By Angela Casco
Photos by Noel Pabalate
A stint as a design competition judge led architect Royal Pineda and designer Budji Layug of BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design to their biggest project to date—designing the New Clark City.
“I was tapped to judge the iconic tower in Fort Bonifacio,” Pineda tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. Present in the same engagement, apart from the duo, was Vince Dizon, the president and chief executive officer of Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).
As the conversation has drifted to the then unsolicited proposal from Malaysian infrastructure company AlloyMTD Group as partner developer of New Clark City, Dizon has begun to understand that Layug and Pineda’s firm speaks modern Filipino sensibility and that, most important, the duo walks the talk.
Pineda defines this approach as addressing and responding to the issues of any given setting, while giving it universal and unlimited access to global practice.
“Bringing in the best consultants is good because they can have all the best practices of the world,” Pineda says. “I believe, however, that it is also important to have a consultant and design group that brings in the soul of Filipinos. We became that for this project.”
That marks the beginning of what Pineda describes as “a very beautiful collaboration” with the government, leading to the creation of a design marvel unlike anything Filipinos have ever seen.
Spanning 9,450 hectares or about twice the size of Manhattan in New York, New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac—different from the existing Clark Freeport Zone or Clark Global City—houses what are part of Phase 1A of the city’s construction: the Aquatics Center, Athletics Stadium, National Government Administrative Center, the Athletes’ Village, and the River Park Corridor.
All sporting facilities are to service athletes from participating countries of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. All are iconic on their own, too.
For Pineda, there are two structures one simply can’t miss upon setting foot in New Clark City—the Aquatics Center and the Athletics Stadium. Both structures are a first for the firm.
A 2,000-seater that will host swimming, diving, and water polo competitions, the Aquatics Center is an open area
home to a 10-lane competition pool, an eight-lane training pool, a diving pool, jacuzzi, and locker areas.
A dry land training area is also present for swimmers to simulate dives on trampolines and foam pits free of injury risk.
It meets the global standards set by aquatic governing body Federation Internationale De Natation, too, which includes the maintenance of water temperature from 25-28 degrees Celsius. Any cooler and the water will be too dense. Any warmer and it will affect swimmers’ energy levels.
The Athletic Stadium, meanwhile, can accommodate 20,000 spectators. It contains a football field, track oval, provisions for throwing sports, and training facilities with state-of-the-art equipment.
Much like the Aquatics Center, it is also at par with global standards. In fact, it has been graded a Class1A Athletics Facility by the International Association of Athletics Federations. It is resilient, too, as it can withstand high intensity quakes.
All this comes after only 18 months of construction.
TRUTHFULNESS IS KEY
“We have envisioned a city that is modern and Filipino,” Pineda says of coming up with designs of New Clark City.
With a responsibility and funding of such scale, though, the architecture and design duo says the true challenge is translating that vision into a tangible, visual reality.
“The very important thing for us to keep in mind when we were doing the project is authenticity,” Pineda says. “When Budji+Royal became a part of this, it was very important for us to understand that this is a big dream for the country. We felt that this grand scale of a dream needs a grand scale of inspiration.”
This architect attributes New Clark City’s look to embracing what the place has to offer—nature. “It is nerve-racking to be given such a big task, but it became so easy when nature presented itself to us,” he says. “In the end, it was just a matter of being truthful to everything.”
Early on, both design visionaries have seen the vastness of land where the modern Filipino city stands now, with a beautiful horizon of mountain ranges, trees all over, as well as the rolling terrains and beautiful rivers around the area.
The Aquatics Center, for instance, takes inspiration from various water elements found in Philippine shores. The roof is inspired by capiz windows for function and aesthetic.
“Capiz is a shell and an element of water,” he says. “On windows of old houses, it’s a very good material to bring in and manage light to a space.” Filipino weaving and woodwork with its bamboo color theme are also present in the structure.
In coming up with its shape, Pineda mentions baklad, the local term for fish traps or fish pens.
“These are standing sticks in a very random, very abstract composition, which is very nice when you see its reflection in the water.”
Unlike typical facilities for swim competition, the Aquatics Center is not enclosed. Instead, it features a large, open shed.
“By nature, it’s already telling us that it should be open,” Pineda says, adding that the design decision will also give spectators a beautiful sunset view of the horizon from the benches.
The Athletics Stadium, meanwhile, takes the crater of Mount Pinatubo as an inspiration.
“As we are a tropical country, we wanted the place to feel cool,” he says. “We did that through lifting the roof high enough for proper ventilation.”
They have also seen the beauty of what used to be a destruction of the area—Pinatubo’s lahar and molten lava—that remains abundant in the entire area of Tarlac and Pampanga.
“The color we chose [for the stadium] is a graphite color inspired by the lahar because we wanted to take away and manage the glare from the intense sunlight during the day,” he says. “We also used a patented color called B+R Active Orange, inspired by the molten lava of the volcano. This adds a contrast, an adrenaline color, and a sporty mood to a place that’s otherwise very gray.”
This anti-corrosive paint protection system is the work of Norwegian company, Jotun, who also supplies paint for iconic buildings such as the Eiffel Tower, Petronas Tower, and Burj Khalifa.
The parol or Christmas lanterns, a product nearby Pampanga is famous for, inspire the pillars of the structure.
“There are several surrounding the stadium and they’re like parol frames,” he says, emphasizing their truthfulness to nature of place and its people. “We put it all together to become a very authentic expression of this development.”
Beyond modern Filipino architecture and design, Pineda says the New Clark City is a display of both potential and
“To be able to have a clear and tangible message of what we want to be as a nation has been a very strong challenge for us,” he says. “It’s not easy because it is first a major investment of the country and if we do not do this properly, we are losing the opportunity to present something that we should have been presenting a long time ago.”
This city, after all, is a multi-faceted opportunity. In fact, an area just outside it shows the site of what will be the country’s first national sports high school.
Pineda and the rest of the team’s choice to turn to nature for design inspiration is not just for authenticity. It’s also for practicality.
This is evident in their development and use of lahar, a material abundant in the area. The firm has opted to use it as concrete finish, possessing an organic and raw appearance to it.
“Working on New Clark City, we create from humble and simple materials like lahar that is not only authentic to Filipino identity, but also practical.”
Pineda calls this design approach practical luxury, which deviates from the use of expensive materials. Straying away from “too many accessories and dressing it up” keeps it from being a maintenance nightmare.
“We then create luxury by design,” he says. “Even if the Philippines is not yet a First World country, we do not have to wait to be one. We believe that Filipinos can enjoy the same luxury as long as we design something that is best for Filipinos.”
Phase 1B of construction in New Clark City is set to start right after the 2019 SEA Games officially ends on December 11.
“We’re just showing you the tip of the iceberg,” Pineda says. “This place promises the future of the Philippines. We can tell ourselves, ‘It’s possible. We can do it. We can be global. We can be progressive.’ Isn’t it amazing that you start to establish confidence, dignity, and honor in what you have designed?”
On whether they will be involved in the upcoming construction phases of New Clark City, Pineda says they hope so.
“We’d like to continue being part of the project,” he says. “We want to make sure that further development in the area will carry the authentic, modern Filipino sensibility consistently.”
Dizon says maintaining New Clark City could mean privatizing it.
“That’s critical, especially in maintaining the sports facilities, the Athletes’ Village, and the parks,” he says in a separate conversation.
If somebody else executes the upcoming phases, Pineda says guidelines in building more structure and how the city should be maintained are now being put in writing, a design bible of sorts.
“I think it will always be best to talk to the old source of modern Filipino sensibility,” he says. “We hope we can do more because we really want to make this very consistent.”
Pineda hopes people who come to New Clark City to experience what being a modern Filipino is like.
“They will see Filipino elements here but in a global standard,” he says. “I’d like people to see that this is not a copy of a city somewhere in Europe or UAE, that we are not trying to be someone else and that we are not being pretentious. Instead, I want this to show that the Philippines is another variety and that we have a gift we can offer to the world.”