The Rizal Memorial Sports Complex was originally built to host the Far-Eastern Games in 1934, and stood as a symbol of Filipino readiness for nationhood.
Culture Spotlight

Will it beat the SEAG deadline? Inside the Rizal Memorial makeover

The sprawling facilities along Vito Cruz was once a proud example of who we are—and what we can be—as a people. Today, rehabilitation efforts are furiously underway to showcase its transformation in time for the Southeast Asian Games in November.
Jacs T. Sampayan | Sep 12 2019

There was public outcry three years ago when news broke out that then Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada was planning to convert the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex (RMSC) into a mixed-use commercial space. Several sectors—from former athletes to heritage advocates, and even the academe—came to the city-owned property’s defense. This led to further inquiry from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

More on Rizal:

A petition was circulated, more voices chimed in, and in March 2017, the plans for the sale were put on hold as the country relented to hosting the 30th Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) this year. (When hosting duties were passed on to us after Brunei Darussalam pulled out, we also announced our intention to withdraw as the government planned to use the funds to help rehabilitate Marawi after its siege.)

Two years ago, the RMSC was declared as a National Historical Landmark by the NHCP, and an Important Cultural Property by the National Museum of the Philippines.

A month later, RMSC was then declared as a National Historical Landmark by the NHCP, and an Important Cultural Property by the National Museum of the Philippines, effectively sinking the plans for commercialization. April of this year, the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) remitted PHP 842.5 million to the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) for the renovation of the facilities for the SEAG. 

This funding allowed for a comprehensive modernization of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum—and this is where heritage conservation expert and architect Gerard Lico came into the picture. “One day, I received a call from Michael Allan Sicat, president of ME Sicat Construction Incorporated. They were interested in participating in a public bid for the rehabilitation of the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, and they needed a conservation architect who had the necessary experience and expertise required for a high-profile, highly-sensitive rehabilitation project with a tight five-month deadline,” he shares. “This seemed like a challenge. Of course, I was interested. Fortunately, we were successful in our bid, and we got to work straight away in July of this year.”

According to the architect, the RMSC was originally built to host the Far-Eastern Games in 1934, and stood as a symbol of Filipino readiness for nationhood. “This elevated the Philippines to the world stage. The complex was named after poet and martyr Jose P. Rizal, a figure who exemplifies the abilities of the Filipino,” he says. Damaged by war in 1945, it was rehabilitated in 1953 in preparation for the hosting of the 2nd Asian Games. “This time around, the rehabilitation symbolized that the Philippines has completed its recovery from the ruins of war.”

In 1981, 1991, and 2005, the complex played host to the SEAG, and each time underwent minor renovations in the run-up to those games. This current rehabilitation project marks the first time in about 66 years that the RMSC will undergo a major rehaul.

Lico shared more insights with ANCX about the ongoing efforts to revive a structure that was once a proud symbol for the country.

 

Upon being asked to oversee the restoration of Rizal Memorial, what was your reaction?

I was genuinely excited to take on the project, but there was hesitation because of the pressure of a tight schedule. But I am confident enough, as I have the expertise in the conservation of reinforced concrete buildings, modern buildings and structures of the 20th century in my long experience as a private practitioner and as University Architect of the University of the Philippines in Diliman. The challenge was impossible to ignore. 

The RMSC's architect Juan Arellano was also responsible for such important structures as the Manila Metropolitan Theater, Manila Central Post Office, and Jones Bridge.

 

As a conservationist, has the structure always caught your attention?

Yes. I share fond memories of the place, watching sporting events during the 1991 SEA Games. I often watch basketball games of the NCAA here as a young man who lived in Singalong. In fact, in my high school years, I trained in body building at the gym adjacent to the Rizal Memorial Coliseum (RMC). The building, at that time, was in a dilapidated state yet it had a profound effect on me and provoked a sense of awe in my consciousness because of its sheer monumentality and streamlined beauty.

Later in my career, while working on the Metropolitan Theater and curating the exhibition on Juan Arellano at the Metropolitan Museum, I also did extensive research on the corpus of his works to aid in the conservation of that project—including the Coliseum. Working on it, I can truly say that I have understood well the aesthetics and philosophical turns of Juan Arellano. I studied and conserved his works when I was University Architect of UP Diliman in 2008, in the twin buildings of Malcolm Hall and Benitez Hall. To work on the Coliseum is a reunion of sorts with the spirit of Arellano, and a reconnection with a long lost friend especially after the Metropolitan Theater project. 

 

What was the aesthetic inspiration for this project? Was the goal just pure restoration? 

Having previously worked on the Metropolitan Theater, which was also designed by Arellano, I found many design details, techniques, and elements similar in style and execution. After all, the two buildings were relative contemporaries from the early thirties. While both buildings are Art Deco in style, the RMC, which was built after the Theater, is rendered in a later aesthetic derivative, the Streamlined Moderne. Inspired by the age of travel, the sleek, aerodynamic forms of ships, trains, and automobiles, Streamlined Moderne would be our guide in interpreting the kinetic spaces of the Coliseum.

“Pure restoration” denies the needs of today, in pursuit of an idealized past which is frozen in time. In conservation, we strive to identify the building’s most significant or character-defining elements, and try to incorporate current needs into the framework, while protecting and highlighting the said elements. The ultimate objective of any conservation work to protect the heritage value of the structure at all cost. 

From our archival research and site investigation, we traced the evolution of the building’s fabric and its internal elements over time, its color, windows, louvers, gates, grillwork, among others. This helped us determine what elements are original, and what elements were later added.

According to Lico, the project unearthed the structure's original use as a tennis stadium.

 

What has this structure meant for us as a developing nation?

Architecturally, it is one of the largest Art Deco sports complexes in the Far East, and constitutes part of the city of Manila’s—and the Philippines’—built heritage. Historically, the RMSC was one of the largest civic undertakings of the Philippine Commonwealth in preparation for its autonomy. It served as a showcase of the modern Filipino nation, a device for cultural propaganda and a source of civic pride for a people in search of their identity. It is also witness to one of the fiercest battles during the Liberation of Manila in the final days of the Second World War, when it was used as a garrison by the Japanese troops. 

Until recently, with the construction of the National Sports Complex in Clark, the RMSC served as the de facto national sports center. It was the birth place of amateur and professional sporting organizations in the country such as the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP), and Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletics Association (MICAA) among others. It was the cradle for the nation’s athletes. In addition, it is one of the last few public spaces within the city, and the only government-run facility in Manila that can host multiple sports simultaneously.

It is symbolic of our collective aspiration to demonstrate to the world, our capability to produce stellar athletes and holistically developed citizens.

 

What state was the coliseum in before efforts started? 

The coliseum was in bad shape. Roof gutters were clogged, causing waterfalls to cascade on the seats during episodes of heavy rain. The showers, lockers, and toilets were outdated and insufficient. Some rooms had mezzanine constructions that are not code-compliant. There were layers and layers of electrical wiring on top of each other. A lot had to be done.

 

What are the challenges?

Jorge Vargas was instrumental in the construction of the RMSC.

The main challenge is the time frame. We are given five months to complete the project. The delivery of some imported materials like the seats and air conditioning units takes two to three months. Another challenge is completely re-doing the electrical wiring, lighting, water lines, and sewage lines. It’s almost a completely new building! Of course, we retained and restored all the important elements: the lobby, the polished terrazzo flooring, the Art Deco ceiling, the grillwork, the reliefs, mouldings, finials, flagpoles, and the iconic facade.

 

What innovations are being incorporated into the project? 

For the first time, the Coliseum will be fully air-conditioned, with the latest Japanese technology that will ensure thermal comfort for the players and spectators and energy efficiency for the grid. The shower and locker rooms are being completely re-done, fully-equipped with bidets, water heaters, and spanking-new lockers. New seats will be installed, including retractable seating on the court level, comparable to the latest sporting venues across the globe. Even the spectator restrooms are being re-done, being true to the spirit of the building while addressing the current needs of those who will use the facility. This is so that all Filipinos can feel what the government is doing for both conservation and sports. It’s about Filipino pride.

 

What milestones have been reached? 

So far, we have cleared the building of all debris, and are now installing the new utilities. Everything is being done simultaneously such as wiring, plumbing, roof repair, and window replacement.

We have also uncovered original decorative elements that have been hidden over the decades, such as porthole windows in the main lobby, which we earlier noted while conducting archival research, and other grillworks which were boarded up that confirmed the building’s old designation as a Tennis Stadium. These elements will be incorporated into the design we have prepared.

 

Click on the arrows to see a rendering of what the RMSC will look like:

While retaining its important design elements, Lico and his team are incorporating innovations to the structure including, for the first time, an airconditioning system. 

While retaining its important design elements, Lico and his team are incorporating innovations to the structure including, for the first time, an airconditioning system.

While retaining its important design elements, Lico and his team are incorporating innovations to the structure including, for the first time, an airconditioning system. 

While retaining its important design elements, Lico and his team are incorporating innovations to the structure including, for the first time, an airconditioning system. 

While retaining its important design elements, Lico and his team are incorporating innovations to the structure including, for the first time, an airconditioning system. 

 

Has there been any push back at all from any sector?

The response has been positive from all fronts. I believe the fence exhibit helps with public information dissemination. It also helps people on the street appreciate the heritage in their midst.

 

Is there any way for the private sector to help?

They can support conservation by promoting and sharing the relevance of the building with other people, and supporting our athletes through sponsorships, partnerships, and donations.

 

What is your personal hope for the Rizal Memorial? 

That the coliseum will continue to stand the test of time, and serve as a catalyst for further appreciation and safeguarding of our nation’s other built heritage. I hope that it will continue to be loved by generations of Filipinos to come. It is not only a space of sport but a space where Filipinos can connect with their past and renew their devotion to our nation.