Architect explains meticulous process behind Rizal Coliseum renovation

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 27 2019 06:03 AM | Updated as of Nov 27 2019 12:47 PM

Here’s some good news: The renovation for the art deco-styled Rizal Memorial Coliseum has been completed in time for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.

Despite having only five months allotted for its renovation, the Rizal Coliseum, based on its photos, definitely looks polished with its marble features and elegant lighting, allowing visitors to appreciate the beauty of the pre-World War II building at night.

First constructed as a tennis stadium in 1934, the Juan Arellano-designed building was destroyed in the Battle of Manila during World War II. It was reconstructed in 1953 for the inaugural Asian Games and underwent subsequent rehabilitation.

It has been renovated as a venue for the gymnastics competition of the 2019 SEA Games.

Responsible for its recent transformation is heritage conservationist and architect Gerard Lico, who has also restored other pre-war buildings at University of the Philippines where he teaches. Lico was also a consulting architect for the Manila Metropolitan Theater, which was also designed by Arellano.

Lico said his team began construction in July, after getting the approval of three agencies — the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, and the National Museum of the Philippines — since the coliseum is considered a national cultural treasure.

“It’s unique because it’s a huge venue,” Lico said of the 6,100-seat coliseum, which has almost thrice the seating capacity of Manila Metropolitan Theater.


“It requires a lot of research in terms of detailing and bringing back the building to its original splendor,” he added, saying his crew used a lot of archival photographs and based the final color of the facade from paint scrapings of the building.

Lico said he wanted it to look loyal to its original design from the 1930s.

“The style is art deco so it should be luxurious but inviting,” he said.

During the renovation, Lico’s team uncovered old design elements of the building such as the porthole windows.

Lico said the building followed a Streamline style, which had nautical elements borrowed from ocean liners and sleek machines.


He said he also discovered that the building used faux marbling, which his team replaced with real marble.

“And then we restored the terrazo flooring. These are chips of marble, colored marble,” he said of the lobby.

They also demolished a huge concrete canopy at the facade of the building. “The beauty of the building came out,” he said.


Lico said the coliseum is meant to also be a basketball court, so he had to fit it with equipment that is FIBA-compliant. 

Designed to host events beyond the SEA Games, Lico and co. also installed a retractable searing system in addition to new seats.


Lico said the history of the coliseum showed that it was not just a basketball venue but a place where piano recitals and concerts were held.

Even the locker rooms of the athletes were designed based on the art deco style. 

“Everything is air-conditioned. We have a centralized boiler for hot water,” said Lico.

He said he wanted to “elevate” the design of the building not just for conservation but also for the athletes. 

Among the biggest challenges Lico's team faced was installing an air-conditioning system, the first in the history of the building.

“Where will you place the machine?” he said. “It has to be hidden. We had to evict the offices there. We had to erect a platform for the aircon.”

Lico said the platform had to be structurally independent to keep the heavy load off the old building. But that resulted in more problems as the site used to be a swamp, making it very difficult to excavate the soil and install the platform.


Asked how they were able to finish the project on time, as compared to the other SEA Games venues, Lico said he was lucky that contractor ME Sicat Construction trusted his vision.

He said it helped that he had experience designing and submitting proposals for government buildings. At the same time, he said he noticed that the other contractor took up all the other construction projects, which might have made it difficult for it to focus its efforts.

At the end of the renovation, Lico put up a gallery, which was not included in the design brief.


“I insisted on having that,” he said of the exhibit that showcased the history of the Rizal Coliseum. “They (agencies) did not want a gallery, but the contractor was able to convince them.”

“I told them I can even spend my own money on it,” he said, adding that it was his way of communicating with the people the significance of the building.

“It’s not just about sports. It’s about rising from the ruins of war. (The coliseum) has a lot of stories,” he said, mentioning performances of the Beatles and Holiday on Ice.

Lico said he hopes that when people visit the coliseum, they realize the history behind the structure.

“When you see it it’s not restored perfectly,” he said. “Those scars are intended to present the layers of history that the building acquired throughout its lifetime.”