The Athletics Stadium and Aquatics Centre Rise in New Clark City
It is a project of lofty proportions: the first smart, green, and resilient planned community in the Philippines, replete with residential, commercial, government, leisure, and sporting facilities, among others, built from the ground up. Spanning 9,450 hectares, New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac—not to be confused with the already existing Clark Freeport Zone or Clark Global City—is under the management of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), an agency under the Office of the President and one of the driving forces of the current administration’s “Build Build Build” infrastructure plan. Phase 1A of the construction includes the Aquatics Centre, Athletics Stadium, National Government Administrative Centre, Athletes’ Village, and River Park Corridor. Crucial to be completed on schedule were the sporting facilities, which are to serve as the main hub for the 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, slated to open on 30 November. Faced with an immovable deadline, BCDA President and CEO Vince Dizon knew he had to think fast.
Negotiations and biddings kicked off in September 2017, with Malaysian infrastructure company AlloyMTD Group (MTD Philippines being its local arm) emerging as the partner developer for Phase 1A of the project. Groundbreaking took place on 28 January 2018, and construction began in March. Because they had to finish on time, work ran on a 24/7 schedule. At the peak of the construction period, they would have about 8,500 workers onsite, with over 300 hired from the Aeta communities.
“We had an opportunity to build something very special from scratch,” Dizon says. “Our vision for New Clark City is for it to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in the country. For that to happen, it needed to have a clear identity. Working with a foreign company, equipped with all the knowhow and the latest in technology, will guarantee a stunning finished project. But our consultants—who are foreigners—also agreed that the city had to represent us as a people.”
Enter BUDJI+ROYAL Architecture+Design, arbiters of modern Filipino sensibility. Dizon met the duo at a design event. The topic of the conversation drifted over to the New Clark City project, but Principal Designer Budji Layug and Principal Architect Royal Pineda did not think to pitch in until Dizon rose from his seat. “When Vince stood up, I immediately noticed his shoes and socks, and I found them very artsy—that helped seal the deal,” says Pineda with a grin. “All jokes aside, it was a good match because he mentioned being involved in a project that needed a Filipino soul. That spoke to us because we at BUDJI+ROYAL take great care in embodying this in our works. It begs the question: what exactly is modern Filipino sensibility? And if we cannot provide a ready answer to this, it’s a clear indication of not fully understanding our identity. For the SEA Games, the spectators will be a global audience. As a country that has been diluted by foreign influences, we can’t present something that is confused. We need to send a strong, pure message.”
The presence of BUDJI+ROYAL was the final piece of the puzzle. An architect and designer whose works are often confined to lavish homes and luxury resorts, they found themselves exploring new avenues when they were approached by government officials to share their craft with the nation. Having worked on Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 1 and Clark International Airport, they would move on to their very first stadium and aquatic centre—the first major sporting facilities to be constructed by the government since the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex was built in 1934. The team flew to different parts of the world, closely examining the architecture, design, and provisions of venues that had hosted major sporting events. That early on, they were already thinking big. Whatever it was that would emerge from this should be at par with Olympic standards.
Says Pineda, “A majestic project calls for an equally majestic inspiration, and there are few things in life grander than nature.” Considering the allotted budget and the purpose the venue would serve, BUDJI+ROYAL decided on adapting a Practical Luxury (a deviation from the use of expensive materials) approach. “A developing country does not have to sit around and wait to become first-world to enjoy luxury,” adds the architect. “Through design, you can create luxury. Filipinos are highly creative; we are able to address our wants and needs through great designs done using simple materials.” By “simple materials,” Pineda is referring to the lahar that they used as the primary building material. Sleek and sophisticated-looking, it bears an uncanny resemblance to marble, appearance-wise. Adds Layug, “We decided against painting it because the material would lose its character. The structure would also end up looking artificial.” Most importantly, it is easy to maintain: only pressurised water is necessary for cleaning.
The 2,000-seater Aquatics Centre, which will host the swimming, diving, and water polo competitions for the SEA Games, is fully compliant with the global standards set by aquatic governing body Fédération Internationale De Natation. It houses a 10-lane competition pool, an eight-lane training pool, a diving pool, jacuzzi, and spacious locker areas. Being constructed right now is a dry land training area, where swimmers can simulate dives on trampolines and foam pits without risk of injury. A former competitive swimmer, MTD Philippines President Patrick Nicholas David is particularly proud of this. “The water temperature, which ranges from 25 to 28 degrees Celsius, matches the international standard. Any cooler, the water will be too dense; any warmer, it will affect the swimmers’ energy levels. Also, because it is an outdoor venue, you don’t smell the chlorine.” Adding character to the Aquatic Centre is its roof, which is inspired by woven fishermen’s fishpens or, in Filipino, baklad, and capiz shell windows. Engineered and pre-crafted abroad, parts were flown in, and then assembled on site. And from the bleachers, the audience can enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and the setting sun.
The Athletics Stadium, which can seat a staggering 20,000 spectators, contains a football field, track oval, provisions for throwing sports, and training facilities with state-of-the-art equipment, was graded as a Class1A Athletics Facility by the International Association of Athletics Federations. The design inspiration for this is Mount Pinatubo, with the stadium’s ringed roofline made to resemble a crater. The pillars, inspired by parol (Christmas lanterns) frames and painted in the patented shade B+R Active Orange, are easily spotted from miles away. “The colour was inspired by lava,” shares Pineda. “We wanted to bring in a burst of adrenaline because the surrounding grey is passive.” This anti-corrosive paint protection system is manufactured by Norwegian company Jotun, who also supplies paint for the Eiffel Tower, Petronas Towers, the Burj Khalifa, and other iconic buildings around the world. It is a resilient structure as well, built to withstand high intensity quakes.
Having the facilities tried, tested, and ready for the SEA Games is just the tip of the iceberg. Dizon, who still has much to accomplish on his plate (Phase 1B of construction is scheduled to kick off right after the SEA Games), hopes to institutionalise the facilities as well as establish set guidelines that will dictate the city’s design moving forward in hopes of keeping it in line with their vision. “This site has such a strong story, but we won’t be here forever, and we have no control of how those who come after us are going to treat it. Secretary Sonny Dominguez said it best: he described this as the only government facility in the country today that is functional and beautiful at the same time—and he’s the finance guy!”
Big dreamers themselves, Pineda and Layug hope to inspire Filipinos to embrace their identity and take charge of their future. “There were so many skeptics in the beginning; they thought we would not be able to do it,” says Pineda. “When I presented this to architects in Dubai, they were blown away. They found it so luxurious, and they couldn’t believe that we managed to build it within such a short timeframe. They were also amazed to find out that these were the first sporting facilities our firm has ever built. Because we were tasked to build something of such national significance, we did not want to put out anything people might have seen before. Otherwise, the impact will not be that strong. We wanted to present something that would inspire the Filipino people—something that would answer what our dream for our nation is.” And slowly but surely, people’s interests are being piqued by the media coverage the facilities are receiving. As of writing, access is still limited, but this has not deterred many a curious soul from trying to sneak a peek.
Concludes Layug, “We were able to build this because, despite the skeptics, the people involved believed in the design—and great design is an important contributor in helping a country grow. The Philippine design scene was so exciting in the beginning, but somewhere down the line, we got derailed. But when people with strong visions come to the fore, dreams come to life once more. All this started out as a dream, and the dream is now a reality.”
- Photography Marc Henrich Go
- Photography Eric Beltran
- Photography Kevin Evora