Flight to Dubai

Entry 1: BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design’s Royal Pineda is off to do finishing touches on Bangkôta, the Philippines Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

Royal Pineda Edited by Judith Torres
Images BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design

Soaring High sculpture by Charlie Co in fiberglass depicts the Filipino overseas worker flying high as a global citizen Header: Bangkôta, the name of the Philippines pavilion, means coral reef. The design speaks of sustainability, permeability, and connectivity. The blue fiberglass sculpture, Haliya, by Duddley Diaz, represents a female life-giving figure from oral literature

  • 2021 September 4, Friday
  • 10:00 AM
  • Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1

I arrived at NAIA Terminal 1 at 8:30 AM for a 12:30 PM flight, expecting lengthy safety protocol procedures. But when I got here, there was hardly anyone, so it was fast. All I did was show my negative RT PCR test result at the checkpoint, the entrance, and check-in.

The business lounge is closed, so I’m at Starbucks. I’m the only one here, so it’s safe to take off my mask and have coffee. I was told there are only two of us on the flight to Dubai. Good for me, but bad for business.

Marian Roces, the Expo 2020 Philippines Pavilion curator, was supposed to fly out with me today, but she missed her test. You’re supposed to be tested for COVID within 70 hours of the flight, but she missed it, so the next flight she can take isn’t until next week.

No quarantine when I arrive in Dubai at 10:00 PM. Just another test for COVID and download Dubai’s contact tracing smart app. From the airport, I go straight to the hotel where I wait for my test result by email. If I test positive, the health authorities will pick me up and trace all my contacts.

At NAIA Terminal 1, the empty boarding area, and on a PAL flight to Dubai where the flight crew outnumber the passengers

Just the other night, we had a meeting with ASEC Rosvi (Assistant Secretary Rosvi Gaetos of the Department of Trade and Industry) who’s already in Dubai with our design director, Angel (Angel France Aguinaldo, Jr.). The turnover of the Philippine Pavilion from the contractor to the Philippine government is delayed by three or four days. But many of the national pavilions are likewise delayed. All of us have been affected by the UAE and our respective governments’ pandemic restrictions.

But the Philippines Pavilion is up and I’m really very excited to polish the Bangkota. There’s a finish, a patina on one of the sculptures that’s supposed to almost look like copper. I want to make sure it does. There are other finishing touches to do and there’s nothing like eyeballing them yourself to make sure that the pavilion really spells quality because that’s what we’re trying to express now—the modern Filipino standard.

To hew close to the theme of sustainability, BUDJI+ROYAL made sure all construction materials, large installation pieces, as well as plant life, would be sourced and fabricated in Dubai.

I really want to feel the space and see how we can improve on it, and make the experience more powerful, you know. I’m excited to see the installations, most especially the lighting, because Bangkôta is one large void designed to make visitors wander the spaces inside the architecture and contemplate.

I really want to make sure that people feel that first quietness, that initial stillness, and then we start to present the lights and the installations and their messages and in those short moments, leave an impression. That impression doesn’t need to explain everything. It just needs to show people this is who we are. We are the modern Filipino.

Bangkôta’s Nature is Peace area, Roots of the Universe sculpture by Lee Paje

It’s been quite a challenge executing design management and project management by remote. We’ve had some experience doing that on projects we did in Tel Aviv, Paris, Provence, and the US. It’s actually much easier now with teleconferencing apps and virtual reality—except that it’s really Angel who is our VR app—haha! He turns on his camera and we tell him, “Please turn right, Gel,” or “Gel, can you please turn left?” But again, there’s nothing like walking the spaces and seeing and touching the textures in person.

Before Angel got there, our team in Dubai—Yaghmour, the architect-of-record, and LC & Partners, the local project manager, that took care of updating us with photos and video.

Bangkôta’s Variety of the World area, Helix sculpture by Baby and Coco Anne (B+C)

Not entirely sure when the contractor, RAQ Contracting, can turn over the pavilion to the Philippine team, but it can’t be any later than September 15. Which leaves us just over a week before we turn over the pavilion to the Expo organizers. By “turn over,” we mean no more touching because the organizers will do a security sweep of the entire Expo site and each and every pavilion. Even now, the organizers have been checking construction to see that each country follows their plans. Then, when we turn over, they will check every single space, including verifying all the voids in every building. They need to check each hollow wall to make sure there are no dangerous materials hidden in them and the entire site is safe. They are extremely strict.

Opening ceremonies are on September 30, by invitation only, then open to the public on October 1. Sadly, because of COVID, there won’t be as many people attending as we all hoped. But the Expo has already been postponed by a year and the UAE government has already spent on the event, so, like the Olympics, it just has to push through. Hopefully, the pandemic will ease up and attendance improve next year, as the Expo runs until the end of March 2022.

Confluence of Wings sculpture by Abdulmari Toym Imao—mythic birds about to burst in explosive flight

The Philippines enjoyed some glorious moments in this year’s Olympics. Our country was also recognized in the recent La Biennale di Venezia.

I don’t know how the world will react to the Expo 2020 Philippines national pavilion. But just a few days ago, ASEC Rosvi was telling me how happy and excited she is about Bangkôta. That made my day because the DTI are our clients and Rosvi wouldn’t say she’s happy with our work if she weren’t genuinely happy with it. That’s one of our main objectives, right? To please the client. So that is one small success. Then, of course, the big client is the Philippines. Will they be happy with Bangkôta? Let’s see how the rest of the world will see it. •

Modern Bayanihan Philippine Creative Team

BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design

Artistic and Thematic Direction
Royal Pineda

Curation and Content Development
Marian Pastor Roces

Creative Services
Architect-of-Record, Yaghmour
Design & Build, RAQ Contracting Co.
Landscape Architecture, Al Shomoos

Cultural Sites
Exhibitions, Creative Services by Christopher Draye
Exhibitions, Audio-Visual Content by Beyond Limits
Exhibitions by Star Springs

Cultural Expressions & Design
Furniture & Fit-Out Design by Budji Layug, B&R Solutions
Artisanal Objects by Bros Mastermind
Arts & Crafts by Common Room
Arts & Crafts by Go Lokal!
Arts & Crafts, Fashion by Marahuyo Designers
Fashion by Ezra Santos
Gastronomy by Jovy Tuaño

Visual Arts
Abdulmari ‘Toym’ Imao

Baby & Coco Anne
Charlie Co
Dan Raralio
Dex Fernandez
Duddley Diaz
Lee Paje
Patrick Cabral
Riel Jamarillo Hilario

Ivan Sarenas
Scott “Gutsy” Tuason
Tirso Paris

Performing Arts
Original music by Dr. Ramon Pagayon Santos
Show Production (dance, music) by Nestor Hardin & Silang Communications
Dance and Choreography by Denisa Reyes & JM Cabiling
Music by Tereza Barroso

New Media & Audio-Visuals
Animation by Avid Liongoren, Rocketsheep Studios
Video Production by Manny Angeles, Twenty Manila
Game Development by James Palabay, Digital Art Chefs
Film, Advertising, Software by BBDO Guerrero
Exhibitions, Audio-Visual Content by Beyond Limits

Media, Broadcasting & Audio-Visuals
News Creation, Publication by New Perspective Media
Broadcasting, Television, Advertising by ABS-CBN TFC Dubai, Metro Group
Broadcasting, Television, Advertising by GMA, CNN

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