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Feature Article - May 2014

A Good Sport

Innovations in Sports Facility Design

By Dawn Klingensmith


The request was not impossible, but architect Wes Good was nevertheless stumped by it. "They said, 'Hey, can you put stadium seating and luxury suites on top of the building?' I thought, 'Well, yes, but you can't see the stadium from here.'"

The building, which at that point existed only on paper, was a new University of Central Arkansas residence hall that Good's Houston-based firm, Kirksey Architecture, had been hired to design and build along with Crafton Tull, headquartered in Rogers, Ark. The proposed site was nowhere near the football stadium, so why were university officials asking for the addition?

In their minds, officials had already relocated the building to a site adjacent to the stadium. And if you ask Good, their vision at the outset is what makes this project innovative. Sure, it took a lot of ingenuity to figure out how to combine a residence hall and stadium skyboxes into one structure. And, sure, it was a challenge make the skyboxes seem like part of the football stadium when, in fact, they are in a separate building altogether. We will address those challenges and the design team's solutions in due course, because we are, after all, spotlighting and celebrating excellent examples of sports facility design innovation. But how the site change came about is a result of holistic, collaborative thinking on the university's part, which is rare in such a departmentalized environment. The university needed, and had funding for, additional student housing. The university had also raised money for luxury skyboxes and seating. "The problem is, they needed to be raised up high over the existing stadium seating," Good said, and there wasn't enough money to renovate the stadium to that extent.

On another campus, this might have been seen as its own separate problem. But at UCA, "You had someone thinking, 'We have this much money for these two projects; how do we combine them and make it work for both?'" Good said.

That's what led to the question that had Good scratching his head at first. Someone got the idea to build the new residence hall right next to the stadium, with skyboxes forming part of the structure. It was then up to the design team to make it work. Later, we'll see how the project succeeded. But first, let's look at a more conventional combination—a three-in-one sports complex combining women's softball and soccer, and men's and women's track and field.

Iowa State University Cyclone Sports Complex, Ames, Iowa

It was an embarrassment, frankly. The running track at ISU was in such poor shape that area high schools boasted better facilities. The obvious need for a new track "was the biggest driver" of the $10.46 million, multisport Cyclone Sports Complex project, said Jason Blome, a landscape architect with RDG Planning & Design, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa.

For various reasons, the soccer and softball fields were less than ideal, as well. The principle challenge was bringing all three sports together at one venue, with none of the teams "feeling slighted," said Blome, whose firm led the design team. In addition, it was desirable and necessary for the three sports to share as many spaces as possible; therefore, designers sought to eliminate redundancies and single-use spaces.

The result is an NCAA Division 1 sports complex that "capitalizes on multifunction and shared-use spaces among track and field, soccer, and softball athletic programs," Blome said. Completed in August 2012, the 22-acre complex is configured so events for all programs are ticketed at one location, and the teams share concessions, restrooms, lockers, storage spaces and a training room.

"The goal was to design a facility up to the level of other Big 12 facilities without doubling up on certain spaces," Blome said. "Even from a plumbing standpoint, we didn't overprovide."

So as not to give any one sport top billing, the shared entry is a visual ode to all three. "The arrival experience is fairly grand," Blome said, with an artwork-lined corridor leading to an entry plaza. The artwork celebrates the history of the three sports. From this grand entrance, the softball field and the soccer field, encircled by the track, are roughly equidistant; a longer trek for any one sport might signify lesser importance, Blome said.

Innovative approaches were also used to address neighbors' concerns about stormwater management, including a detention basin and topographical depressions replete with native wildflowers and grass systems to slow down and absorb water.

Snyder & Associates, headquartered in Ankeny, Iowa, provided civil engineering services for the project, which received an Honor Award in the Building and Systems category from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Iowa. Charles Saul Engineering, based in Des Moines, provided structural engineering services.