“Do you think that works? Can they see us?”
Someone behind me says as we both peer up at a shell-encrusted CCTV camera. Meanwhile, another had begun snapping photos, a seemingly meta depiction of the watched watching the watcher.
The conversation-starting piece, Pio Abad’s “Decoy (CCTV),” is one of the many works of contemporary art installed throughout Menarco Tower.
The 32-story structure situated along BGC’s bustling corporate district, is the first building of its kind in the region. It boasts being the healthiest building in Southeast Asia, bagging certifications from the International WELL Building Institute (WELL) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
But apart from its hospital-grade air, natural light-conducive high ceilings, extensive water and resource management, and recycling and composting systems, one feature stands out in making the building holistically healthy: art.
Before plunging into the world of property development, Menarco Development Corporation (Menarco) CEO Carmen Jimenez-Ong had already been immersed in the wellness circles. A pilates instructor, she established B+B Studio, one of the internationally certified studios teaching Stott Pilates, a brand of pilates that focuses on strengthening a neutral spine posture and follows a different sequence than the original method. When her father, former GMA Network president Menardo Jimenez entrusted her the space in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), and challenged her to spearhead Menarco, Jimenez-Ong, despite having no prior experience in real estate of that scale, approached it with the vision she had always held: keeping humanity in mind.
This priority for people made the inclusion of art integral to the design of the entire building. Unlike most corporate towers where art may seem to be an afterthought, Menarco Tower began building their art collection alongside the creation and construction of the building.
The result is a vertical museum that runs through all floors, accessible to all who may pass by.
Art, especially in the workplace, serves more than just an aesthetic purpose. Various studies have proven its positive effects. In a survey conducted by the Business Committee for the Arts and the International Association for Professional Art Advisors, 64 percent of their respondents said that art in the office helped increase creativity, 77 percent agreed that it encouraged the expression of opinions, while 78 percent reported that art helped reduce stress.
Coming from a long period of remote work, art also serves as a bridge towards engagement and social interaction. Prolonged exposure to art (simply put, the more we look at a piece, especially if we constantly and consistently encounter it—as in the workplace) could also lead to a greater sense of art appreciation, as well as the development of meaning.
At Menarco Tower, 39 works of contemporary art have been interspersed over its communal spaces, from the looming orchid diptych by Patricia Eustaquio in the main lobby, up to the interactive “Stars (Artists’ Eyes)” installation by Gregory Halili in Menarco’s conference room.
The works, chosen with the help of Silverlens Gallery and Ateneo Art Gallery, reflect the current social milieu, but at the same time serve as profound entry points to a wider sense of art appreciation.
Mark Cajipe, who works at one of the companies housed within Menarco Tower, says he finds the vertical museum “a fresh way to make the space lively. … It is great to see that Menarco appreciates contemporary art that gets your attention, and is not just limited to oil paintings but of different art media.”
Menarco’s art collection, which features a varied mix of paintings, collage, photographs, prints, video, sculptures, and fixtures, are also set to be shuffled around the property. This allows more people (especially those who don’t normally access other floors) to see new art.
John Amon, Menarco’s marketing and communications chief, says, “We look at the museum as an organic collection. One that will rotate, grow, and expand within Menarco Tower, and eventually across our other key developments. It is not a one-off project because we believe that art, like the air we breathe or the spaces we work and live in, is essential in helping us live more meaningful lives.”
‘People, planet, profit’
While art has been one of the key features Menarco has employed to create a holistically healthy building, other green features have also been integrated into their system.
For example, the tower’s eighth floor, the communal dining and commercial space called “The Yard” contains a little bit of everything: art installations (this is also where Abad’s CCTV is located), the in-house cafeteria, a coffee shop chain, a wide dining area, and a pocket garden. (With crops! And bokashi compost! And gardening tools you can borrow!)
And while they are loath to simply call it sustainable, (“[It] has become such a trendy and overused word in the industry,” Amon says. “What we believe in is ‘human centric design,’ wherein everything we do, every space we build, must serve and satisfy some form of human good.”) the structure, and thereby its effects on its inhabitants, speak for themselves.
I asked Cajipe how his experience is working at the building, and apart from the expected (“During the day, there is much natural light but without additional heat.” He also added that their office had a view of the Rizal mountains, which helped him feel more productive and less tired), he shared a tidbit that made Menarco’s philosophy all the more convincing.
“Their community activities such as helping farmers through fairs and other activities have been a great way to engage those working in the building,” he says.
True enough, it brings to mind Amon’s point: “From our architectural designs, to our building materials, to our choice of contractors and partners, to our choice of tenants, and even our internal policies and operations, the most important question is always, ‘Is this good for people, planet, and profit?’, in that specific order.”
While Menarco Tower remains their sole standing structure today, imagining the form of their next development project makes for an intriguing if not inspiring exercise.
Menarco Tower is located at 32nd Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Tours at the Menarco Vertical Museum must be scheduled in advance.