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Guest Column - January 2014

Design Corner

Design Team Coordination
The Benefits of MEP & Architectural Coordination in Designing Athletic Facilities

By David A. Conrad


Whether the athletic facility you're designing is new or renovated, they all have one thing in common. They are a place to gather with friends and family to watch and enjoy your favorite team or sporting event. Today, large, successful athletic facilities at the collegiate and professional level are being designed with a "wow" factor in mind and the intention to draw large spectator crowds, which require even more room for comfort. In order to accommodate these facilities, the building infrastructure must be carefully sized and coordinated with the architecture to provide the user with a memorable and sometimes magical experience.

Successful coordination in designing building systems for a new or renovated athletic facility can be a serious challenge for engineers and architects. Large building services combined with high-priced spaces and special architectural features require meticulous coordination and often a fair amount of elbow grease and creativity in order to create a comfortable and aesthetically pleasing venue.

Peter Basso Associates recently completed the MEP-engineering and lighting design for the 12,700-capacity University of Michigan, Crisler Arena expansion. An arena of its size could be divided into three main spaces: general purpose, finished spaces, and arena space. The general purpose typically includes mechanical and electrical rooms, toilet rooms and maintenance spaces, whereas finished spaces may include suites, alumni clubs and offices. The arena space itself included a playing area and spectator seating. For the purpose of this article, we will solely focus on the coordination of general purpose and finished spaces, examining equipment location, accessibility requirements, allocated above-ceiling space, ductwork and pipe pathways.

The first step in the coordination process for any design engineer is to gain a thorough understanding of the building type, the function of the building and the type of atmosphere that is desired. Before the expansion, the temperature inside Crisler Arena fluctuated from cold to frigid; it was poorly lit and largely uninviting—a stark contrast to the excitement and enthusiasm of its cheering crowds and championship-bound athletes.

One of the goals for the design team was to reinvigorate spaces both inside and outside the facility using vibrant team colors, attracting spectators and supporters to the excitement of the arena.

An added challenge was the building's circular configuration. The design team was tasked with creating a new main entrance—lacking in the original design—that would grab the attention of the spectators and bystanders, but keep the aesthetics of the existing arena intact. As part of the project kickoff, the architects provided 3-D renderings that illustrated exterior design concepts as well as the interior finishes that met the owner's needs.

After reviewing the renderings and meeting with the owner, the team developed an understanding of the types of spaces that were required, new concepts for pedestrian circulation, and discussed new architectural features that would be incorporated. The design engineers then met with the building operators to gain a sense of building functionality, usage and time of occupancy. For example, would it be operational 24/7, 365 days of the year, or would the building be "dark" part of the year?

During this meeting the maintenance staff indicated what types of systems were preferred and what type of special systems would be needed in order for them to complete their daily operations. The design engineers were able to make system recommendations that would meet the maintenance staff's needs, stay under budget, be energy efficient and satisfy the architectural partners. After meeting with the design team and owner, the mechanical and electrical systems were selected and the design phase commenced. Upon system determination, the local codes, city ordinances and university standards were identified. The building was then broken down into different classifications, such as general purpose, finished spaces and arena spaces.