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20 Things You Must Know About The Restoration Of The Rizal Memorial Complex

Architect Gerard Lico shares the highlights of his process, as he headed up the team who restored Southeast Asia’s only Art Deco sports facility

On the eve of Deco Filipino’s launch, a book on Art Deco Heritage in the Philippines, co-authored by Architect Gerard Lico, Metro.Style shares the architect/educator’s point of view on the restoration of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum. After the restoration, it hosted its first Southeast Asian Games event, the Men’s Football matches, on November 25, 2019.  Originally designed by Architect Juan Arellano, it opened in 1934 as a tennis stadium.  It was destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945, and was rebuilt in 1953 to host the 1954 Southeast Asian Games.

In this country where architectural preservation is championed, but implemented by only a few, the restoration of heritage structures such as The Rizal Memorial Coliseum is a triumph, and educational efforts on the preservation of the country’s historic buildings must be encouraged.

Restored signage and facade of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum
Restored signage and facade of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum | Courtesy of Architect Gerard Lico

5 Historical Highlights that Define the Building

1.     It was the one of the only art deco sporting facilities in South East Asia made this building especially unique.

2.     Its hosting of the 1934 Far East Games marked an achievement for the fledgling Filipino nation, as it represented its readiness for self-rule and put the Philippines on the world stage.

3.     Its role in World War II: The complex was witness to one of the fiercest fighting in the Battle of Manila. In particular, the dugouts at the Baseball Stadium served as Japanese bunkers, which where pulverized by American artillery fire.

4.     The sports complex served as the birthplace of several great local sports rivalries at the collegiate and national levels. Apart from sports, it was a venue for performances like the piano recital of Jose Iturbi and the Holiday on Ice.

5.     And of course, it is important to note its role in the 1981, 1991, 2005, and 2019 SEA Games and beyond. It served and continues to serve as the home and training ground of our Filipino athletes for generations to come

The Top 5 Considerations for the Restoration

1. The number one consideration is the safety of users. We methodically inspected the structural components for damage, or flaws that could lead to more damage, such as leaks; and we repaired them. Modern utilities including fire detection and suppression systems were installed; along with improved way-finding and egress signage, an in complying with our accessibility laws, PWD-friendly facilities such as ramps, railings, and barrier-free access have been incorporated in the eight decade old structure.

2.     The second consideration is authenticity to the original design and intent. “Is this what the original architect intended,” we asked ourselves this for every design intervention we do. The Rizal Memorial Coliseum is an Art Deco structure. Fueled by the age of travel, the machine, and cinema; the structure’s elements draw from these sources. Everything has to be compatible with architecture of this period. The original materials and craftsmanship takes center stage. It is vital therefore that the new additions are distinguishable, subordinate (to the originals) and reversible—you can tell that it’s new and that it not only respects the original structure but highlights its original art deco qualities. In creating the lighting fixtures for the lobbies, we looked into archival photographs and noticed the column light with the three shiny bands. Taking a cue from this, we recreated this in fiberglass and brass to achieve Juan Arellano’s intended look; albeit using new, more durable materials. We also did this with the restrooms and locker rooms, taking the art deco look and reusing the ornate grillwork recovered from the structure in novel ways.

3.     The third consideration is comfort and function. The rehabilitation was initiated not only to conserve the architecture, but also to renew its use as a modern sporting facility. The Rizal Memorial Sports Complex opened in 1934 as one of the most modern sports facilities in Asia. By rehabilitating and modernizing the complex, we are in a way, returning to its roots. Crucial of this is the centralized air-conditioning, which proved challenging to install, as the ducting, piping, and machines had to be placed such that it would allow air to circulate optimally, while proving to be minimally invasive to the fabric of the building. Clearing out the haphazardly constructed additions, sub-rooms, and wooden mezzanine floors made way for support spaces, utility rooms, and “backstage areas” for sporting events.

4.     World class sport standards. To complete the modernization, we upgraded the facility to meet modern FIBA standards: the global standard for basketball facilities. This included installing new stadium seating for the lower box, premium telescopic (retractable) seats for the Patron area; and specialized sports lighting for the entire court area.

5.     With the restoration of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, a challenge was on sourcing materials from the time period, particularly those which are no longer produced today. With existing elements such as the terrazzo flooring, restoration was done in-situ, being conscious of the capacity to discern old from new, and to use the same marble in concrete technique known to builders of the 30’s. For lighting fixtures, we presented the materials as they should be, doing away with faux gilding or veneered effects that detract from the authentic qualities of the original structure.

The top 5 elements of the Rizal Memorial that had to stay

1.     Facade relief – the façade is an integral element of the building’s character. It provides a face, or a lasting image of the building. Because it is an iconic facade, it represents organizations, events, and broader ideas of excellence and nationhood. Its image lives in the public imagination. To preserve and enhance the façade, we carefully studied paint scrapings to derive the original color scheme. We designed and installed LED monumental lighting to enhance the building’s evening presence—in-line with the aesthetics of the streamlined moderne.  

2.     Lobby ceiling details – When we entered the project, we were delighted to see that the lobby ceiling was mostly intact. Like the façade, the lobby’s ceiling was an important part of the building’s character. We repaired some sections that sustained water damage, and applied termite-proofing as to protect the woodwork.

3.     Terazzo flooring – The lobby’s original flooring were also intact, but the surfaces had lost much of its luster. We had the terrazzo patched, spot-repaired, and polished to a shine.

4.     Art deco grillwork – The original art deco grillwork had rusted in places, while others were covered-up or plastered over. These were uncovered, repaired, and repainted to restore them.

5.     Floral capitals – These finials are unique decorative elements of the building. If you look closely, the finials are similar to that of the Metropolitan Theater; but simplified. This of course, was because it was by the same architect—Juan Arellano. Its simplified design reflected the streamlined aesthetics of the era.

The top 5 changes to Rizal Memorial Coliseum 

1.     For the first time in its history, the building now has centralized air-conditioning; for a cool, comfortable experience. This not only entailed the installation of the a/c units and ducting, but also the replacement of most of the windows, and the installation of glass doors at the lobbies to retain the cool air.

2.     Modern restrooms, lockers and sporting facilities provide a comfortable environment for spectators and athletes alike.

3.     Modern sport, interior, and monumental lighting: The lighting system overall was totally overhauled. We designed the lights to be in tune with the space: warm in lobby areas, cool in offices and utility rooms, and mixed in the corridors. Illumination plays a big role in transforming the spaces. The upgraded sports lighting put the venue up to par with world standards. On the exterior, the monumental lighting enhanced the building’s prominence in the nighttime skyline.

4.     Fire detection and suppression system: This is where safety comes into play. An entire system of fire detectors, sprinklers, pumps, pipes, and a cistern was put into place to ensure the safety of the building occupants and to comply with modern safety laws, codes, and standards.

5.     Removal of roadside canopy: This was a freestanding concrete canopy which was not an original part of the building—it was added sometime in the 70’s or 80’s. We had to remove it because it obstructed the visibility of the building’s façade, and prevented natural light from entering the lobby.

All photos courtesy of Architect Gerard Lico  

Deco Filipino Art Deco Heritage in the Philippines by Architect Gerard Lico and Ivan Man Dy is launching on February 1, 2020, 3 pm, at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum Lobby, to be followed by a tour of the complex.

Popcorn Palaces: The Evolution of the Filipino Place of Spectatorship, an exhibit by Architect Gerard Lico and the launch of his second book, Pa(ng)labas: Architecture + Cinema, Projection of Filipino Space in Film, will be hosted by Archivo 1984 on February 6, 2020 at 7 pm.  Archivo 1984 is at Pasilio 18, La Fuerza Compound 1, 2241 Chino Roles Ave., Makati City.

Art Post Asia launches Deco Filipino, authored by Architect Gerard Lico and Ivan Man Dy in the Rizal Memorial Coliseum on February 1, 2020, 3 pm.
Art Post Asia launches Deco Filipino, authored by Architect Gerard Lico and Ivan Man Dy in the Rizal Memorial Coliseum on February 1, 2020, 3 pm
Popcorn Palaces, an exhibition by Architect Gerard Lico will be held in Archivo 1984 on February 6, 2020, 7 pm.