As foreign investment and repatriation abound, the capital cities of the Philippines, Mexico and Iran are enjoying a second life.
Nestled within a cloistered former ancestral compound of a prominent Filipino clan sits The Henry Hotel. Spread across five of the 21 traditional hardwood houses that make up this Manila estate, the boutique hotel opened in 2014 after businessman Hanky Lee renovated the property with Fred Chung, an architect, developer and descendant of the clan.
The restoration has been a success though Lee is calculating his profits with an eye on values beyond money. “I’m looking at the big picture here,” he says. Once a colonial city of art deco and beaux arts buildings, Manila was heavily bombed during the Second World War. Few buildings survived and much of what remained was torn down in favour of large-scale developments as the city’s population swelled to an estimated 12 million. Manila went from being the “Pearl of the Orient” to a traffic-clogged, infrastructure-poor city saddled with a protracted housing crisis. Yet the Philippine economy is growing at a fast rate and Manila is in the midst of the property boom that goes with it. More than 480,000 sq m of office space was built last year, including seven new commercial projects in the CBD in the fourth quarter alone. Residential properties are also on the rise. While most new developments in the city tend to be towering skyscrapers a few developers have parked the bulldozers and are instead finding value in Manila’s heritage buildings.
Juan Ramos is one such developer. The owner of La Casita Mercedes, a hotel in a residential pocket of Manila’s CBD, Ramos spent two years renovating the property, a traditional wooden house built in the 1930s that had fallen into disrepair. “We changed the bones but kept the skin,” he says.
Chung, the architect who worked with Lee on The Henry Hotel, insists that modern developments are not locked in a battle for survival with historical buildings. He sees adaptive reuse projects as a sign of the country’s maturing economy. “Historic preservation is a luxury of excess resources,” says Chung. “As the Philippines matures and becomes more affluent, a larger portion of our society can afford to think about these things.”
Though adaptive reuse developments in Manila are small in number, they are increasing. The Nielson Tower, part of a prewar art deco airport in the Makati business district, is now a restaurant called Blackbird; it was renovated by Scottish restaurateur Colin Mackay at the request of Ayala Land, the largest property developer in the Philippines. For his part Ramos sees restoration opportunities everywhere. He dreams of reviving the baroque 17th-century church and the palengke, or traditional market, near his hotel, creating a design district with a distinct Filipino character. Based on the success of The Henry Hotel, Lee plans to open eight new hotels in the next five years and is scouting warehouses, old government buildings and abandoned convents. Lee is willing to forego the immediate returns of new construction because he believes that by restoring the city’s older buildings, he can increase the consciousness of Filipinos in terms of art, design and history. “This is my little bit of nation-building.”
Flanked by the office towers of Mexico City’s new financial district, a resurgence has taken place in the downtown districts of Colonia Roma and Colonia Juarez. After decades of desertion Mexicans are flocking back to the city’s centre; to cater to these new residents, boutique property developer ReUrbano has built some of the area’s most interesting mixed-use projects.
Take Cordoba 125, which sits on a quiet side street a block from La Roma’s main avenue, behind the restored façade of a turn-of-the-century mansion. The twin-building development features one apartment block built from the bricks of the original structure alongside another visually similar edifice built entirely from scratch. Like most of ReUrbano’s projects, Cordoba 125 has parking for bicycles only and contains different-sized apartments designed to attract a mix of families and single professionals. “It’s old and new combined,” says Eduardo Cadaval, the project’s architect. “It was an abandoned house. The idea was to keep the essence of the house, not just the façade.”
Cordoba 125 and ReUrbano’s other projects have blended the area’s old and new elements. “It’s an example of rescuing the essence of Colonia Roma,” says Alberto Kritzler, the firm’s co-founder. “Everybody abandoned this part of the city and now we’re all coming back.”
Left for dead by the professional class during the troubled “lost decades” of the 1980s and 1990s – when Mexico City saw a series of recessions, a major earthquake and an uptick in street crime – La Roma and the neighbouring Juárez district are enjoying a new wave of interest. The children of those who sought refuge in massive residential towers or the walled estates of wealthy enclaves San Ángel and Bosques de las Lomas are now returning to Mexico City’s centre. Peripheral neighbourhoods such as Santa Fé and Nuevo Polanco continue to see investment in office towers but when it comes to residences, capitalinos are looking towards the city’s centre, where a different sort of development is underway. Pamela Wheatley, ReUrbano’s commercial director and a lifelong Mexico City resident, sees a shift in what buyers are looking for. “There are young people who see a lot more movement in the centre and the ones who live in the suburbs want the ease of getting around in the city.” Recognising this, a number of skilled developers are erecting small and mid-sized projects in the area. Yet rather than tearing down old buildings to make way for new builds, ReUrbano has made finding a balance central to its mission. The company’s full name is Reciclaje Urbano, or Urban Recycling.
Pancho Pardo is the architect behind several of the developer’s projects – including Havre 77, a small-scale mixed-use development in Juárez – and says that the focus is on reimagining historic structures rather than simply repairing them. “Developers have to be creative,” he says. “It’s not restoration: it’s reprogramming for the market, the city, the new dynamic of the neighbourhood.”
With tall doors, preserved brickwork and ceiling beams, modern metal railings and steel-and-glass windows, Havre 77 was once a single-family mansion. It’s now home to small offices, including ReUrbano’s, as well as a sushi restaurant and a French bistro. The development has created a new hub for residents, which is exactly what Kritzler and his team aimed for. Sitting at the property’s first-floor oyster bar, Kritzler says, “I work here and live in another one of our projects. I practise what I preach.”
Tehran was once known for its yellow-bricked mansions and mid-century apartments with generous balconies. Yet over the past two decades, hastily built concrete blocks have encroached on the city’s older quarters.
As sanctions crippled Iran’s currency, people put their money into a seemingly safe investment: bricks and mortar. Landowners demolished their handsome family homes in favour of building apartment blocks to sell, which were often outsized to maximise square footage and constructed from disparate materials.
A property recession has weeded out dabbling developers and, as international sanctions lift, large-scale projects are kicking back into gear. Malls are opening, high-rises are springing up and the Gulf’s hotels are eyeing expansion as a handful of developers and architects attempt to smooth out the fabric of the city.
Atinsazeh Engineers Group, a major Iranian developer, commissioned Arsh 4D Studio to create an apartment building that feels spacious despite being surrounded by high buildings. With its façade made of recycled bricks and angular protrusions on its frontage, the result, completed last year and called Villa Residential, is a playful attempt to entice passers-by.
Some Iranians have formed co-operatives to get better-designed houses. Andarzgoo Residential is a six-storey building in the north of Tehran commissioned by five clients who clubbed together to enlist Ayeneh Office for the design. “The building is located in a narrow alley in which the adjacent buildings have been chaotically constructed,” says Ali Dehghani, co-founder of Ayeneh. “We wanted to create a formless façade that could relax the alley visually.” The result is a frontage of unpolished granite interrupted by thermo pine shutters that create an appealingly textured vision.
Last year architecture firm TDC Office completed Saba, a residential block with modular wooden screens fitted to the square balconies of each apartment to create shade and privacy. The project was designed, realised and constructed by TDC. Saba was built for a private client looking to sell the units and give the property some distinction in the market.
Architects foresee an influx of foreign companies having an impact on how developers work. Tehran needs to set a tone for the future as it looks outwards again – the skyline is a good place to start.