Rivals to partners: Cobonpue, Locsin to make over NAIA-1

Internationally acclaimed creative groups are coming together to improve how one of the world's worst and busiest airport buildings will look and feel

MAKE OVER. The look and feel of the NAIA Terminal 1 will be in the hands of some of the best creative groups in the country. Photo by AFP

MANILA, Philippines – Some of the country’s well-known creative minds are coming together to improve how one of the world’s worst and busiest airport buildings — Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1 (NAIA-1) — will look and feel.

Internationally renowned designers Kenneth Cobonpue and Budji Layug, and architect Royal Pineda were formally announced as among those involved in the beautification efforts on the airport that over 56% of passengers arriving from or departing for abroad go through.

Their pro-bono design work on the terminal was bitterly set aside in November 2011 when then Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas chose Leandro V. Locsin and Associates, the original builder of the over 30-year-old structure.

This time, a plan that highlights the two groups has been reached: Cobonpue’s team will design the interior areas, while the Locsin firm will take care of the architectural backbone of the terminal building.

“The objective is to have an ‘aha’ effect when passengers, Filipinos and foreigners, go through the airport,” Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya told Rappler in an interview.

“Lighter materials will be used. NAIA-1 will soon have a more modern and have a Filipino, tropical feel,” he added. NAIA-1’s current design reflects a 1980’s era, when it was built by the Locsins.

Abaya is among the core Cabinet members tasked to oversee the long-delayed improvement of NAIA-1, both in terms of the building’s structural integrity as well as how it looks and functions as the country’s main gateway.

Dividing the roles

The Aquino government has budgeted P2.8 billion to renovate and address structural issues besetting the 67,000-square-meter building designed to handle 4.5 million passengers a year.

Following the embarrassing description by online voters that NAIA-1 is among the world’s worst airports, the government in early 2011 pursued a strategy to fast track improvements.

NAIA-1, which hosts almost all the international airlines operating in the Philippines, has been bursting at the seams since it breached its capacity way back in 1991. The terminal currently handles 7.5 million passengers a year.  

Upcoming global events that Manila will host made the airport improvement project more time-sensitive.

Abaya said that talks involving the Cobonpue group were revived after the Philippines was named as the host of the APEC gathering in 2015 and the World Economic Forum in 2014.

In at least two meetings in May with Abaya, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. and Cabinet Secretary Rene Almedras, the Cobonpue team presented their earlier designs again. Eventually, a general agreement was reached.

For the terminal building itself, the Cobonpue team will take care of the interior design, fitting it out with the proper carpet, furniture, lighting and others. “They will spruce it up,” Abaya explained. The Locsin firm remains the general architectural firm.

The Locsin firm will also take care of redefining the use of space in the congested airport terminal, especially the areas now being used for offices or by concessionaires.

What became sticky, however, was arriving at an agreement on how to proceed with the works that involve the greeters area.

Greeters area

Abaya said that the initial plans for the greeters area in May was to make room for the Cobonpue team to still participate in improving the current part of the airport where relatives or friends wait for their arriving loved ones behind steel bars.

The steel bars separate the parking lot and the airport building, and prevent the greeters — who swell to thousands during peak season, either sweltering in the heat or soaked by rain — from spilling into other areas of the airport exterior.

The Cobonpue team’s architectural design plans that featured a “Greenbelt kind of feel,” with open tent, cafe and small restaurants and landscaping led the Cabinet members to consider assigning to the Cobonpue team the “conceptual designer” role.

The “conceptual designer” is in charge of the creative part of the greeters area design, and was supposed to work hand in hand with the “architect of record,” or the group liable for the safety aspects of the project.

“We tried to broach the idea to the Locsin group that they will be the “architect of record” and the Cobonpue team the “conceptual designers.” They (Locsin) were not keen on it because that arrangement is apparently not the industry practice.

“We learned that rarely do you have a ‘conceptual designer’ and another ‘architect on record.’ That (arrangement) only happens when the conceptual designer is from abroad and very established so there is transfer of knowledge.”

Abaya said they hit a wall when the Cobonpue team itself just wanted to do the design since it didn’t have the capability to assume the role of an ‘architect of record.’

This resulted in the same arrangement and roles for the Cobonpue and Locsin teams both for the building itself and the greeters area. Final assigned tasks were firmed up by mid-June.

Bill Luz, chief of the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) and who was present in the May meetings, hailed the sharing of tasks.

“It is rare for two design groups to work together for a major infrastructure project. There is willingness to cooperate,” Luz told Rappler. The NCC was tapped by the economic managers to propose an airport strategy in February 2011.

What now?

With the two group’s roles now more defined, Abaya said the government units can now proceed with other tasks for the construction and implementation of the designs.

The Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) will now prepare the terms of reference for the bidding for the general contractor role.  

The general contractor will be overall in-charge of the structural, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, as well as the architectural integrity of the building.

Earlier, the government has named foreign consultants Ove Arup & Partners HK Ltd. as the firm that will give their stamp of approval that the structural works follow global safety standards.

“We hope to award the project by October,” Abaya said. It will take 18 months to complete the construction works and the fit outs.

This means that the NAIA-1 make over will be complete in time for the APEC event in 2015 but not for the WEF gathering in 2014.

Abaya said they are banking on the completion of the P1.6 billion rehabilitation and retrofit works in NAIA Terminal 3 (NAIA-3) to be finished in time for the WEF event. – Rappler.com