One of the most lush and developed parks in Naga City, south of Cebu, is now officially a must-visit. International designer Kenneth Cobonpue just set his first permanent art installation, or “canopy walk,” right in the middle of the park connected to the city hall of Naga.
Called Pasilong sa Naga, its location is strategic, being visible from the main highway across the century-old baroque church of St. Francis of Assisi. “Pasilong” is a Cebuano term that means “to seek shelter”—and park visitors will indeed find just that under trees and the overlapping circular walkways of Cobonpue’s design.
The first thing that will catch the eye are the giant rings that encompass the park and intersect with each other. Done in collaboration with architects Jaime Chua and Bryan Auman, Naga City Mayor Kristine Chiong, and Val Chiong, Cobonpue conceptualized the installation as an open-air tambayan equipped with a huge water feature at its center. The entire installation is made of mild and stainless steel and PVC for the walkways.
“The hundred-year-old trees in Naga provide the perfect setting for a canopy walk around the water,” says Coponpue in an interview exclusive to ANCX. “The lighted interlocking rings, which form the fountain and elevated walkways represent our connection with the earth and sky, reminding us where we come from and where we are headed. Walking on the pathways of the structure while listening to the forceful rush of the water is a meditative experience everyone should try.”
Despite the size of the rings and the walkways, Cobonpue was able to achieve the effect he was going for without altering the existing landscape. “It was important that no tree was harmed during the construction,” he says. “We planted more than a dozen new trees and five times the number of plants. Safety and accessibility were important to us also, so there are no stairs in the structure but only gently inclined ramps.”
Cobonpue previously partnered with other architects to design other structures in his hometown of Cebu, among them the Cor Jesu Oratory in Mandaue City which was shortlisted in the World Architecture Festival in 2019. “Most of the projects I have worked with were on flat land. The Pasilong Sa Naga is different because the team had to work with the existing landscape and introduce a body of water. Many considerations had to be done because of accessibility requirements and the orientation of the park,” he continues.
For the designer, it all began by establishing the overall look and feel of the installation. The project is particularly nostalgic because it carried the Cebuano designer back to his younger years as a student abroad. He curated tidbits of his memories and cultural influences, and collated them together in one location. “I spent a lot of time in parks while I was studying in Europe and America,” says Cobonpue. “It’s very hot and humid here in Cebu, so I rarely spend time in parks. [But] Naga is an exception because it’s under a leafy canopy of trees, and the large water fountain cools the surrounding air. That’s why this project excited me.”
Even before this new attraction was created, Naga has always been a go-to fitness and recreation, especially now that engagements indoor are minimized. I should know—as a resident of the next town called Minglanilla, I drive to the Naga park and set up a mini gym (just weights and a yoga mat) under a tree in the afternoon. In the pre-pandemic years, however, families flocked to the Naga Boardwalk for picnics. Tennis courts and Zumba classes were also regular crowd drawers.
“Visiting a park should always seem like a new experience even if you have been there a hundred times,” Kenneth explains. “It should calm your senses. The importance of spending time outdoors and breathing in fresh air cannot be overstated in this time of the pandemic.”
Cobonpue, incidentally, is also chairperson of the Regional Development Council (RDC) of the National Economic and Development Authority in Central Visayas. Upon joining in 2016, he established the RDC Special Committee on Culture, Arts, and Design. He observes that open spaces in the Philippines have lessened, and that playgrounds are not prioritized in highly urbanized cities. In Naga, he adds, leaders have already built a boardwalk next to the sports complex and the soccer field that are accessible daily. “It’s refreshing to see a public space like this. I sincerely hope that Pasilong Sa Naga will be a shining testament to what a small city in the south is capable of doing.”