“The largest domed theater on the planet” is also the newest coliseum in the Philippines, and it’s nearing completion in Bocaue, Bulacan, to be unveiled – possibly with 50,000 people in attendance – to herald the centenary of Iglesia ni Cristo. It was a riveting show on the Discovery channel as architect Andrew James guided the viewer on a tour of the amphitheater that occupies 34,000 sqm (its dome takes up 36,000 sqm, “the biggest roof space in the world”), coupled with the insights provided by Renato Solidum, earthquake expert of Phivolcs. The Philippine Arena, as it was referred to throughout the one-hour program on television, is touted as earthquake-proof even if it sits a mere 30 km from the (Marikina) West Valley Fault, even if 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes are generated ‘round the Pacific ring of fire. But then as Dr. Solidum put it, “earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do.” This “record-breaking manmade marvel” started out as a plenary hall for the INC church and the contractors, San Jose Builders, were given 24 months to finish the job, “a deadline that we cannot move.” Quake-proofing the arena, said Mr. James, means flexibility in every inch of the structure but also ensuring the safety of people moving in and out and watching the show. Not only through “crowd management on a massive scale,” but also by making sure there are no bottlenecks, no panic, no stampedes when they make a mad dash for the exits – via the concourse and stairs -- during an emergency. Evacuation time: between four and six minutes. Built 62 meters above the ground and looking like a crown (to the architect but like a giant clam to me), already the arena is whipping up waves of excitement among performers. As singer Julia Abueva said, “entertainment is big in the Philippines.” That’s why we need a big stage and a big theater (in this case, 140 meters from the back to the stage) for a big audience. Boxing fans could also dream of watching their idol Manny Pacquiao savage his next opponent in this structure that its designers brag as one that combines “majesty with intimacy.” That said, let the earthquake expert have the last word: “We are ready to rumble with the tumble.” Without a stumble.
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