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Inside a Brutalist Structure: Rediscovering Leandro Locsin's PICC

Architecture takes the spotlight in its now almost empty halls

by Christa I. De La Cruz
Jan 16, 2022

(SPOT.ph) Mention the acronym PICC and people would think back to some of the crowd-drawing affairs they've attended at the indoor venue: college graduations at the famous Plenary Hall, a week-long business convention at the Delegation Building, or an elegant wedding at the Reception Hall. For others, it's a common sight on television during Philippine-hosted functions of global leaders. This is the Philippine International Convention Center, a world-class facility that has been the home of local and international events since September 5, 1976. And while it hasn't exactly seen crowds in the last couple of years given the current restrictions, the imposing structure standing on reclaimed land in Pasay City is taking back its much-deserved spotlight as an architectural wonder made possible by no other than National Artist Leandro Locsin.

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The Philippine International Convention Center imbibes brutalist architecture, which is known for its geometric style.
PHOTO BY Jilson Tiu

"It was both unnerving and refreshing to see a venue associated with crowds and activity bare and empty. It’s like finally beholding a work of art (as a big fan of architect Leandro Locsin) without the distraction of crowds; a chance to intimately get to know a structure in all its physical facets, and how the architect probably beheld the structure before it opened to the public. For the first time, the stage that held the show, IS the show," Brutalist Pilipinas Instagram account owner Patrick Kasingsing once said in a statement in March 2021. 

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The Brutalist Architectural Gems to Check Out in Metro Manila
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Massive blocks of exposed, unpainted concrete are found all over PICC. PHOTO: Jilson Tiu

PICC and the Brutalist Movement in Manila

The Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) followed the popular aesthetic of the time: brutalist. Brutalist architecture rose to fame as a movement in the 1950s and continued well into the 1970s. It derived its name from the French phrase Béton brut or raw concrete, which perfectly describes a brutalist building's monolithic appearance and large-scale use of poured concrete. You can see this style in a number of buildings erected during late dictator Ferdinand Marcos' regime, including the Cultural Center of the Philippines (1966) and Manila Film Center (1982) within the complex. Interestingly, brutalist buildings are preferred around the world in the post-war years for the supposed low cost of concrete—though the national debt incurred through infrastructure at the time would say otherwise, but we digress.

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You can see a similar aesthetic at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
PHOTO BY Jilson Tiu
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The famous chandeliers at the Reception Hall is made up of 7,000 globules flown in from Prague.
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Like all these buildings during the Marcos administration, the PICC is characterized by its heavy use of bare concrete throughout a floor area that spans more than 70,000 square meters. Defined lines and striking corners also quickly catch the eye, as if the structure is making sure that its presence is constantly felt. More than four decades later, brutalism still has the same impact on viewers and passersby.

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Even the staircase has that exposed concrete style. PHOTO: Jilson Tiu

"Here's a fun fact: The recent resurgence of brutalism is really because of graphic designers, photographers, and artists. My first encounter with brutalism was through this defunct tumblr blog, Fuck Yeah Brutalism, which depicts photos of brutalist buildings around the world. Two things appealed to today's creatives about brutalism: While its looks may be polarizing, one thing brutalism has is stage presence. It is a wonderful subject to photograph in various parts of the day and carries patina and texture that most of its modernist contemporaries lack. It is also a very honest and unpretentious architectural style more absorbed with performing its brief of sheltering users in an efficient, economical manner with fewer resources than dazzling spectators. It is a post-war style after all. The very graphic, expressive appeal of the style and its emphasis on material honesty appealed to today's generation of creatives who value unbridled creative expression and honesty to one's self sacrosanct," Kasingsing told SPOT.ph in an e-mail exchange. The more than 17,000 followers of the account @brutalistpilipinas can attest to the reemergence of Brutalism's popularity.

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Works by National Artists like Jose Joya, Arturo Luz, Napoleon Abueva, Hernando R. Ocampo, Abdulmari Asia Imao, and Ang Kiukok adorn PICC's walls.
PHOTO BY Jilson Tiu
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The writer and creative director added: "While brutalism in its original iteration is dead, its spirit finds revival in the works of architects taken by its honesty and expressivity. Béton brut is slowly becoming a fashionable concrete finish and more architectural works are embodying material honesty, or leaving materials in its natural finish, a hallmark of brutalism."

One of Arturo Luz' signature black-and-white pieces at the PICC lobby. PHOTO: Jilson Tiu

Reviving a Convention Center Amid the Quarantine

Inside its imposing architecture, the PICC has made use of all the extra time it had because of canceled events especially at the height of the pandemic.

"We have been busy preparing our Center for the new normal in events since [2020] to comply with [the Department of Tourism and the Department of Trade and Industry's] guidelines. We have procured and installed equipment relative to safety and sanitation. We are also improving our equipment and connectivity relative to digitization so that we can fully support our clients' requirements for virtual and hybrid events. We have been cleaning and maintaining our meeting rooms and facilities regularly as if we are fully operational. We have also taken advantage of the lull in our event calendar by undertaking new constructions, major repairs, and renovations, such as replacement of carpets, conversion of air conditioning to the latest technology, installation of additional ramps for PWDs, and construction of new fire exits as well as new offices for lease," PICC Deputy General Manager Roberto A. Garcia told SPOT.ph.

Seating arrangement in most of PICC's halls were adjusted to adapt to what is dubbed the "new normal." 

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Like all venues at PICC's three-storey Secretariat Building, the Banquet Hall can be utilized as a theater, a classroom, or even a dining space with or without the stage. PHOTO: Jilson Tiu

The Plenary Hall, for example, can sit up to 1,921 people should a one-seat-apart rule be followed or up to 1,305 people should the two-seats-apart rule be implemented. The Reception Hall and the meeting rooms at the Delegation Building and the Secretariat Building are also versatile enough for a theater set-up, a classroom set-up, a U-shape set-up, or a dining set-up to meet the protocols by the Inter-Agency Task Force. 

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PHOTO BY Jilson Tiu
picc meeting room
PHOTO BY Jilson Tiu
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Once the venue of grand social events, the PICC is now open to host small and intimate weddings. Their package for a sit-down lunch or dinner for 30 people starts at P142,500, which includes the use of the venue for four hours; access to the Banquet Halls and the Garden for ceremony and reception; prenuptial shoot; and even an anniversary lunch.

They've also adapted to hosting digital events by offering multi-platform event packages: Green Studio Packages, which start at P310,000; and Studio Rental Packages, which start at P52,000. The former is inclusive of four-hour use of the venue, food for the staff, provision of a green screen, Zoom subscription, and other things that you may have to use for a virtual event. The latter is a cheaper option if you already have your preferred technical suppliers.

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The "Anito" by National Artist Arturo Luz was done in poured concrete. It serves as the centerpiece of the Courtyard, which can be used for outdoor events.
PHOTO BY Jilson Tiu
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The Garden is also the perfect backdrop for sunset soirees.
PHOTO BY Jilson Tiu

The PICC celebrated its 45th anniversary last September 5, 2021; and while current conditions are far from what the event venue is used to, it just gives us more than enough reason to revisit and rediscover a Philippine architect's magnum opus.

The Philippine International Convention Center is at Vicente Sotto Street, Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, Pasay City. To book your next event, e-mail info@picc.gov.ph or visit PICC's website.

UPDATED (January 18, 3:15 p.m.): This article has been edited to correct the number of globules for the chandelier.

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