The Rizal Memorial Coliseum façade has two inward curving walls framing the main structure with the building’s name and year of establishment in Berlin Sans typeface. Below it is a series of bud ornaments typical of Art Deco aesthetics. An upward-tilting curved canopy hovers above the main entrance with terrazzo floor and steps.

Gerard Lico: Heritage buildings should not be frozen in time

Renowned architect, art historian, and heritage conservationist who worked on the recent revitalization of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum says heritage buildings should be activated

  • February 26, 2020

  • Written by Denny Mata

  • Photographed by Rochelle Padilla

“I’m glad the building is now active,” says architect Gerard Lico, his words resonant as we tread along the hallway under the upper box bleachers of the newly rehabilitated Rizal Memorial Coliseum. “Heritage buildings should not be frozen in time; they should be used. Their continued use will ensure their survival.”

Prior to the Rizal Memorial Coliseum’s (formerly Rizal Memorial Tennis Stadium) major rehabilitation in 2019, threats to demolish the Manila City-owned Rizal Memorial Sports Complex (RMSC) for a commercial center circulated in late 2016. However, Lico shares that heritage and sports advocates prevailed and prevented the property’s sale, citing its architectural significance and contribution to the preservation of Filipino culture and history; creating civic, green, and open spaces; and providing the citizens with affordable sports facilities within the metro. In 2017, the sports complex was proclaimed a national historic landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) through the National Heritage Law of 2009, and declared as important cultural property by the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP).

According to Lico, previous renovations in the coliseum added another layer to the canopy that extends to the sidewalk. Lico’s team demolished the add-on within three days, and added roofing and drainage to arrest the flooding in the area. The two posts at the base of the canopy originally have built-in lamps, which Lico’s team brought back as well. Meanwhile, the main entrance had accordion-type grilles that are replaced with glass to make the lobby more transparent and welcoming. The old grilles are reused inside the coliseum. The ticket booths on either side are also reused for the building’s air duct system.
BluPrint architecture rizal memorial coliseum gerard lico
Triangular shapes are used in the cornices and lighting of the lobby, an Art Deco aesthetic. According to Lico, they specifically chose lighting that has triangular elements to resonate with the triangles on the cornices of the lobby. “The bulb alludes to the ball being the object of play,” adds Lico. He also shares that most of the elements of the building are imported, like the lighting fixture, air-conditioning, lockers, and retractable bleacher chairs

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However, as Lico emphasizes, continued use is of utmost importance in the preservation of heritage buildings and sites. So, when the news of RMSC’s rehabilitation broke out, it’s one less heritage site biting the dust. “The [Rizal Memorial Coliseum] is actually a part of a larger rehabilitation of the complex funded by PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation),” says Lico. “The intention was not to open this for the Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games). It so happened that the SEA Games will happen in 2019, so it was an opportunity for the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) to showcase their building.”

BluPrint architecture rizal memorial coliseum gerard lico
“Here, we removed the ‘cage’ between the upper and lower boxes that prevent the rowdy fans from throwing objects into the court,” shares Lico. The 1950s industrial fans inside the arena are still functional but are no longer used because of the building’s new air-conditioning. The prominent posts in the arena are also retained. “There have been complaints about the posts, but we cannot do away with those because they are part of the heritage structure,” explains Lico. For the lighting, Lico says that the lighting for the arena is broadcast quality and FIBA compliant.

In July 2019, the 250-million-peso-worth rehabilitation of the indoor arena began. ME Sicat Construction, the winning bidder for the project contractor sought Lico’s expertise and service. Lico is a professor at the College of Architecture at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, practicing architecture as a conservation professional and designer of institutional buildings. The Rizal Memorial Coliseum rehabilitation is the first to be completed in the approximately 11,000-square-meter RMSC. “It took us four months, but it was a year-long research and development of the plan,” Lico shares. He admits that it was difficult to rehabilitate an old building more than 50 years old, but he ensures that all interventions and forms of modifications undergo supervision and approval of the PSC, National Commission on Culture and the Arts, NMP, and NHCP. “We surveyed the building and diagnosed the defects. The building is structurally strong so it does not require any structural retrofitting. But we had to remove the defects and elements added which devalue the heritage value of the building,” Lico adds.

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BluPrint architecture rizal memorial coliseum gerard lico
The original upper box bleachers are wood, which the rehabilitation team retained and refurbished. “We wanted to change the seats to aluminum, but we couldn’t because of budget constraints. Besides, it would be a waste to change the wood when it is still okay,” says Lico.
BluPrint architecture rizal memorial coliseum gerard lico
On the lower box are aluminum bleachers with blue plastic seats. “We also installed retractable seats, making sure that the court can be flexible enough to host even concerts and other activities beyond basketball,” Lico adds.

To beat the four-month rehabilitation project time frame, 450 workers toiled in 3 shifts and used a 12-million-peso spider crane instead of scaffolding. Lico affirms that his team made sure of the safety of the workers and the quality of their work. “We had to maintain the quality, so we really focused on the design elements. All of our choices in terms of additional details are in compliance with the Art Deco aesthetic,” he says. According to the architect, the proto-modern building is straightforward, more streamlined with minimal use of ornaments, unlike the Met Theater, as it is analogous to what the Americans wanted the Filipinos to achieve: a streamlined ‘deco body’ that is efficient to contribute to the colonial economy. Archival photographs and plans of the Harrison Park, RMSC, and the coliseum from Jorge B. Vargas’ collection, copies of which are now displayed in the new Gallery, helped Lico and his team to restore the original features of the building.

BluPrint architecture rizal memorial coliseum gerard lico
“We designed the wayfinding system and signages,” Lico says. “It’s color-coded because I’ve gotten lost here several times.” The hallways under the bleachers or the dug-outs used to be dark. “We had to puncture the walls for the air-conditioning and ventilation,” shares Lico.
BluPrint architecture rizal memorial coliseum gerard lico
The toilets stay true to the Art Deco aesthetic with geometric mirrors, lighting, and floors. They are all equipped with bidets and hand sprays.

Lico has been working on Juan Arellano structures for years. He shares that he previously worked on two buildings by renowned Filipino architect Juan Arellano in UP Diliman—the College of Law and College of Education buildings built before the Second World War—and on the restoration of Manila Metropolitan Theater prior to the Rizal Memorial Coliseum. “Although the four-month period was really tight, I was lucky I had the opportunity to have worked on some of Juan Arellano’s buildings, so I am acquainted with his style, technique, and his structures,” he shares. “Some of my interventions at The Met are similar to the Rizal Memorial Coliseum. For instance, the use of foam insulation on the roof and the high-density linoleum in the arena proper.”

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BluPrint architecture rizal memorial coliseum gerard lico
“This is a typical locker with shower, sink, locker cabinets, and air-conditioning,” Lico says. He adds that the open lockers are specifically chosen to double as seats. Chevron patterns on the partitions of the toilets and athletes’ shower rooms echo the Art Deco details in the mini-gates incorporated into the low-slung barriers in the arena proper, using the materials from the old cage.

Although Lico’s team aimed to restore the building to its former glory, Lico kept some cracks and imperfections in place as he adhered to the aesthetic of wabi-sabi of the Japanese. “People wondered why there were lines and crack-like details in some areas. I understand their indifference because of the notion we have that when we ‘rehabilitate,’ we have to make things perfect. But, if it’s perfect, it’s like removing the layers of history accumulated by the building,” shares Lico. “Imperfection gives more character to the structure, and these ‘scars’ will tell the story of the building. ”

Lico underscores the importance of the building’s history, not only to architecture but also in civics and culture. “I insisted on having the Gallery to retain the education component of the building,” he says. “Continuity and educated intervention—I think PSC is very sensitive to these, that’s why they’re allowing me to have tours like this to educate the public.” Lico shares that he wanted to propose that the sports facility should be opened to the public from time to time for public tours, similar to facilities in Germany and Singapore. He adds, “It is only through the realization of the history of the building that the people will value and love the old building.”

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BluPrint architecture downspouts
As for the exterior, Lico’s team installed new downspouts and sprayed the roof with foaming insulation. The downspouts mirror the original bases of the flag poles so as not to interrupt the Art Deco aesthetic. “The foam insulation has two functions: for thermal and sound-proofing. It won’t damage the building; it’s reversible,” says Lico.
BluPrint architecture ivan man dy and gerard lico
Art Deco researcher Ivan Man Dy (left) and renowned architect, art historian, and heritage conservationist Gerard Lico (right) at the ‘Deco Filipino’ book signing.

Amidst the architecture and history lessons by Lico on the day of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum tour and the official launch of the Deco Filipino book he co-authored with Art Deco researcher Ivan Man Dy, a karate tournament was also on-going. According to Lico, the indoor arena is fully booked for the year, with both local and international competitions already in queue. “I’m pleased with how the people interacted with the building during the SEA Games and even now. They were taking selfies. I believe one of the barometers of successful conservation is how people accept the building,” Lico shared. “And the building becomes an Instagram sensation,” he adds, which elicited laughter from everyone on the tour.B ender

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