Pass or fail? The Circulo del Mundo sculpture explained

Coconuts Manila reader Cleth Gemora sent us a message on Facebook asking about the sculpture at the Circulo del Mundo roundabout right outside NAIA Terminal 3. “It’s causing heavy traffic,” he compained. “And I cannot understand what kind of abstract design is that. It’s like a deflated balloon?”

No, sir, it’s not. The structure is called “Layag Islas” — “Islands in Flight” — and is meant to symbolize the Philippine diaspora. 

Made of wide flange steel framing and tension fabric panels, the winning design was entered by five students into a contest held by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority in 2008.

We located the lead designer, Architect Adrian Alfonso, and asked him to explain the sculpture which, according to social media gossip, cost PHP390-million to build but, according to former MMDA chair Bayani Fernando in an interview with GMA News, cost around PHP50-million.

The prize money was PHP500,000. 

According to Alfonso, while most monuments are typically phallic, “Islands in Flight” is shaped like a womb. The sculpture was designed to be entered but the MMDA scrapped the original plan of putting up a driveway.

 “The concept was unfortunately not fully realized in its actual construction,” defends one of the five judges who picked this winning entry. “It was meant to be like a lantern with images of Philippine destinations projected onto panels of transluscent membrane that was to form its skin. This was apparently downgraded to solid panels, the frame also seems to have lost its original feeling of lightness.”

He adds that “the original oval was meant to be bigger and the rotunda was reduced in dimension after the competition, compromising the original landscape design, which was to complement the monument. The landscape design was badly executed and now is worse as there seems to be no maintenance.”

 photo CDM201st20place.jpg
A scale model of the proposed “Layag Islas” sculpture. What went wrong?

The monument was intended to receive visitors, he adds. And the visitors would have been able to view displays via a curved ramp. “The contractor obviously took a lot of shortcuts compromised the final look and feel of the design,” says the judge.

It’s a shame we can’t appreciate “Layag Islas” the way it was meant to be seen, so we instead asked Alfonso to walk us through this controversial sculpture.

Is it right to call this public art “Circulo del Mundo” or should it be “Layag Islas”?
The structure is named “Layag Islas”. Circulo del Mundo is the name of the rotunda. 

How long did it take to build “Layag Islas”?
The construction was meant to be completed in eight months, but due to some delays in funding, the construction too more than two years.

And now that it’s finished, would you say it stuck to the proposed concept, or did you have to cut back because of the delay in funding?
We had some minor compromises for the structure, but for the rotunda site development, we had to defer its design due to funding. We designed it in such a way that there was supposed to be a vehicular drop off and driveway to make the structure more accessible.

But that didn’t happen.
The vehicular driveway? MMDA didn’t get to proceed with that.

What is the sculpture made of?
It was done in wide flange steel framing and the panels in tension fabric.

How should people look at or interpret the sculpture? Many don’t understand what it is or what it symbolizes, and so get negative about it.
The structure was formed to sculpt a profiled space. It was designed to be entered, and the periphery was meant to mystify the content of the structure. The concept of the project is to simulate a shrouded memory — an antithesis to monumental structures that are erected to pay tribute to past events and heroes.
“Layag Islas” was designed to pay tribute to a current reality of the Filipino. That to leave the country, whether for career or financial development, is to slowly diminish one’s memories of the culture that he/she has been accustomed to. To enter the structure is to simulate the overwhelming feeling of coming home. To be surrounded by one’s immediate description of comfort.

Photo: Cleth Gemora

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