13 November 2011

Shangri-La Plaza, Mandaluyong, Philippines

An emerging marketplace

The Philippines is a place of extremes. Right next to the gleaming glass towers of Makati’s central business district are blocks of informal settlements, more commonly known as slums. The weather is basically half a year of non-stop rain and half a year of bone dry skies. Even their shopping is extreme. While the vast majority of the population make their purchases at their local market, or palengke in Tagalog, and at the nearest sari-sari store, the privileged few get to browse in some of the largest and most extravagant shopping malls in the world.

1- The main entrance on Shaw Boulevard. 2- The Grand Atrium above center court. 3- The view of Shangri-La Plaza from my condominium.

As of this writing, three of the world’s seven largest malls are located in Metro Manila. And they are huge. They’re all encompassing as well; Victor Gruen would be happy to see how they have developed in this archipelago. More often than not, they contain supermarkets, doctors’ offices, cinemas, countless restaurants, residential space and more. This being said, of all the malls in Manila, Shangri-La Plaza is my favorite.

Shangri-La Plaza Lease Plan ca. 2011.  View the full PDF version here.

Affectionately known as The Shang, the seven level center is a paltry million square feet of gross leasable area. It is dwarfed by its next door neighbor, the 4.2 million square foot SM Megamall. However, I find it to be the much more impressive of the two. It is anchored by Rustan’s, considered to be the Philippines’ most upmarket department store, there is a massive food court in the basement level, and the Grand Atrium at Center Court, with its many unaligned escalators, mezzanines and staircases, is reminiscent of an M.C. Escher painting.

1- Shangri-La Plaza with Star Mall on the opposite side of EDSA. 2- An MRT train pulls into the Shaw Boulevard Station right next to Rustan's.

Each of the levels has its own theme. From the basement to the sixth level, they are respectively known as Food and Fun, home of the food court and the electronics sector; City Streets, a hodge-podge of different stores and an outdoor strip of nightclubs and restaurants; Casual Lifestyle, focusing on everyday fashion; Indulgences, offering upscale accoutrements; My Family, My Home with domestic design, child and baby stores; Urban Lifestyle, with fashion forward clothing and accessories marketed to the younger crowd; and Pleasures of Life on the top level, home of the cinemas and other entertainment venues. Shangri-La caters to people of most demographics with stores ranging from the upscale Coach and Tiffany’s to mid-market Marks & Spencer.

Around the Ortigas Center in Metro Manila.

When I moved to Manila, I specifically sought out a condominium in the Ortigas Center, a business district straddling the line between Pasig and Mandaluyong cities in which Shangri-La is located. Within walking distance are seven other malls including Saint Francis Square, the Podium, the SM Megamall and Robinson’s Galleria. I did most of my grocery shopping at Rustan’s supermarket and got prescriptions filled at Mercury Drug. I got my hair cut at a barber shop in the basement area, and there was a great little natural foods store that had one of the best selections of wine that I’ve seen in the country. It was perfect. Everything that I needed was just a few steps outside of my building.

1- Shangri-La Plaza with my former residence building in the background. 2- The Saint Francis Shangri-La Place twin residential towers. 3- A fire that started in the mall's basement viewed from my condo window. No major damage occurred, but Rustan's Supermarket was closed for a few months.

The MRT (Manila’s light rail system) has a station directly connected to the mall that I used daily to commute to and from work. There are a series of skyways and bridges that connected Shangri-La to two other malls, EDSA Central and Star Mall. I’ve always wanted to live in an urban environment where a car isn’t a necessity, and living right next to Shangri-La allowed me to do that.

Like most Philippine malls, it is pretty unremarkable from the outside. It is an unassuming concrete block washed in dull yellow paint. It is surrounded by scores of high-rise buildings, further diminishing its presence. There are no surface lots, just several parking decks and rooftop spaces. Finding a place in the carpark can be quite the hassle, and I would merely smile at all of the cars in the queue for entry as I walked right past them and to my own condominium just a short stroll away.

The Saint Francis Shangri-La Place tower complex.

Without a doubt, the most impressive part of the facility is its residential portion. The seven levels of shopping are punctuated by the 60 story tall twin towers, The Saint Francis Shangri-La Place. At just under 700 feet tall each, they are the tallest residential buildings in the entire country, as well as the tallest skyscrapers of any kind in the Ortigas Center.

Shangri-La Plaza may not be the largest mall in the area, but I found it to be the best by far showing that, once again, bigger may not necessarily be better.

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