Style/Travel Diaries

The Bangkota experience: The ‘Shimmering Pavilion’ and the Philippines’ calling card to the world

The only structure in World Expo ‘2020 that shines in the day, it is a fresh way of seeing Philippine culture beyond the ‘tinikling’

Bangkota is inspired by the marine biodiversity the Philippines is known for. (All photos by Angel France Aguinaldo and BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design)


Bangkota is shaped like a coral colony and is transparent at night. (All photos by Angel France Aguinaldo and BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design)

A delayed World Expo 2020, a slashed budget, and onsite construction challenges did not keep the Philippine pavilion from rising to the occasion during the October Expo opening.


Credit: Philippines Expo 2020 Dubai/YouTube

Unlike the behemoth, tech-driven pavilions of advanced countries, the Philippine pavilion, named Bangkota, an ancient Filipino word for “coral reef,” is a mesh installation, an abstraction of the curvaceous mounds of a coral colony. It is the setting of video projections, art installations, and lighting designs with the avant-garde musical scoring of National Artist Ramon Santos.

While visitors are thrilled by the grand scale and virtuosic architecture of the other pavilions, the Bangkota is an interesting visual narrative unto itself because it shows the soul of Philippine art.

Dance film by Denisa Reyes and BBDO with Marian Roces’ concept of Filipino, volcanic in origin and from a seafaring culture (All photos by Angel France Aguinaldo and BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design)

Said Budji Layug, expo consultant and co-founder of the design firm Budji + Royal, in a Zoom interview from Dubai: “It’s a very fresh way of seeing Philippine culture—design, architecture, arts. It will surprise the world. The other pavilions spent a lot, as they have big budgets. We can’t compare. As a small country, we have a pavilion that can show practical luxury. With a modest budget, you can come up with an innovative way of presenting the nature of the Filipino people.”

Layug and principal architect Royal Pineda had been busy in Dubai doing media interviews about Bangkota. Dubai Expo 2020 is the ongoing world fair that promotes global trade and cultural exchange.

Details of Patrick Cabral’s boat sculpture, symbol of an ancient seafaring heritage, its patterns inspired by Okir art of the Maranao of Mindanao (All photos by Angel France Aguinaldo and BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design)

The pavilion becomes the country’s best calling card.

Delayed by the pandemic, it has been rescheduled to October 2021, to run until March 2022,  and has retained the Expo 2020 name for branding purposes. The expo unites 192 countries in a 438-ha site in Jebel Ali, a port town near Dubai.

The theme is “Connecting Minds and Creating the Future” through its three districts—mobility, sustainability, and opportunity.

Pineda added that since Bangkota was a government project, the team had to work within means. He said Budji + Royal  has always strived for excellence in all its projects, and this was a showcase for the Expo 2020, a venue for technological innovation, new ideas and design.

Located in the Sustainability District,  Bangkota’s outdoor installation holds its own against such progressive neighbors as the Brutalist limestone structure of Portugal and the latticed rotunda of Canada.

To be within the budget, the project required practical luxury and resourcefulness

To be within the budget, the project required practical luxury and resourcefulness, Pineda said. “It was an acid test of coming up with a good design without compromising the message.”

Since the Philippines is the world’s center for marine biodiversity, the coral reef became the visual peg. Aside from being a visual reminder of man’s harmony with nature, the design of the reef and its branching colonies is symbolic of the Filipino diaspora, yet how Filipinos remain connected through its networks.

The basic material is cyclone wire which one can buy from a depot or online, supported by concrete, sandwiched panels, and glass.

Bangkota’s basic message is that man’s evolution is closely linked with nature, and presents the new image of the progressive Filipino as interpreted through multi-media arts curated by Marian Pastor Roces.  For all its simplicity, Bangkota’s character capitalizes on the attention-grabbing linkages between interiors, art exhibits, and landscape views. Unlike the other pavilions where visitors experience a sense of confinement, Bangkota offers spaces generating a feeling of both openness and coziness. The design brings the character of nature; the structure’s curving walls and ramps evoke the polyps’ forms. The discs on the mesh reflect the sun rays, creating the image of the glistening sea.

“The discs dangle between the wires and squares and create movement,” said Pineda. “Bangkota has been called the Shimmering Pavilion. People are fascinated when the light hits the discs. It’s the only pavilion that shimmers in daytime. The rest of the pavilions are eye-catching only at night because they invested in digital lighting. That’s when they have presence.”

The white and beige pavilions seem severe against the sun. Their stark color becomes the background for Bangkota with its sheer, glimmering silhouette.

Pineda added that the design helps the structure respond to the elements. “There’s so much heat. The permeability of the screen walls reduces the heat, while the solid parts with curves and waves accelerate the movement of air. It creates a breeze in certain spots. It’s part of architectural design that is not just inspired by nature, but also working with nature.”

The Philippine pavilion becomes alive through its movement flow that emphasizes certain spaces, and attracts visitors to outside views.

Ramon Santos’ Filipino avant-garde music lends a mystical presence and draws visitors into the drama

Pineda cited the plaza as his favorite space where the visitor is welcomed by Ramon Santos’ Filipino avant-garde music. “From afar, Bangkota is enigmatic. It looks like a mirage and as you come closer, you hear this chant. It makes you want to move into the space. Once you stand between the Mangrove Café and Haliya (Duddley Diaz’s blue sculpture of the pre-colonial lunar goddess), you enter the funnel entry point,” he said. The reverberating sounds lend a mystical presence and draw visitors into the unfolding drama.

Negotiating the various turns and levels makes Bangkota fun to explore. From the plaza featuring the Mystiquecross sculpture by Dan Raralio, the visitor is led to the Nature is Peace space, decked with inverted trees by Lee Paje’s Roots of the Universe and enhanced with a hologram of birds and underwater creatures. After a journey through the walls curtained off with floor-to-ceiling strings to suggest rain, the Man Is Nature exhibit highlights Patrick Cabral’s boat depicting the Philippines’ ancient maritime culture. A video of the Austronesian journey is mapped on the sail.

“The exhibits were put together to create a flow whereby the spectators appreciate the space, which leads them to a grander space until they reach Variety of the World, with the golden Helix by Baby and Coco Anne (of the graphic design studio B + C Design, Inc.),” he said.

Layug’s favorite spot is Our Gift to the World, featuring a BBDO-produced dance film, choreographed by Denisa Reyes, which is projected on the giant scrim. Conceived by Roces, Pineda, and the Department of Trade and Industry Assistant Secretary Rosvi Gaetos, the film interprets the Filpino’s evolution through the elements of water, fire, earth and air.

From Our Gift to the World, the visitor heads to the bridgeway where the late Riel Jaramillo Hilario’s Limokon and Timamanukin hover above the water. This leads the visitor to The Imaginarium.

The Imaginarium is a sloping ramp that takes the visitors in and out of spaces to the top level. Pineda designed it as a space for the visitor to contemplate the reinterpretation of Philippine history. The artworks and animation are meant to help us rethink our perception of ourselves, he said.

“After understanding the story of the Filipinos, you reach a point of wandering. You realize: where did I come from?” said Pineda As that thought lingers, the visitor can contemplate the exterior, as the a ramp invites one to walk up and view the architecture that frames the sky.

‘Our concept is freedom of movement and connectivity of the spaces’

“The Imaginarium starts from the ground. You feel you aren’t climbing because as you ascend to the second, third, fourth levels, you are entertained by views,”  he said.

Between the levels, visitors encounter Charlie Co’s Soaring High sculpture and  Dex Fernandez’s Super Past Time mural, both with the OFWs as theme. National Artist Abudlmari Imao’s eight-meter-high sculpture and birds crown the top level Confluence of Wings.

“We designed an experiential exhibit because the spaces are fluid,” said Pineda. “In other pavilions, they make you stay longer because you are compelled to finish the movie. It’s as if they lock you up inside. Our concept is freedom of movement and  connectivity of the spaces. This influences the behavior of people. They can take their time, flow in and out. In the end, it’s a free passage where people can have a good experience of understanding our theme.”

One of Bangkota’s offerings is the shopping experience. Layug has been a consultant to Marahuyo, DTI’s luxury fashion brand for duty-free shopping. “We cannot offer something that they have seen. The products from the Philippines are sophisticated and high-fashion. We chose companies and designers who mix ancient jewelry-making with modern fashion design and present it on a new level. Marahuyo  is the equivalent of a  premium French or Italian brand,” he said.

In all, Layug gave credit for the success to the Budji + Royal team and the collaboration between Roces and the artists. “We want to show the world we are not doing  the usual handicrafts and tourist souvenirs, not tinikling but contemporary dance, music, and architecture. We are in a new phase in how we think and feel. It’s important for the world to see us as people who are not just known for services, but for creativity.  It has been our dream to create an image for the Philippines that is modern and holistic.”

Read more:

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Budji Layug reveals design of his own home

Finally, Budji holds first exhibit: ‘Art is my sense of quiet’

Buensalido’s design for Freedom Memorial Museum: ‘I imagined faces of people I loved being taken away from me’

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About author

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She is a veteran journalist who’s covered the gamut of lifestyle subjects. Since this pandemic she has been giving free raja yoga meditation online.

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