Meralco president Eugenio Lopez Sr. (rightmost) graces the blessing of the Lopez Building in 1969. Architect Jose Zaragoza is third from right, in whiteRecently, President Aquino named Jose Maria Velez Zaragoza a National Artist for Architecture. Although awarded posthumously, Filipinos discovered that here was a distinguished and devoted Catholic architect who not only designed churches but also other landmarks such as the then Lopez-owned Meralco Building along Ortigas Ave.
According to Ruben David F. Defeo in his book “Jose Maria V. Zaragoza, Architecture for God, For Man,” Zaragoza, who passed away in 1994 at the age of 81, “had a mission to build churches. His works comprise a significant body of ecclesiastical architecture of about 45 churches all over the country.” As Zaragoza rose to prominence in 1954, wrote Defeo, he designed and supervised the construction of the Santo Domingo Church on Quezon Avenue, the Pope Pius XII parish church in Manila, the St. John Bosco church and the Union Church of Manila in Makati, and the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Parañaque, to name a few. The Villa San Miguel in Mandaluyong was one of his earlier works. Commissioned by EL Sr.
Lopez Group founder Eugenio Lopez Sr. (EL Sr.), who had Public Utilities in 1962, commissioned Zaragoza to design the company’s Ortigas headquarters. Meralco was previously based in San Marcelino, Manila.
The new Meralco Building was inaugurated on March 14, 1969 when the electric company celebrated its 66th anniversary. The Lopez Building, as it was also known, actually has 13 floors with the top floor as the 14th. It became the main building in the Meralco complex housing the administrative offices of the company, said Defeo.
The sprawling complex, according to an advertisement in The Manila Chronicle published on the same day, also included the John F. Cotton Hospital, the Jollye Recreation Center, Employee Facilities Building, Operations Building, Power Center and General Shops Building.
EL Sr.’s personality can be seen in his stamp on the Lopez Building, wrote Lopez biographer Raul Rodrigo in “Phoenix: The Saga of the Lopez Family”: its “very modern design for 1960s Manila”; the first-class Lighthouse restaurant at the top floor that reflected the owner’s “abiding love for good food”; and the Meralco Theater.
Defeo wrote that Zaragoza, in designing the building, made use of the louver as a significant feature of the structure. He was believed to have been inspired in designing the building from the fender of the fashionable car during his time, the Cougar.
The facade of the Lopez Building, described Defeo, alternates solids and transparencies. The sides are solid, like two monolithic towers. Inside are four sections: the pedestrian level, the main structure, an additional level and a crown with a flat roof. A bridge which connects the offices, corridors and the elevator lobby supports both portions of the building.
Zaragoza likened these to “two people supporting each other, with the bridge serving as outstretched arms.”
Height of architectural career
When Zaragoza designed and built the Lopez Building, he was at the height of his architectural career. A graduate of BS in Architecture from the University of Santo Tomas in 1936 with highest honors, he was ably assisted by his wife Pilar Rosello in most of his architectural projects. Together, wrote Defeo, they were the “tandem to beat, Zaragoza doing the structural aspects of the building, and his wife the interiors made of wood, including the carpentry and furniture.” She designed the theater’s wooden paneling that lines the walls of the auditorium, whose strongest facet was the interplay of textures involving the natural grain of wood, wrote Defeo.
The building, which faces east-west, is equipped with a phalanx of brise soleil. During sunrise and especially at high noon, these sun breakers filter the rays, preventing the scorching heat from getting in the building. The structure is founded on adobe, ensuring its resilience to withstand any force majeure.
Supremacy of form
Up to the present, “no other building in the country has duplicated his feat of having a series of vertical blades in concrete, arranged in a concave manner, not only to shield the building from sunlight and even rainwater, but to breathe subtlety and supremacy of form into the structure.”
Its structural strength was seen when it remained undamaged during the earthquake of July 16, 1990 which measured 7.7 on the Richter scale.
Other landmarks designed by Zaragoza were the former Philippine Banking Corporation building in Port Area, Manila, Virra Mall in Greenhills and the PAL building on Ayala Avenue, Makati.
According to his daughter Loudette Zaragoza-Banson, in an interview by Joanne Rae Ramirez for People magazine: “Dad conceived of magnificent things for others but for himself, he was content with his reliable white Volkswagen Beatle [sic]…. His life was so deeply rooted in his love for God and his devotion to Mama Virgen. That is why I am confident that perhaps with the help of those who believe in the preservation of cultural treasures, Dad’s work and memory will live longer than a hundred years.”
And indeed Zaragoza’s structures are showing that these may just last longer than a hundred years. (by Dulce Festin-Baybay)
Aerial shot of the Meralco Building