Now in its 10th year, the much anticipated Art Fair Philippines returns to familiar territory with another run at The Link in Makati. The past two editions saw the fair migrate from the carpark-turned multi-level art exhibition venue to a digital space in 2020 and installations at the Ayala Triangle Gardens in 2021. This return marks a change, though, as the fair trades its signature grid-style layout with a biophilic design, featuring pod-like booths that will surely affect what many fairgoers have come to expect of the fair over the years.
At the helm of this design revamp is Leandro V. Locsin Partners (LVLP), which, together with the fair organizers, took Art Fair’s homecoming as an occasion to carefully reimagine how art exhibitions might look during these times, years after the pandemic struck and changed everything. The answer was a return to nature: biophilic design assumes that people have an innate desire for nature, and that reconnecting with it might have a positive impact on their well-being.
We spoke to architect Sudarshan Khadka, Jr., Partner at LVLP and who was notably a co-curator of the first Philippine Pavilion in the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016, about how his team brought that vision to life and what he hopes fairgoers will remember from the Art Fair experience this year.
Can you take us through the process of designing the fair layout this year?
We began the design process with the desire to recognize an inflection point coming out of the pandemic. We felt like we were walking into a changed world so there was a strong consensus between our firm and the Art Fair organizers on the need to build better: closer to enduring values, with sustainability and nature at the core, and a sense of adventure, discovery, and creativity.
How exactly did the pandemic factor into your approach?
In the past two years, the Art Fair had moved to a more digital format so the decision to hold it physically at the parking floors of The Link building also felt like a homecoming. As such, the design for the Art Fair had to balance both desires of giving something familiar and fresh at the same time. We saw the design for this year's Art Fair as an opportunity to think about what these conditions mean for art exhibitions and large gatherings, more broadly.
What led to the decision to turn to biophilic design and depart from the venue’s grid-style layout? And how might you explain biophilic design to those who might be unfamiliar with it?
Biophilic design is a way of designing buildings and spaces that connects people with nature. It involves using natural elements like plants, water, and natural materials to create a healthier and more enjoyable environment for people. The idea is that being around nature can help people feel better, be more creative, and reduce stress. By incorporating nature into the design of buildings, we can create spaces that are more pleasant and comfortable for people to be in.
So what specific biophilic design elements made it to the venue design of Art Fair 2023? Did The Link present any limitations that needed you to compromise some of those elements or certain design plans or ideas?
Given the inherent limitations of the site in terms of access to natural light, ventilation, and the elements, we decided to focus on designing a layout which was inspired by biomorphic forms or forms derived from naturally occurring patterns, such as in beehives and similar cellular structures.
We organized the galleries and social spaces as a series of these cells connected by walkways going through them as opposed to the more conventional grid layout where there is a clear distinction between the galleries and circulation spaces. We imagine this will create a more immersive experience of being surrounded by art while on a journey of discovery.
Can you talk a little bit about the materials used in the venue, as well as the inspiration behind selecting them?
Given the desire to build better and more sustainably, we found an alignment between the values of the Art Fair and RIZOME, a company locally growing and producing engineered bamboo products for architectural applications.
It is more sustainable to support homegrown products and develop our own industries so that we may reduce our reliance on imported materials. We wanted to explore the potential of these engineered bamboo boards and veneers by using them to finish the curved walls in the social spaces and to construct the different elements of the main entry counter on the fourth floor. There is also the potential to glue laminate these bamboo boards into larger lumber sections so that we may also use them for structural applications.
How do you think the venue design for Art Fair 2023 will affect the fairgoers’ experience? What are some highlights that you hope people attending the fair this year will remember?
We hope the abstracted cellular layout provides opportunities for artists and gallerists to curate their own unique environments — encouraging surprise at every turn and around every corner — allowing things to “unfold” organically. We hope the warmth, dynamism, and sense of community of the previous art fairs will continue to be realized by the social spaces. We hope that attendees of Art Fair 2023 will remember the immersive atmosphere and sense of discovery that comes with exploring the exhibition space, as well as the powerful and inspiring artwork that they encounter along the way.
Get tickets to the fair through artfairphilippines.com. The fair runs from Feb. 17-19, 2023.