The Tanghalang Pambansa is the flagship venue and principal offices of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Valencia Locsin, its design was based and expanded on the unconstructed Philippine-American Friendship Center. The Tangahalan is a primary example of the architect's signature style known as the floating volume, a trait can be seen in structures indigenous to the Philippines such as the nipa hut. It houses three performing arts venues, one theater for film screenings, galleries, a museum and the center's library and archives. Being a work of a National Artist, the brutalist structure is qualified to be an important cultural landmark.
Construction began in 1966, with Alfredo Juinio serving as structural engineer and Filipino firm DM Consunji as builder. Originally called the Theater of Performing Arts, it was completed and inaugurated in 1969. Its first major renovation occurred in 2005 for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 112th General Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held in Manila. Included in the renovation were cleaning and replacement of the marble trim, installation of a new air-conditioning system and new carpeting.
The facade of the National Theater is dominated by a two-storey travertine block suspended 12 meters high by deep concave cantilevers on three sides. The rest of the structure is clad in concrete, textured by crushed seashells originally found on the reclamation site. The building is built on a massive podium, and entry is through a vehicular ramp in front of the raised lobby and a pedestrian side entry on its northwest side. In front of the facade and below the ramp, there is an octagonal reflecting pool with fountains and underwater lights. On the main lobby, three large Capiz-shell chandeliers hang from the third floor ceiling, each symbolizing the three main geographical divisions of the Philippines: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. At the orchestra entrance, a brass sculpture, The Seven Arts by Vicente Manansala welcomes the audience into the main theater. From the pedestrian entrance, Arturo Luz's Black and White is displayed as spectators enter the little theater or ascend to the main lobby through a massive carpeted spiral staircase. Most of the interior is lit artificially, as there are few windows, most of which are located along the sides of the main lobby. Large areas on the upper floors are open to the ground floor lobby, emphasizing the large chandeliers and fluid interior spaces on northeast side of the building. Galleries and other rooms surround these open areas, occupying the space created by the huge cantilevered block. Whenever possible, the walls surrounding these rooms are used as additional venues for displaying art works.
Much of the criticism of the building's architecture is directed towards its vehicular ramp. Since there are usually no valet services or parking areas directly accessible from the lobby entrance, the ramp's use is ideal only for audience members who are chauffeur-driven; at the expense of pedestrians, who may enter through the side entrance or a narrow (and potentially hazardous) pathway on the ramp. In defense of the design, Andy Locsin (a partner of his father's firm) explained that the decision of raising the whole structure on the podium (and consequently, the addition of the ramp) was in response to the high sea levels on the reclaimed land, and was not intended to promote an elitist view of art and culture.