Menarco Tower leads the way with wellness-oriented design

For most millennials, an office environment that exemplifies healthy and environmentally conscious practices is just as much a consideration as how much they earn and the benefits they receive. So when Carmen Jimenez-Ong, managing director of Menarco Development Corporation, embarked on her first high-end real estate project, Menarco Tower, she orchestrated what would be the first building in the Philippines to register for WELL Certification (one of only nine across the ASEAN region at the time of writing).

On what spurred Jimenez-Ong to design a new, people-entered model for an office building in the Philippines, she recounts: “I noticed that Filipinos spent a lot of time indoors, and those that worked hard needed a proper space that would bring out their best and most productive work. Many said it would be expensive, but I felt it was important to place more value on people and the planet—not just profit. It was important to me that what we created was designed with the human at the center of the design—the usage, the productivity, the effect on one’s wellbeing.”

The WELL Building Standard, launched in 2014 by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), measures and monitors the performance of building features that affect users’ health and well-being. There are seven ‘concepts’ that a building is assessed on: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.

With AIDEA as the architect of record and CS Design Consultancy as the concept architect and architectural interior designer, Menarco Tower also achieved a certified LEED Gold rating, further enhancing the building’s green credentials. But what does the fulfillment of green and wellness criteria actually mean in terms of tangible user benefits from its design?

After the project was awarded the Best Green Development at the Philippine Property Awards in 2016 (it was ‘Highly Commended’ for 2016 Best Office Development and 2015 Best Office Architectural Design), Jimenez-Ong told the media: “I hope that we are able to redefine the Philippine workspace—a place with natural light shining on your desk, where you breathe clean, filtered air, where you can exercise and walk up and down the stairs while seeing the sky and listening to music, where there are virtually no pests or bugs that could invade your space, where the bathrooms are fresh and clean like your own home, and where the art features museum-quality work by select contemporary Philippine artists.”

As we learn from our visit, the holistic philosophy not only embraces architectural design and building technology but also extends to how the building actively promotes healthy working and living habits through visual prompts.

Menarco Tower WELL certification AIDEA CS Design Consultancy
The front entrance to Menarco Tower facing 32nd Street, BGC.
Menarco Tower WELL certification AIDEA CS Design Consultancy And A Half
As part of the WELL certification, additional stainless steel signage was included to highlight the building’s wellness-oriented design features and encourage healthy practices. For example, “To encourage the use of the staircases, we made sure that our fire exits were naturally lit. We even have a sound system for one’s entertainment while walking up and down,” Jimenez-Ong proudly states. Wayfinding signage was designed by Manila-based branding and design studio, And A Half. Simple and effective, the aesthetic subtly complements the high-end stone and wood material palette of the building.

Signage, often just glanced at, is integral to the building’s WELL credentials in encouraging its occupants to practice a healthy lifestyle. On the unfinished eighth-floor communal canteen, nutritional advice is displayed on permanent signage: “Don’t drink your calories. Consumption of large amounts of sugary drinks increases the risk of obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and tooth decay. Drink water instead,” reads one.

Advertising of unhealthy foods is prohibited on the premises. Stairs are signposted with “Free workout,” while there are others indicating bike storage in the car parks. Jazz music calms the disposition as you move through the building. Health is wealth, as they say.

Menarco Tower WELL certification AIDEA CS Design Consultancy
Backlit Krion panels inside the elevators—which have no pores, are anti-bacterial, and 100% recyclable—and Barrisol overhead and above the elevators evenly illuminate the elevator lobby. Solid oakwood cladding lines the walls between the elevators.
Menarco Tower WELL certification AIDEA CS Design Consultancy
The unfinished eighth-floor food hall leads to an al-fresco dining terrace. Banaba trees, pandan, gabi, lemongrass, tarragon, ginger, and kamuning will all be grown for the tenants to harvest upon requesting gardening tools.

On the dining deck on the eighth floor, which tops the podium parking levels and gives the office plates a setback from its neighboring tower, edible plants line the edge of the property. Once the canteen is in full operational use, there is sure to be a queue outside for eager green thumbs to get a portion of ginger, gabi, or pandan for their next home-cooked meal. All of this, of course, generously provided by the building owner to any tenant employee.

Menarco Tower WELL certification AIDEA CS Design Consultancy
Artworks by contemporary Filipino artists will be hung on the walls of each elevator lobby as part of an initiative to make the building a ‘vertical museum’, and complying further with the WELL certification to give visual amenity to its occupants and guests.

Architecturally, then, the building has been designed to solidify these concepts further. The spacious ground floor foyer exhibits a sleek Miesian aesthetic, whose natural stone walls await embellishment with purchased artworks by contemporary Filipino artists, completing the sense of arrival. Pieces are already being hung on the office level elevator lobbies to form what will be a ‘vertical museum’. The beautifully curated palette of high-end materials becomes Jimenez-Ong’s setting for art and a source of creative inspiration for company staff and guests alike.

Menarco Tower WELL certification AIDEA CS Design Consultancy
All comfort rooms are fitted out with Porcelanosa bathroom fittings and fixtures.

A typical office floor plate, approximately 1,100 sqm. can be leased by up to four tenants, with 22 office floors in total and 25,400 sqm. of gross leasable area. In whatever fashion the interior design takes, all tenants are encouraged to use low-VOC products within their space, a recommendation for both WELL and LEED. The spaces are supplied with fresh, filtered, pre-cooled air with MERV 13 filters—a rating which ensures that even airborne contaminants including microscopic allergens, mold spores, and virus carriers stay clear from workstations.

Menarco Tower WELL certification AIDEA CS Design Consultancy
An example of a communal space for employees where they can have a coffee and take a break from the rigors of the working day.

Two 5,000-cubic-meter water tanks sit atop the building; one treats incoming water from the district water supply to serve all kitchens and bathrooms while the other stores graywater and atmospheric condensation for the building’s irrigation and maintenance needs. Tap water is drinkable although its occupants haven’t quite warmed to the idea just yet.

Menarco Tower WELL certification AIDEA CS Design Consultancy
130 bicycle parking spaces are provided for those who wish to commute on two wheels. Showers are provided for cyclists and those who use the fitness center.
Menarco Tower WELL certification AIDEA CS Design Consultancy
There are 37 mechanized parking lifts to accommodate double-deck parking spread across both a podium-level parking level and basement-level parking. Ten floors of parking offer a total of 383 car parking spaces. Perforated metal screens on the podium parking levels admit airflow and daylight to reduce the need for the space to be conditioned or artificially lit.

Green does not need to be seen to be an exemplary case study of a sustainable and user-centric workplace. Although the client was intent on Menarco Tower being a showcase of Filipino collaboration, she was just as contrarily steadfast in keeping appearances simple, not flashy.

Project architect from AIDEA Bernadette Mendoza gives some insight into how Jimenez-Ong’s hands-on collaboration made the building a resounding success: “She was so meticulosa! Sobra! She attended all the design coordination meetings, always asked a lot of questions. And remembered everything! Lahat na-absorb niya.” There’s nothing like the first. And it shows.

If the design of Menarco Tower is evidence of Jimenez-Ong’s character, then it’s clear as day that its tenants, who spend a significant amount of their waking hours inside the building, are well and truly taken care of. When she’s around, she is known to take selfies with tenant employees.

The project’s real flair lies in every element, detail, decision, and act that are all geared towards establishing the highest standard possible for a healthy work and, indeed, living ethos. With BGC’s big-city bustle being its main draw, Menarco Tower works extremely well in taking the pace off the rat race. 

Menarco Tower WELL certification AIDEA CS Design Consultancy
A view of the front elevation of Menarco Tower as seen from 30th Street.
Menarco Tower ground floor AIDEA CS Design Consultancy
Menarco Tower typical floor plan AIDEA CS Design Consultancy
Menarco Tower typical floor plan AIDEA CS Design Consultancy

Project Team

Developer Menarco Development Corporation

Architect of record AIDEA Inc.

Concept architect and architectural interiors designer CS Design Consultancy Inc.

Contractor DATEM Inc.

Construction manager JACMI

Structural engineering consultant Sy^2 + Associates Inc.

Mechanical consultant RJ Calpo & Company, Inc.

Electrical consultant R.A. Mojica & Partners

Fire protection & plumbing consultant NBF Consulting Inc.

Elevator consultant Meinhardt Philippines Inc.

LEED Consultant Arcadis

Original article first appeared in BluPrint Volume 3 2018. Edits were made for Bluprint online.

This article is written by Lawrence Carlos of BluPrint.

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