Play posing with friends and family at the Philippine Pavilion

When Joseph's family moved to Winnipeg from a small mining town (Ear Falls, ON) in 1987, they were invited by their neighbours to join a Filipino performing group called Magdaragat Philippines Inc. Being new in town, they thought it was a great opportunity to meet people and learn more about their Filipino culture. Since then, Joseph has played several different roles within the group: volunteer, choreographer, teacher, production staff member, photographer, social media coordinator, ambassador, and performer for the Pearl of the Orient Philippine Pavilion during Folklorama. In 2015, Joseph's kids joined Magdaragat and have been dancing at Folklorama ever since.

This year, Architects At Play decided to do something special for Magdaragat: Build a life-sized replica of a roasted pig! "Lechon" as it's known in Tagalog, is a favourite dish to Filipinos around the world. And we thought that it would be a great addition to the Pearl of the Orient Pavilion's Cultural Display or even as a prop on stage during the performances. Never having built anything like this before, the Lechon started as an insanely challenging idea, but ended up as something we’re very proud to say we were able to accomplish.

It started with a 2' x 10' board of 3" rigid insulation, which we cut, layered, and glued. This made a foam block measuring roughly 12" x 12" x 42". We clamped everything together and allowed the glue to cure for several days. At this point, we still didn't know how we were going to get this thing to look like a pig...

Lechon build - Sheet of rigid insulation cut and glued

The next step was to draw the shape of the pig in plan and elevation. This was done by using online images to determine proportion and positioning. The Lechon shape was sketched on trace paper laid over the insulation, which allowed us to adjust the location of the sketch. Once we were happy with the location, we traced the shape of the pig onto the insulation. We then roughly cut the insulation with Japanese saws and various knives to get the general shape. 

Lechon build - Sketch of the lechon with reference image
Lechon build - Lechon sketch cut out and laid on insulation for tracing
Lechon build - Tracing of the lechon on the insulation
Lechon build - Rough cuts of the insulation
Lechon build - Tracing of the lechon on the insulation
Lechon build - Tracing of the lechon on the insulation
Lechon build - Rough cuts of the insulation
Lechon build - Rough cuts of the insulation

Using a few different tools and carving methods, we sculpted the finer details. We started shaping one-half of the pig, referencing photos and using our best judgement to carve the form. Once the first half was at a point where we liked the shape, we carved the second half, trying to replicate the shaping techniques. This was a time-consuming and messy process, but was also very exciting because the Lechon was starting to become recognizable. At one point, we grabbed a couple of scrap pieces of foam off the floor and tested them as "ears". Instantly, we were able to envision the final product and were excited that our crazy idea just might work! 

Lechon build - Shaping and carving of the insulation to the pig shape
Lechon build - Shaping and carving of the insulation to the pig shape
Lechon build - Shaping the finer details of the lechon
Lechon build - Shaping the finer details of the lechon

Once we were happy with the final shape of the pig, we cut a plywood base and applied it to the bottom of the insulation. This provided a solid surface to attach the “skin”, which was a vinyl fabric stretched over the form. We crafted the hind legs and ears from wire mesh and used a strong, but flexible metal wire for the tail. The application of the vinyl was a process of trial and error. Each piece was cut by hand and secured in place before the next piece was determined. Starting at the head and moving toward the tail, we overlapped each piece and secured the pieces in place with a combination of double-sided tape, duct tape, and screws. Although there was a great degree of uncertainty with the process, it went remarkably smoothly and turned out better than expected.

Lechon build - Applying the plywood base to the insulation
Lechon build - Applying the vinyl "skin" to the insulation
Lechon build - Applying the vinyl "skin" to the insulation
Lechon build - Taping the bottom of the vinyl

The finishing touches included using shoe polish to give the Lechon a nice "crispy" shine, creating a bed of banana leaves, adding plastic veggies and bowls, and building a plywood and bamboo platter. This special project definitely taught us a lot (Jo even had to learn how to sew), and working though the challenge definitely increased our craft and modelling skill set. 

The Lechon was presented to Magdaragat on the opening night of the Pearl of the Orient Pavilion. Throughout the course of the week, the prop was displayed in the Cultural Display and used on stage during the Rural Suite. We were proud to see all our hard work go to good use, and we can't wait to see the Lechon return to the stage next year at Folklorama 2020!

Lechon build - Vinyl "skin" complete, test fitting the decorative accessories
Lechon build - Vinyl "skin" complete, test fitting the decorative accessories
Lechon build - Completed lechon before receiving polish
Lechon build - Vinyl "skin" complete, test fitting the decorative accessories
Lechon build - Finished lechon, complete with polish
Lechon build - Finished lechon, complete with polish

As a company dedicated to helping out in the community, this special project for an organization near and dear to Joseph and his family really made us feel good about the direction of our firm. We were able to put our design thinking and creativity skills to create something that brings value to the Philippine Pavilion, and we hope that we can inspire others to chase those impossibly crazy ideas and make them a reality.