Getting Lost At Art Fair 2023? That’s By Design

Excel Palanque

Excel Palanque

Bibliophilic design breathes new life into the celebrated art exhibit.

On Thursday, Art Fair Philippines staged its revenge comeback at the Link, its home for 10 years minus the ones lost to the pandemic.

The architecture firm Leandro V. Locsin Partners has been involved with the design of the Art Fair space from the beginning, as it grew from having just 23 exhibitors on one floor in 2013 to this year’s 63 exhibitors over four floors, becoming one of the most anticipated yearly gatherings in the city.

For the 10th anniversary of Art Fair Philippines, Andy Locsin of Leandro V. Locsin Partners wanted to do something different. “We felt very strongly that the message, post-pandemic, is that we are waking to a different world,” he says. “Art was a commodity, a commercial endeavor, art was about showing off status—that matters a bit less now. It’s still important, of course, but we wanted to be a little more thoughtful in what we do.”

Locsin originally wanted to break away from the carpark and create a biophilic environment in the Ayala Triangle. Biophilic design is an architectural approach that brings nature into the built environment, integrating light, air, water, plants, and the natural landscape with human activity. Being short on time, however, they decided to turn a familiar site—the Link—into a space that embraces at least one aspect of biophilia.

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As a boxy concrete parking lot, the Link is the furthest thing from biophilic design, but the lack of sunlight and open air is useful for preserving the sensitive artwork on display.  

“We took the biomorphic form and incorporated it into the plan,” Locsin says. “Before, it was like a tiangge, with an orthogonal style and all the booths were connected to a large runway. Now, there’s a non-prescriptive way to circulate, which makes things interesting and not so predictable.” The layout of this year’s space is more cellular in structure, with curved walls and non-rectangular booths blending into each other. 

Walking through the space can feel disorienting if you’re used to the straightforward structure of Art Fairs past. Guests have mentioned being unable to find a particular gallery, going around and ending up at the same spot, while others noted the surprise and delight of seeing what’s around the bend.

“Part of the fun is getting lost,” Locsin laughs. 

Architect Sudar Khadka, a partner at the firm, adds, “We are creating a space where galleries flow into other galleries, bringing circulation into the space, rather than outside of it.”

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Added to the experience of discovery are performances held in the social spaces of the fair, like a Gravity Art Space x Jude Macasinag fashion show modeled by club kids and a performance from Fifth Wall Fest dancers clad in Carl Jan Cruz. 

Another feature that endeavors to bring in natural elements to the carpark is the bamboo panels that carve out the social spaces. Manufactured by Rizome, a company based in Cagayan de Oro, the panels come from Asper bamboo grown in Bukidnon. “We thought that Rizome partnering up with Art Fair sends the right kind of message. It’s a different way of looking at things, showing values of being ethical and sustainable.” When the art comes down after the fair ends on Sunday, the bamboo panels will be reused in another project. 

Trickie Lopa. Photo by: Sofia Mareque

One Art Fair-goer commented on the “spa-like” feel of the bamboo walls. Since spas are known for their use of organic elements to enhance well-being, you could say that the biophilic concept is working.

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