Atalyer fuses to­gether his­tory and her­itage with de­sign

Atalyer’s Leon Araneta on in­te­grat­ing his­tory and her­itage in de­sign


“I don’t have a fancy of­fice or a kept gallery,” ad­mits Leon Araneta, Atalyer’s chief in­te­grat­ing of­fi­cer and de­sign man­ager. After hav­ing nav­i­gated the busy al­leys and treach­er­ous streets of Bi­nondo, his lit­tle ad­mis­sion of truth almost trig­gered a heart at­tack among the pro­duc­tion staff, as the premise of the shoot was to fea­ture the de­signer’s workspace. A few flights of stairs and about 12 min­utes after, Araneta of­fers quick and glo­ri­ous re­demp­tion: a glimpse into a his­tor­i­cal gem hid­den in Bi­nondo’s labyrinth. “The owner of this build­ing ap­proached sev­eral firms, and ev­ery sin­gle one of them of­fered to tear the whole thing down and build anew,” he says. “Our plan, of course, was to fix it up.”

“This is the sev­enth floor,” he con­tin­ues, step­ping out of the an­ti­quated yet charm­ing (and fully func­tional) 1930s el­e­va­tor. The con­crete space, hous­ing pieces of fur­ni­ture and dust from sev­eral decades, re­sem­bles a gold mine, with Araneta poised to ease its tran­si­tion from his­tor­i­cal to func­tional. Ea­ger to tell the build­ing’s nar­ra­tive, he starts, “It was built in 1939 by a very en­ter­pris­ing Amer­i­can mil­i­tary com­man­der named Sa­muel Wilson. So for some time, the build­ing, known as

the S.J. Wilson, served as an of­fice space.” Later on, he re­veals, the build­ing would fall into Ja­panese hands dur­ing their Manila oc­cu­pa­tion. “You re­mem­ber the Mickey Mouse money?” he asks as he sig­nals to an aban­doned fur­nace. “That is where the Ja­panese would print it!”

It’s a common mis­con­cep­tion that build­ings from be­fore may be en­tirely brit­tle or per­haps un­sta­ble by now, ex­plains Araneta. “The in­ter­est­ing thing is, we ac­tu­ally didn’t have to take any pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sures deal­ing with this piece of ar­chi­tec­ture.” He pauses, “Sure, we had to in­stall plumb­ing since there were spa­ces where we had to put bath­room fix­tures in, but other than that, ab­so­lutely noth­ing.”

As we jour­ney deeper into what seemed to be a rab­bit hole, we en­counter the eighth floor. Rub­ble gen­er­ously scat­tered across the con­crete floor, wide holes punc­tur­ing the walls, and surreal metal ceil­ing bars rem­i­nis­cent of a Dali paint­ing (“The bars you see are bent be­cause there was a huge fire here a few years back”)—it does not at all come as a sur­prise why Araneta and the team de­cided to up­root their de­sign firm’s HQ and move tem­po­rar­ily to Bi­nondo’s busy­ness.

“We pride our­selves with the fact that we en­joy reusing and restor­ing ex­ist­ing el­e­ments and breath­ing new life into them,” says Araneta. Un­de­ni­ably skilled at fus­ing to­gether a pro­fu­sion of his­tory, ef­fi­ciency, and func­tion­al­ity, he and the folks at Atalyer add an el­e­ment of warmth to the old struc­ture's aes­thetic. By in­cor­po­rat­ing el­e­ments from the build­ing’s past such as the can­teen and restau­rant spa­ces that have been dec­o­rated with wooden bars that bear the names of old com­pa­nies—an il­lu­mi­na­tive homage to when the build­ing served as base camp for Makati Stock Ex­change, Araneta not only suc­ceeds at telling the build­ing’s nar­ra­tive; he and his team art­fully con­trib­ute to it

Bot­tom: The ceil­ing's metal fix­tures re­sem­ble a sur­re­al­ist land­scape, the metal bars ex­ag­ger­at­edly bent by a fire.

Lef­tand­be­low: Leon Araneta's her­itage build­ing restora­tion project in Bi­nondo: "The in­te­ri­ors were de­signed to have the ap­peal of a bank from the 1950s. Metic­u­lous at­ten­tion was given to the wooden mould­ing and fin­ish­ing. Also, cu­bi­cles are laid out...

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