Royal Walk-Through

Entry 5: Expo 2020 Philippines Pavilion architect and artistic director Royal Pineda takes us on a Zoom walk-through of the reef-inspired Bangkóta and its spiraling exteriors

Royal Pineda as told to Judith Torres
Images BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design

Hey, everybody, I’m here with Angel France Aguinaldo, BUDJI+ROYAL’s design director, outside Bangkóta. It’s 11:36 am in Dubai and 3:36 pm in Manila. We were supposed to do this at dusk, at the golden hour, but the contractor is turning over the pavilion to us this evening, so sorry for the change in plans.

Also beside Bangkóta is Portugal. They also have a roof deck. From there, they can see the sculpture that is our Bangkóta. They were saying, “We’re so happy to see the sculpture from above.” So our architecture serves as a sculpture; it complements the vicinity.

Bangkóta is coral reef-inspired but it does not offer the design clichés of a tropical paradise. As Marian Roces, our curator says, it’s kinda baffling at first.

The big blue figure is Haliya, by sculptor Duddley Diaz. A pregnant female figure from Philippine mythology, six meters high, and painted bright blue to pop.

To Haliya’s right is Mangrove café. The Mangrove café will glow at night. So this space is both alluring and puzzling.

Yesterday, we were listening to the music of National Artist Ramon Santos, out in the plaza. It was amazing to hear because it gave the plaza the feeling of a cathedral. When you hear it from afar, it’s like a chant and it leads you here. And as you walk into the space, the music gets fuller and fuller.

You walk further inside the plaza and see a verdigris sculpture hanging in the air. It looks like a fish made of mechanical parts. It’s a fusion of mythology and industrial references.

Mystiquecross sculpture by Dan Rarallo

To the right is the entrance into Bangkóta’s void. It’s going to be dark inside. The first room we will enter is Nature is Peace by Lee Paje. The space is meant to be surreal. People aren’t supposed to see the walls and floor. What they see is a forest of trees that’s upside down.

The ceiling’s about 8.5 meters high. The trees are of different lengths. Some of them are low enough to touch the visitors.

The space of Nature is Peace will be much dimmer because we really want to create the feeling of a void. Visitors will be confronted by holographic images of birds and fishes, all real, but chosen for being weird-looking.

It’s a confounding space. The purpose is to reset the mind of the visitor. What is the Philippines? Who is the Filipino?

From here, we move to the second space, Man is Nature. Here we see the boat by Patrick Cabral. Again, this is not yet the final lighting. I want it the color of the sea. It was nice yesterday when we changed the color to the Bangkóta color of teal blue.

The boat is over six meters long. It shows our water-oriented culture. The video mapping on the sails will be set to the second part of Ramon Santos’ music.

When you look back, you see a part of Nature is Peace, the area we came from, still visible. So there is that sense of direction created by the architecture. If you notice, the architecture is fluid in form and heights, no?

Nature is Peace was eight meters high, the transition space five, and now I think we will be coming upon thirteen. Let me now show you the way to the Variety of the World, our tallest space.

The golden helix by visual and sculptural artists Baby Anne and Coco Imperial

So here we are in the Variety of the World. We are in a vertical tunnel three stories high. The artists created a golden helix to represent 65,000 years of the Filipino’s genetic mix.

The tunnel is formed by “rain,” strings running from the ceiling to the floor. There is no audio-visual presentation here. The visitor will be awash in the third movement of Dr. Santos’ music.

From here, we should already be able to see the video of the next exhibit area, Our Gift to the World. We do have the film, but the tech guys are not here.

What’s nice is every time you walk, every step brings you to another space, which becomes grander and grander. So there is really an ascent, there’s an ascent to the experience.

I wish you could see the film. But Angel will send you pictures of the big screen. I want you to see the photos so you can appreciate the scale. The film is beautiful, produced by BBDO Guerrero, of a modern ballet dance choreographed by Denisa Reyes, artistic director of Ballet Philippines. The dance depicts the Filipino’s hyper-connectivity.

Where the previous areas engender puzzlement, surprise, and provocation, the experience in Our Gift to the World is meant to be euphoric.
The dance sequences take visitors through six “Movements in Color”

The walls are made of pepperscrim. We call them spaghetti string, but they’re actually really used for exhibitions and for projections.

People will be roaming this area, and the scrim allows them to see past the projections and see the space from different angles. I wish you could see it in actual because as you move, the strings give the visuals another dimension, it creates that moiré effect.

The original idea for the area outside of Our Gift to the World was to have a clean walkway cutting across a reflecting pool, leading to Marahuyo, the boutique store. But the Dubai authorities insisted that the area be protected against people falling into the water. So that’s why this area is encased in glass.

Render of the space outside of Our Gift to the World as originally conceptualized
Opposite view: A render of the exit from Our Gift to the World, with sculptures of two birdlike creatures with human faces
Closeup of one of the bird-creatures designed by the late Riel Hilario

After crossing the reflecting pool, you can go straight into Marahuyo, the boutique store, or Go Lokal! the souvenir shop. But now, we prefer to turn right and go up the ramp.

This is the challenging part. When I say challenging, it’s not the walk. The walk is really so gentle—a 4.5-degree slope, just six to eight percent. The ramp is 225 meters long and three meters wide, but no problem, I enjoy walking and going up there.

The challenge is the heat because it’s noontime right now! Like I told you before, the workers here take a two-hour break at noon because it’s too hot to work outside. But it’s okay, we want to do this, we want to do this for you.

Bangkóta’s architectural presence is an abstraction of the coral reef. It’s not a literal translation. And for me, that abstraction gives it life, movement as a sculpture, and most importantly gives life to the architecture. I can only call it architecture once I feel that there is a pulse, you know. If there is no pulse, I call it a building.

Despite our small budget—well, very small compared to the other countries, Bangkóta has a real presence in terms of height. It was able to achieve that presence even though it’s very see-through. It’s like a mirage, it shimmers. It’s like that desert haze you see from afar. We are the second tallest pavilion in the Expo.

Moving on up, we begin to see Charlie Co’s flying men above. It’s like they’re teasing you—“Come up! There’s more up here!” As you keep moving forward, you start to look down, you look up, you look around. And you just feel your creativity, your imagination kick in. The architecture is all about bringing that creative juice flowing, di ba.

Most of the other pavilions are really boxes, no? And it works for them because they’re exhibiting artifacts inside. So they need the black box.

With our approach, I think we’re able to create an experience. The concept is not to restrict people but to make them wander and move freely, like the architecture. The Bangkóta architecture is about fluidity.

Wherever you go, there is visual connectivity. Connectivity, by the way, is one of the themes of Expo 2020. And although the Philippines Pavilion is in the Sustainability district, the Filipino, as a bangkóta or coral reef, is all about connectivity.

Now imagine the different levels of Bangkóta with people. That will make the space really come alive. You can appreciate the lines from an architectural point of view and enjoy the wavy ribbons against the blue sky. But it’s always better when you see a person standing in a space.

Toym Imao’s tree is Bangkóta’s crown. In the late afternoon, this place is something else. The shimmer starts to get golden. At this hour, it’s silvery. In the afternoon, the shimmer becomes gold because of the sunset.

Now I really have to rush because of the phone—it’s not me, Judith, it’s the phone—the phone overheats out in the sun. It might start flashing the warning sign and stop working.

And we’ve finally made it to the top level. Good news—the Dubai Expo will extend for five years. To give more people a chance to see the Expo when COVID is finally over. The government wants to preserve all the architecture, and if possible, retain the exhibits. Unfortunately, not all countries will leave their exhibits behind.

Up here will be a popular selfie spot. It has a great view of Al Wasl Plaza, the heart of Expo 2020, and many of the pavilions. Then, of course, there’s Toym Imao’s tree and the architecture against the sky. This is my favorite spot. I just love the way the sky changes every hour, every day. It’s never the same, there’s never a repeat.

Bangkóta will be operational from 10:00 am to 12:00 mn on Sundays through Thursdays and 10:00 am to 2:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays.
There are seven trees, all except one are over seven meters in height.

That’s something we wanted to share. We want us to be sensitive and in touch and connected with nature again. That’s why the exterior is vital part of the Bangkóta experience. It’s a permeable structure, inspired by the organic, allowing people to weave in and out, indoors and outdoors.

Okay, Judith. I gotta go. The phone is getting too hot to handle. The elevator isn’t working yet, so we’ll have to take the stairs—its faster than taking the ramp again. Okay, we have to go down, now. Bye bye!  •

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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