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« The Permanence of Pop-Ups | Main | A New Paradigm for Sports Venues: Community Connections »

Creating collegiate venues, creating memories

When you think back to your college days, what do you remember? Chances are that sports are high on that list and played a big role in your experience either as a student-athlete or a fan. Outside of game time, the venues often get used for orientation, convocations, concerts and other large community gatherings.

I spent my college days at Cornell University, and I vividly remember times spent in Barton Hall – the school’s field house – registering for classes, running stairs as part of crew practice, attending concerts, taking exams and attending graduation activities. Originally designed for the U.S. Department of Military Science as an airplane hangar during World War I, the building evolved over time. In truth, it went beyond functioning as “just another building” to become the heart of the campus.

There is a lot of effort that goes into creating a place like that. To create venues that are memorable, we must understand how school sports facilities integrate into the campus fabric. That begins by taking a look at the campus master plan. With land costs rising, space is at a premium, especially in urban locations, and it’s no secret that athletic facilities, venues and playing fields take up a large amount of space. By studying the campus as a whole, reviewing and assessing existing facilities, establishing goals and objectives for the college’s athletics and recreation programs, and benchmarking the facilities with those of comparable institutions, designers can then make informed decisions and recommendations for upgrading existing facilities or building new ones. These efforts also become an influential part of the fundraising process. Using architectural renderings, prospective donors can begin to envision what the future can be and will become more likely to contribute to the cause.

The key point here is that designing for college and universities goes far beyond the technical aspects of design, architecture and construction. These institutions thrive on their culture and history that continually evolves over time. Every design effort must therefore identify the important elements of the campus culture and weave them seamlessly throughout the project. Buildings on universities cannot exist in a vacuum; if they do not integrate with the surrounding campus then they are not worth the price of construction.

An example of this can be seen in Gensler’s redesign of the Charles E. Smith Center at The George Washington University. In the early stages of that project, we interviewed students, alumni, members of the campus facility group in addition to various end users of the actual building to understand many different points of view on what made that space important. In the end, we recognized how important the venue is to members of the community and designed the space to elevate the Smith Center’s public presence on campus. As a post-graduate alumna of George Washington University, I find that the renovation has definitely added to the value of the campus for me. I have attended more events in the Smith Center as an alumni than as a student because the building itself is more welcoming and appealing. There is an added energy to the building that was previously hidden behind the heavy concrete façade. I want every student who graces that campus to feel that same connection with the Smith Center and a sense of pride.

When you think back to your college days, what do you remember? How did campus buildings and community gathering spaces shape your memories?

Kari Frontera secretly desires to one day turn every workplace into a gym thus eliminating the excuse of not having the time/opportunity to fit in a workout. Believing that the world’s problems can be solved through sport, she strives to bring in an element of recreation to every project. Kari is the Southeast region’s practice area leader in Sports and is always willing to discuss the intricacies of recreation and fitness facilities. Contact her at kari_frontera@gensler.com.

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