BUILT in 1949, the Blue Eagle Gym is the oldest structure at the Loyola Heights Campus of the Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU). Emerging out of the pandemic and armed with a hefty donation from one of its most generous alumni, AdMU is finally embarking on its long-overdue renovation. It faces the challenge of preserving the gym’s post-war era structure while being responsive to 21st-century needs.
William Masterson, S.J., built the Ateneo de Manila Gymnasium (as it was called then) as an alternative to the Rizal Memorial Coliseum for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) games. The post-war structure might remind one of a Quonset hut, but its design mimics a plane hangar, a design similar to the University of the Philippines University Theater. The original Ateneo gym was framed by deep steel trusses, while the structural integrity of the Quonset relied mainly on the pre-fabricated curved roof sections as well as its one-dimensional framing.
In an interview with The Manila Times, Blue Eagle Gym Renovation Project Manager Jelour Casimiro explained that the P460 million retrofit aims to upgrade the facilities, improving air conditioning and acoustics.
“The Gym is notorious for its bad acoustics,” Ang said, “much of the cost will make sure it will have the best acoustics possible.”
The retrofit, as designed by Ar. Ike Madamba, targets full compliance with today’s stricter building regulations and ascertaining that the acoustics will be excellent given any weather condition.
“Since we didn’t want to touch the iconic roofs, we had to make sure that the acoustics would be great even when it rains,” said Casimiro.
Other major upgrades include comfortable seats, toilets, a jumbotron, and ultramodern maple wood flooring. Student-athletes will enjoy two training room areas, enviable study halls and dorms, and an indoor running track.
“The benches at the bleachers will be converted into individual seats,” VP for Administration Rodolfo Ang said. “The seating capacity will be malleable because [the gym] will have retractable seats at four sides. The gym will have 4,800 seats during game day, but will have additional 2,000 seats for events like Graduation Day and other community assemblies.”
The renovation adheres to the thrust of the university to be sustainable. While air conditioning is a major consideration, the redesign considered using natural ventilation on training days. Like garage doors, side-tilted doors will lift up, letting in natural light and ventilation.
“One of the best things about the old buildings at the Loyola Heights campus,” Ang continued, “is that they have a South-West orientation, and as such, they take in the Northern Wind.”
A water catchment system will be installed, ensuring greater water self-sufficiency. As to tapping renewable energy, Ang said that “the university is already 10 percent solar-powered from existing solar farms, and intends to be 20 percent solar-powered in the coming years.”
The new gym design is based on the principle that Heritage Mapping hinges on what a community recognizes as meaningful to its history and identity. Despite some modernizing features, such as moveable louvres and a porte cochere or covered entrance on the main facade, the designers acknowledged the structure’s good bones and its iconic design: the blue eagle facing Katipunan Avenue will be kept and refurbished.
Aiming to be inclusive and diverse, the 21st-century Blue Eagle Gym is being built for multi-purpose use. While popularly associated with men’s basketball, many other sports will be hosted in it, like volleyball, fencing, track and field, and cheer dancing. Well-being — physical, mental, scholastic, and spiritual — will also be addressed through health and community participation as religious, academic, and cultural events will also take place in it.
Projected to be completed by next year, the Blue Eagle Gym will continue to stand as a beacon of hope, said the ones in charge of the renovation. At the same time, students, athletes, teachers, and other members of the community might also find themselves occasionally trekking to it for a Ben & Ben concert sooner than they think.