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Project Profile


2001 Honourable Mention

Neilson Tower

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Project Title: Neilson Tower (The Filipinas Heritage Library)

Date of Completion: January 1996

Location: Makati Avenue, Ayala Triangle, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines

Size: 859 square metres

Cost: US$ 1,700,000

Client: Ayala Land Inc.

Heritage Architect: Leandro V Locsin & Partners

Contractor: D. M. Consunji Inc.

Project Synopsis

Built in the 1930s, Neilson Tower was the terminal building of Nielson Airport until the airport closed in 1948. A two-storey concrete structure cleverly designed to resemble an airplane from a bird’s eye view, it is the only remaining pre-war structure in what is now the bustling Makati commercial district.

After the closing of the airport the Neilson building was utilized as a police department and later as offices. From the late 1970s until 1994, the building was leased out and was converted into a club-restaurant.  During this time the surrounding area was increasingly built-up with new buildings constructed in what was previously the air-field. When the lease of the club-restaurant ended in 1994, the owners, Ayala Corporation, proposed to integrate the tower into a plan for a cultural centre and it was decided to redevelop the building into a specialized research library of Philippine culture. The building was ideal for such a conversion because with its central location the building was accessible to the public, yet was insulated from the noise of the surrounding area by its gardens.

The overriding objective of the conservation project was to enhance the Tower as a historical and cultural landmark while innovatively adapting it for reuse. The building’s exterior has remained largely unchanged but substantial interior renovation work was undertaken to meet the library’s requirements.  The construction period of the project began in May 1995 and works were completed in nine months.

Just as the Nielson Tower connected the Philippines to the world in the 1930s, the Library now links the country globally with its information highway.  

Highlights of Conservation Approach

The guiding principle of the project was to weave function around structure, respecting the existing fabric rather than forcing the fabric to adapt to its new use. As a result, the major issue was in striking a balance between conserving the original fabric and implementing changes to facilitate the new use. 

With the aid of old photos, the project managers were able to establish the original appearance of the building and apart from some damage received during the Second World War, it was clear that the tower’s structure and appearance have remained virtually unchanged since the 1930s. Minimal work was therefore required in the restoration of the exterior. The roof, walls and original window frames were refurbished with a fresh coat of paint, window glass panels were replaced and the Manila International Air Terminal signage on the rear of the building was restored. The only major modification on the exterior was the removal of the 1970s-era canvas canopy at the front entrance, which was replaced with a permanent circular canopy, designed in conformity with the building’s architectural style.

While the layout of most rooms in the building was left unchanged and original features, such as hardwood doors, were retained, some major alterations were made to the interior. The central staircase, which provided access to the basement and the tower, had to be replaced to meet safety standards, so a new spiral staircase was installed at the back of the building. In addition, the dumbwaiter and its shaft were dismantled to clear the central area of the main floor and an elevator was installed to facilitate access by handicapped visitors.

In order to meet the space requirements of a library the building had to be expanded. Since it was important to maintain the original external appearance of the building this enlargement was implemented underground in the basement area. Effects on the foundations were minimized by limiting the direction of the expansion towards the rear of the building. As the expansion was designed to facilitate the preservation of rare collections, the new section was provided with special protection against the elements, dust, insects and light, including an efficient new water drainage system. 

Conservation and the Community

Now home to the Filipinas Heritage Library, the Neilson Tower offers traditional library services as well as a one-stop research centre with access to a realm of Filipino national heritage information. Not only has it launched a new era in library development, it has contributed to raising the community’s awareness of and interest in studying and preserving the country’s heritage. By increasing creative interaction, the restored Nielson Tower has also become a source of inspiration and national pride.

Since its restoration, the building has also become a popular venue for community activities such as book launches, lectures, conferences, poetry readings, concerts and social functions, including weddings.