field have closed down by the 1950s, around the same time, plans were being made to convert the Zobel de Ayala-owned hacienda (where the airfield is located) into a modern business district, giving birth to the Makati Central Business District. As structures began to sprout left and right, the old airfield which became a triangular open space found itself in the middle of all this development.

However, it took a while for any development to be seen in the area. Apart from the Nielson Tower, the rest of the triangular space was pretty much a barren open space which sometimes was used as a football field. That football field evemtually became known as Ugarte Field, named after Sebastian Ugarte, a legendary figure in Philippine football. (and by the way, his family is related to the Zobel de Ayala, Aboitiz, and a number of Spanish mestizo families in the country)

But it would not be long for the Zobel de Ayala conglomerate to establish their presence in this piece of land, kicking off what would be a long association they would have with this triangular space.


In the late 1960s, plans were made to construct what would become the first structure to rise in the area after Nielson Tower. Designed by a rising architect by the name of Leandro Locsin, (who became National Artist eventually) it would result in the completion in 1971 of the Makati Stock Exchange Building. As the name would imply, the 8-storey building would serve as the home of the almost decade old Makati Stock Exchange. Also significant was the fact that it would serve as the new home of the Zobel de Ayala conglomerate under the umbrella of its holding company Ayala Corporation. It would mark the beginning of the Ayala conglomerate’s association with area now known as the Ayala Triangle.


a protest being held in 1983 at the Ayala Triangle field, AKA the Ugarte Field (photo by Willy Vicoy courtesy of Filipinas Heritage Library)

The assassination of former Sen. Ninoy Aquino Jr. at the tarmac at the Manila International Airport marked the beginning of the end of the authoritarian regime of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. The event triggered a political awakening among a previously silenced populace to rise up against the Marcos administration and its human rights violations and corruption charges. Mass action movements were now being held almost regularly as the open space in the triangle was transformed into a regular protest venue not unlike Hyde Park in London. The continuing protests would play a key factor in the events leading to the People Power Revolution in February 1986 that finally overthrew the Marcos regime and catapulted Sen. Aquino’s widow Cory into the presidency.

Thus it was fitting that years later, a statue of Ninoy Aquino would be unveiled near the open space that once served as a center of protests, protests that would not have been possible perhaps had not for his death at the airport. (On a meta level, the airport connection plays up in this area once again)


The 1990s was a period of bustling economic activity as the Philippines aimed to be a tiger economy by the year 2000. As a move to realize this goal, the government moved to merge the Makati Stock Exchange with the Manila Stock Exchange in 1992, forming what would be the Philippine Stock Exchange. (PSE) Plans were also afoot for a new trading floor for the newly unified PSE, thus making plans to move out of the Makati Stock Exchange Building which was becoming inadequate already.

At the same time, Ayala Corporation was drawing up an ambitious development plan for the Ayala Triangle complex which involved the construction of 3 upscale towers, each located on or near one end of the triangular piece of property, with the middle area to be further developed as a park. The first tower to be built would serve as the new home of the Ayala Corporation, moving out as well of the Makati Stock Exchange Building.

It’s been said that Ayala did not want to lose the presence of a bourse in Makati, more so in their turf. So as plans were underway for the construction of the first of the three planned towers, Ayala moved to offer the PSE a new trading floor in the structure they were building. Eventually the PSE agreed, which explains the “disjointed” setup of the PSE today with its offices in Ortigas Center while the trading floor is in Makati. That is soon to change however, but that would be another story.

This new structure would be finished in 1996 and was dubbed Tower One. Designed by American architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, it was an impressive, modern, 160 meter structure of steel and concrete, with 35 floors, 15 elevators, and 4 escalators. It stood as a symbol of the growing profile of the Ayala conglomerate as a force in Philippine business, as well as being a symbol of the country’s seriousness in its bid to be recognized as a tiger economy.

By 1997, buoyed by the reception for Tower One. Ayala proceeded in drawing up the plans for Tower Two, which was to be built at the side intersecting Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue. However, on July of that year, the Asian Financial Crisis hit the Philippines and neighboring Asian countries, plunging the stock markets in the regions to all-time lows and causing some businesses to either shut down or swallow the bitter pill of greatly downsizing their operations. Ayala got hit pretty hard, forcing it to abandon its plans for Tower Two and a yet-to-be conceived Tower Three as the momentum it was having was abruptly ended.

To be concluded

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