At least if Memorial Coliseum has to be threatened with demolition, it has caused the community of architects and fellow design enthusiasts to come together. A case in point: the call I received yesterday from Bill Rouzie, a retired architect who was part of the bravura team at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill that designed the Coliseum.
Talking by phone, he recalled visiting the Coliseum in 1960 shortly after the building was finished, on a day its curtain was opened to allow natural light to stream into the arena, which on that day had a skating rink set up inside. "The sunlight was streaming through. Everybody was skating on the ice in their costumes," he remembers. "It was just a beautiful sight."
The whole concept behind Memorial Coliseum's design, Rouzie says, was to give the arena a sense of transparency and connection to the outside - something anathema to most large performance spaces.
Besides the transparency of the building, the Coliseum is noteworthy for how the concrete seating bowl is completely independent from the glass box. There are only four columns in the whole building, and as Rouzie proudly points out, "Those columns are completely outside the perimeter of the seating form. There’s one point where they come close together but they don’t touch. They never touch."