Menarco introduces the country’s healthiest tower

JOYCE REYES-AGUILA
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(Joyce contributes to various national publications when she’s not busy with her day job in analytics. She recently joined the world of podcasting with her husband, wheels.ph editor Kap Maceda Aguila, with whom she shares a love of writing.)

Meet an office space that was built with the health and well-being of its occupants in mind. It was created based on several wellness concepts to boost employee performance — far from the familiar muddled work environment many are trapped in daily.

The Menarco Tower along 32nd Street in Bonifacio Global City was really envisioned to be a workspace that is mindful of its tenants’ welfare. Carmen Jimenez Ong, Menarco Development Corporation founder and CEO, reveals that they were almost done building a tower that aimed to redefine offices when she learned of how they can make it more awesome.

Menarco Development Corporation founder and CEO Carmen Jimenez-Ong (left) and Menarco chairman Menardro R. Jimenez Sr. (right) receive the gold WELL certification for Menarco Tower from International WELL Building Institute director of business development for Asia Samantha Allen (center).

A friend phoned to tell her about the WELL Building Standard, a global tool that measures and monitors the health and well-building of buildings and its occupants. “He went to a building in Japan that was either WELL-certified or gunning for it. He said, ‘It so reminded me of you because I know this is something that will resonate with you,’” the executive says.

Carmen realized they were already doing most of what WELL required without the certification in mind. She and an all-Filipino team of experts that include DATEM, JACMI, Aidea and CS design worked on the retakes and re-measurements required to be aligned with the certification’s building standards. “WELL is very stringent,” the youngest daughter of Menarco chairman and former GMA Network Inc. president Menardo Jimenez says. “It took us a lot of planning. Being a developer now is a mission. It was so important for me that as stewards of the spaces, we give back to people that are in there.”

The Menarco Tower received its WELL Gold certification last week, becoming the first building to be registered as such in Southeast Asia. Every aspect of the property passed the standards for seven wellness concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. WELL encourages healthy environments for living, working, and playing to elevate the quality of the occupants’ health. “It is a place where they can productively stay motivated and even stimulate their creativity,” Menardo told guests at the certification ceremony. “It is a place to actually look forward to, a place that is not only built with walls, floors, and ceilings but with the intention to keep their well-being in place. In this place, the harder and longer you work, the stronger and fit you become. (It is) a benchmark for Philippine corporate buildings in the future.”

The first level of the tower’s exterior consists of soft grey glass set against charcoal grey aluminum mullions and natural slate. Its second level consists of deep vertical wooden fins that span the tower’s lower façade, extending inside, and running the full length of the lobby ceiling.

Carmen says WELL addresses both absenteeism (or practice of staying away from work without good reason) and presenteeism (being physically present at work but operating in less productive levels). “Statistics have shown that people get sick less when the air is fresh,” she says after explaining that the building has fresh and filtered air to oxygenate lungs.

WELL addresses both absenteeism (or practice of staying away from work without good reason) and presenteeism (being physically present at work but operating in less productive levels).

In 2015, the World Building Council published findings that such air quality increases productivity by 8 to 11 percent. Low or no-VOC (volatile organic compound or chemical particles that are harmful to the human body) paints, adhesives, and materials that passed WELL and LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) were also used.

The building’s staircases invite natural light and plays music to passers to encourage exercise. The amount of sunshine that comes in has been measured to reduce heat and benefit occupants by boosting their serotonin, happy hormones, provide better sleep, and reduce stress. A wellness floor can be accessed to do various fitness activities such as yoga and Pilates — Carmen’s favorite stop several times a week. The Menarco Vertical Museum will house contemporary Filipino art pieces in the building’s public spaces, too.

The quake-proof and typhoon-proof tower’s food hall was designed to be a space for congregation. The executive says they also want it to be an uplifting space for employees who need time away from their designated workplace but cannot leave the building. At the food hall is an Instagram-worthy public art installation by Pam Yan Santos, one of Carmen’s favorite artists. Anyone is free to sit on an armchair that rotates between a wall full of mail-like lockers with a variety of words and the wall opposite it reflects the lockers through drawings. She adds that occupants will be able to enjoy an outdoor garden full of edible plants. “If they want to make tea, they can go there, touch the soil, get a leaf, and pour it over water.”

The art installation of Pam Yam Santos named “Pauses of Possibility” is one of the many art pieces featured throughout the public spaces of Menarco Tower.

The tower’s office spaces are designed for higher density through flexible layouts to enable tenants to maximize their rent, according to the building’s journal. It reports that only four tenants will be accommodated per floor. And Carmen says their “rent is not expensive. We’re at par. Why? Because I don’t want to charge high. I am not here to gouge somebody just because we have a certification. It’s really about getting the right tenants in. We screen our tenants. We really go for corporate tenants and if you are aligned with our vision, then it makes things easier for both of us to work something out. I’m a really surprising person, I think. I’m not governed by money.”

Menarco Tower’s lobby is likened to a tall and wide arcade and links the 32nd Street and an open space, connecting pedestrians at both ends.

Carmen credits her parents for imbibing values that shaped her and influenced her business decisions. The family patriarch ran GMA network from the 1970s to 2000s, including “very difficult, perilous times when the government controlled everything. GMA was the only independent station. He knew nothing about broadcasting and yet he was able to turn the company which was losing and playing reruns of Popeye, as he tells me, to a very respected TV network particularly in news. It was the most trusted station.

“I only realized that a year ago. I said, ‘Dad, I think there’s some of you in me, a parallel life. How did you do it?’ He surrounded himself with good people, built good relationships in the industry. It was about God directing him, giving him wisdom and strength to go on. He also gave back. He could have sold a lot of the hours that were dedicated to (programs like) Negosyete, Agrisyete, Kapwa Ko, Mahal Ko, The 700 Club. A lot of that, they did not earn from but it was to help the negosyante (business folks), farmers, the sickly.” What her father did with television air time, Carmen is now achieving with the Tower’s space. Social media giant Facebook occupies the building’s penthouse, and requests for more space are coming from both new and current tenants, too.

Love for country and fellowmen is what she learned from mom Carolina. “The reason why I wanted to celebrate this (achievement) is really the need for other people in the industry to add more metrics, not just quantitative but qualitative. Well-being is not something you can measure, really. But it’s so important. For me, being nationalistic, I always want to be an asset to the Philippines.

“I believe that one should work hard but the environment should also contribute to that. I care a lot about people. People that I work with, I live with. And at the same time, hopefully be able to influence other developers to do good,” the former GMA Foundation executive director says. “We’re really committed to creating spaces that our humanity-centered, that uplift the people in them, whether they be workspaces, living spaces, or play spaces. They can be high-end, low-end, it can be mass housing. Whatever it is, we’ll give good value for money by creating a space that people can trust, that if it’s Menarco-made, you know that this was done with love and care. Because I think there’s a lot of malasakit (concern) that comes with building. People need to be unified, they need to see that we are all working.”

Carmen shares they are now assessing the family’s land bank to determine the next step for the company. “We have gone to great measures in Menarco to be able to contribute to tenant wellness and productivity. That is what really makes us Menarco. We’re building spaces for people, not making people fit into the spaces.”