Young Star

Curating a lifestyle: The Ronac Art Center

- Nicola M. Sebastian -

MANILA, Philippines - Wading through the automative mire that is Ortigas Avenue will allow one’s eyes to inevitably settle upon a different sort of concrete structure. Dirt-gray and likely to be covered with a layer of grade-A Manila pollution soon enough, like the rest of the buildings that line this thoroughfare; nonetheless, this building strays from the usual Metro Manila silhouette.

With a façade that resembles the rough, uneven topography of an unknown planet, punctuated only by oblong windows with rounded edges and varying sizes, marking the building like a scattered Lego game, these windows are actually the short and long dashes of Morse code, which spell out the oft-repeated lyrics of a timeless Daft Punk song: “Work it harder, make it better, do it faster, makes us stronger.”

So this is the Ronac Art Center.

Bypassing the quaint charm of a relocated shoemaker market, or, say, the derelict chic of abandoned warehouses, Ronac Art Center was envisioned, designed and built for the sole purpose of showcasing urban art, fashion and design. Well, that, and to display a fancy, new line of mattresses, since the building’s owner also owns Uratex foam — but anyway. What matters is that this practical need for a showcase also created a new oasis for connoisseurs of the street lifestyle, curated by the owner’s son, Bigboy Cheng. Bigboy used to peddle designer collectibles at his store Fresh Manila, before finally aligning his art collecting interests with his family’s business in the conception of the Ronac Art Center. Proof that, in most cases, a real function often provides a more elevated form (in fact, the façade is inspired by the unique texture of foam).

Urban warriors: Ronac’s purpose is to showcases urban art, design, and fashion, such as at Bunker, which Borgy Manotoc owns.

So far, that form is largely theoretical, with carpenters and workers still drawing in the lines envisioned by the Center’s architect, Jagnus Design Studio, and retailers gradually coloring in its spaces. You step from the building’s driveway onto the oh-so-Scandi pinewood planks of the first floor. This street-level floor hosts a DIY yogurt place called Yoggle that breaks away from the bilateral thinking of other yogurt shops, with additional flavors like lychee, taro and kiwi, and a hip interpretation of an all-American diner, also known as Charlie’s Grind and Grill, which serves up “home-crafted” burgers and American draft beer. So this is the food floor.

On a hot Thursday afternoon, the place is dotted with office workers on lunch break and ballers just finished training in Ronac’s all-purpose gym on the third floor. That is until the swarm of adolescent girls arrives for a weekday blowout by a classmate’s generous dad. I think I’ll take my hotdog, drowned with barbeque sauce and pulled pork, to go.

A white staircase spirals upwards, connecting all four floors like an umbilical cord, or perhaps a mattress spring, as the principal designer Sonny Sunga intended. “It links multiple activities within the structure,” he explains, adding that the staircase is rather like the building’s sculptural centerpiece.

Foam facade: The center’s exterior was made to resemble the texture of foam.

The second floor is an art/lifestyle gallery space, as well as the Uratex showcase area. Taking another turn up the spiral staircase brings me to the sky-lit, all-purpose gym that can also double as an exhibition or events hall; there are girls dawdling by the doors, waiting for the PBA team practice to finish. I excuse myself to pass by a girl snapping a photo of herself with a Talk ‘N Text player on her cell phone and head on up to the last level, which turns out to be a roof deck reserved for specialty clothing stores like Clavel, Commune, We Legendary, Terminal, and Secret Service, all handpicked, of course, by Bigboy Cheng.

Right now the upper levels are mostly occupied by lumber, dust and a napping carpenter or two, but the spark of what Ronac aspires towards has already started, quite literally, underground. In the basement, actually, where the brainstormers of this cultural haven, Jagnus Design, can be found amidst the parked cars and exposed pipes, tinkering away at their next design project in their funky new headquarters (and no, their giant Domo isn’t for sale, so don’t ask). Borgy Manotoc has also hunkered down here and set up shop with the aptly named Bunker, shoring up supplies of street brands like Obey and, of course, stockpiles of sneakers, should a cultural apocalypse befall us. They’re probably to thank for the huge Obey mural that greets parking visitors and loitering drivers from one of the walls. 

Well, if this hotdog’s any indicator, then they’re definitely off to a promising, inspiring, barbeque-y mess of a start. Perhaps more “promising, inspiring” rather than “barbeque-y mess,” but good hotdogs tend to force bad metaphors on you like that.

* * *

The Ronac Art Center is located at Ortigas Avenue, Greenhills, San Juan.










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