China Bank Binondo Building as of August 14, 2020
China Banking Corporation’s (China Bank) building in Binondo, Manila is looking more like its original magnificent architecture and an "Instagramable" spot for anyone visiting the world’s oldest Chinatown. Though works to restore the 96-year old building slowed due to quarantine restrictions amid the global pandemic, the restored façade and ground floor were unveiled on August 14, 2020, just in time for China Bank’s centennial anniversary.
While the restoration is still ongoing, the building’s impressive transformation is already apparent. Outside, the meticulously restored original grills and arches, previously walled in for the last 70 years, give the refreshed building an elegant and nostalgic vibe. Inside, the high ceiling, beautiful granite floor, and natural light streaming in from the arches opened up the space and made it look grander. At night, even with just the temporary lighting—not yet the professionally designed exterior lights to be installed soon—it is already a sight to behold.
"This restoration is the centerpiece of our centennial celebration and a major component of Binondo’s renewal. It's a 'true restoration' with as much emphasis on making the building resilient for the next 100 years," said China Bank President William Whang.
"Hopefully, this will be a catalyst for others in Binondo to restore buildings. We are very proud of this project," added China Bank Director Harley Sy.
The branch lobby before restoration and after (below)
According to former China Bank President Ricardo Chua, now board advisor, they dreamed of restoring the building five years ago. "Now it’s a reality, a part of the heritage of the country!"
With fond memories of the building during Binondo’s heyday, Director Nancy Yang, granddaughter of China Bank Founder Dee C. Chuan, said: "Very impressive! I hope we seniors can go to have a tour of the place once this Covid is hopefully over."
Those who have seen the building or its recent photos mirror the directors’ amazement.
"That’s quite a change to the façade. It looks fantastic! I’ve always thought (China Bank’s) Binondo was a great looking building. The natural light is great," said London-based designer Graham Butterworth.
"I’m so happy about this. It always makes me sad to see heritage buildings in Manila being demolished and replaced with modern ones. I always felt we were losing so much of our cultural heritage and what makes us uniquely Filipino," said Asst. Secretary of Finance Teresa Habitan.
The faithful restoration of the seven-story Binondo Building to its original design by German architect Julius Arthur Niclaus Gabler Gumbert was not the only focus of the Bank’s Binondo Heritage Restoration Project team led by SVP Alexander Escucha. The other board mandate was to ensure the building’s resilience.
Sumitomo rubber dampeners are installed oneach floor to absorb vibration
"Much of the construction work was to strengthen the building, make it energy efficient, and bring it up to modern building codes and safety standards.” said Escucha. “We commissioned a seismic study which concluded that the building can’t withstand ‘The Big One’ (7.2 magnitude earthquake), so all the floors were retrofitted with a Japanese technology of rubber dampeners—the first of its kind in the country. We also commissioned a hydrological study that showed the lobby as below the Pasig River’s level at high tide, so a modern pipe system and a cement barrier were installed in the ground floor. I’m proud to say that this project meets the standards of a true restoration and of structural sustainability and resilience. Once complete, it will also be LEED compliant."
Final touches are being added to the ground floor area for the Binondo Branch, expected to be finished by end-August. The full restoration of the whole building, including the elements of the China Bank museum, is targeted by year-end. "Hopefully, with the easing of the quarantine measures, there will be no further delays and we can go full swing,” said Escucha. “We hope to be part of the walking tour starting in Jones Bridge."
"This restoration and heritage project is China Bank’s contribution to the revitalization of Binondo," said China Bank Chairman Hans Sy.
Once fully restored, the Neo-classic Beaux Arts building that is China Bank Binondo will be declared a heritage site by the National Historic Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).
Binondo Heritage Restoration Project