Our Filipino Century

Published June 9, 2014

ABOVE: ARCHITECT DANIEL LIBESKIND AT THE CENTURY SPIRE GROUNDBREAKING

Groundbreakings in the States are usually pretty dowdy affairs: suited men in ill-fitting hardhats, a couple of leaden speeches, and a flurry of awkward handshakes.

But things are different in Manila.

Local developers Century Properties Group—owners, by some accounts, of as much of 10 percent of the real estate market in this burgeoning city of 12 million people—recently unveiled their newest project, The Century Spire, a 60-story tower designed by international “starchitect” Daniel Libeskind (known for Berlin’s Jewish Museum and the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum, among many other projects). The residential high-rise, slated for completion in 2018, will be the first such building by an architect of Libeskind’s stature to open in the capital of the Philippines, and its debut was greeted with the kind of buzz and fanfare that seem typical of a country where televised beauty pageants are still a major spectator sport.

Certainly few comparable industry events in New York or Los Angeles would begin as this one did, with a slender, be-gowned emcee calling the assembled press and VIPs to consecrate the new building in the name of “our Lord” (“God,” she added, just for clarity). The podium on the balcony of the Century Mall was then taken over by Robbie Antonio, the company’s Managing Director, who’s acquired quite a name for himself beyond his native archipelago for his wide-ranging taste in art and design. “We’ve never had the opportunity to work with two such remarkable brands,” said Antonio, giving a nod both to the beaming architect in the first row as well as to the firm responsible for the building’s interiors—Armani/Casa, the furnishings spin-off of the famed Italian fashion giant.

After remarks by Libeskind and Century CEO Jose Antonio, the principals unleashed several hundred balloons into the air above the construction site, and then proceeded to an elaborate lunch where a string quartet played Lady Gaga tunes while an invited horde of local architecture students jockeyed for a look at the illustrious out-of-towner. (One of their number was seen to go into a Beatlemania-ish faint after sneaking a photo of Libeskind escaping down a hallway.) After a video presentation about the project, Antonio père and fils returned to the stage with the designer for a brief panel discussion followed by a Q&A from the audience.

And that wasn’t all. After a tour of the sumptuous model units—also led by slender, be-gowned hostesses—the party moved to the mercifully-well-climate-controlled terrace of Century’s nearby Pacific Star Building, where the Antonios once again lavished praise on their collaborators before treating the crowd to an encore presentation of the same promotional video from earlier in the afternoon. The after-parties removed to a still different rooftop, where Antonio the Younger seemed in his element, conjuring up bottles of champagne topped by burning sparklers. “We wanted to celebrate,” he said. “There’s an appetite for this kind of thing in the Philippines.”