When one thinks of an events venue, one of the first places (if not the first) that comes to the mind of any Filipino would be the venerable Philippine International Convention Center or PICC. With over 70,000 sqm in floor area across five structures, the PICC has set the standard of what an events venue would be like.
As a venue that has hosted everything from international meetings to beauty contests to graduations, it is easy to take this venue for granted and be remiss of what a milestone it was for something like the PICC to be built in the first place, not to mention the history behind it.
Asia’s first convention center
Before the PICC, conventions in the country were held in hotel ballrooms or modest events places like Club Filipino. Then came the Martial Law declaration in 1972, which gave rise to Pres. Ferdinand Marcos’ “New Society” or “Bagong Lipunan” project for the Philippines. As part of this project, he and his wife Imelda sought to showcase an image of a new and better Philippines in the eyes of the world. And one way of doing that was through the construction of grand edifices.
The couple were already in the midst of this “edifice spree” when the Cultural Center of the Philippines was inaugurated in 1969, followed by the Folk Arts Theater in 1974. Not soon after the completion of the latter in July that work would begin in what would become the PICC in November, right in the same newly reclaimed land between Manila and Pasay where the CCP and FAT are located and employing the same architect of both buildings: Leandro Locsin. Meanwhile Pres. Marcos tapped the Central Bank of the Philippines (now Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) to manage this new venue.
Marcos intended the PICC to be the venue of the 1976 meeting of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting, which the Philippines successfully managed to secure. As such, time was of the essence which Locsin and his team was able to deliver in just a span of 23 months. So on September 5, 1976, the PICC was inaugurated at the opening of that historic IMF-World Bank meeting. At that time, it was not only the first convention center for the Philippines but for the whole of Asia as well.
A timeless beauty
As with his other designs for the aforementioned CCP and Folk Arts Theater, Locsin employed what is deemed as “brutalist” architecture in the design of the PICC, with its sharp edges, smooth concrete finish accentuated with minimal windows. While there has been pushback in recent years against brutalist architecture for being dull and dated, there is no denying that at the very least, PICC managed to pull off that timeless beauty look.
By contrast, the interiors are designed to be grandiose in character. Perhaps the most striking feature to the interiors is the 3,068 drop lights, specially designed specifically for the PICC, thus serving as its interior trademark, so to speak. The uniquely shaped chandeliers provide character and a great contrast to the concrete walls while there are elements of wood accentuated throughout the building from the handrails to the doors and the furniture used. The mix of concrete, wood, and glass elements throughout the structure is balanced quite well.
The PiCC itself is a massive 12-hectare complex that is comprised of five structures. Two of them are for general purposes and small-scale meetings and exhibitions, with the Delegation Building which is the main entry point of the complex and the location of larger meeting rooms and the Secretariat Building, where many of the meeting rooms and other facilities are located.
Two structures cater for larger scale events, with the Reception Hall which is where more intimate events like concerts and parties are held since it has provisions for dining setup, and the Plenary Hall which is the venue of choice for formal events from conventions to graduations, among others.
Then there is the Forum, which is the more recent addition to the complex. Unlike the rest of the PICC, this is actually a tent venue that holds trade fairs and other exhibitions. Though there are plans to build a more permanent structure that will offer more exhibition space.
The complex is also surrounded by some lush greenery, especially the areas fronting the main entrance/Delegation Building, central, and eastern sections. The garden fronting the Delegation Building is notable for its APEC Sculpture Garden, a garden of 20 sculptures from artists representing the 20 countries who were members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organization at the time when the Philippines and the PICC hosted its annual summit in 1996.
A treasure trove of artworks
Apart from the aforementioned APEC Sculpture Garden, the interior of the PICC is littered with different artworks created by renowned Filipino artists, some of whom have become National Artists themselves. That is aside from its architect Leandro Locsin who is himself a National Artist.
The Delegation Building for instance featured the massive painting by Jose Joya titled Pagdiriwang, the largest he has ever done. Napoleon Abueva also has artworks there, from the retablo-inspired Dambana ng Pasko artwork to the benches used throughout the venue. There are also works by Arturo Luz that can be found in the mural walls, in the courtyard (called “Anito”), and the lobby between the Plenary and Reception Halls (called “Grid”).
There are also works of the likes of Hernando Ocampo, Eduardo Castrillo, Abdulmari Imao, and Ang Kiukok that can be found throughout the complex.
Adapting to the competitive times
At the time it was inaugurated, the PICC was originally intended to be strictly as a convention and meeting venue. But over the years, it has evolved to accommodate all types of events as part of its efforts to democratize the space to more people.
At the same time, the MICE (Meetings, incentives, conferences & exhibitions) space has become more competitive in recent years with more accessible and more modern facilities that compete with the PICC. Then again, competition is good and in the MICE scene, it’s always good to have multiple choices to cater to a growing demand for event spaces.
And even with the advent of these newer events places, nothing can beat the grandeur and beauty of the PICC. And given how it has adapted well to the changing landscape for almost 50 years, it is exciting to see what is next for this venerable and premier events venue.
For more photos of the PICC, check out my album on Flickr