University Rec Center
France A. Córdova Recreational Sports Center
Purdue University West Lafayette, Ind.
By Mark Bodien
What can be done when a major university outgrows its 57-year-old recreational sports center? Well, you can turn it inside out.
That's how the France A. Córdova Recreational Sports Center at Purdue University was transformed in 2013 from a dark and boxy relic of 1950s architectural thinking into a bright, open and modern center worthy of its history.
Built in 1957, the facility made Purdue's West Lafayette, Ind., campus one of the first in the United States to offer a center dedicated to co-recreational sports. When Moody Nolan was asked to give it a 21st century makeover, the complex already had been expanded twice to include four different buildings and a large aquatics complex.
Unfortunately, it was still undersized for what a contemporary facility should be at a school of Purdue's size and stature. The earlier additions had essentially been windowless boxes added onto windowless boxes. And the fitness center was in the basement, a story and a half below grade.
The design team effectively tore out the entire middle of the complex and built a grand atrium that reconnected all the other three components of the center, which had been constructed on different levels at different times. In contrast to the old space, which had few windows except in the stairwells, the new 420,000-square-foot plan included lots of exterior glass and natural light, allowing activities to be viewed from the outside. In other words, the building was turned inside out.
The new complex needed to have a number of features that didn't exist. These included a leisure pool to accompany the center's existing 50-meter pool and dive pool. Purdue requested more gymnasium space, multipurpose rooms and a fitness area nearly four times the size of the previous space.
Students were interested not only in a less gloomy environment, but one that included non-recreational spaces. Today, students can settle into lounges and study areas after working out. They can take advantage of a juice bar, demonstration kitchen and a wellness center as well.
The resulting complex today offers a highly usable and enticing mix of stacked gymnasiums, visual connections from one part of the building to the next and loads of natural light that bathes five levels intertwined with the atrium.
Fitness areas are divided into distinct neighborhoods to offer variations of size and atmosphere that will attract different types of users to each. For example, one gymnasium is a volleyball and badminton themed space, while another is a multi-activity gym.
Each entrance offers something unique as well. At the front entrance, visitors are greeted by a five-level rock climbing wall, while the west entrance features striking views into the leisure pool, track and multiple fitness areas. Entries and the atrium are arranged to allow special events to occur in many of the largest spaces without disrupting regular operations.
The project even resulted in an unplanned dividend: the Turf Recreation Exercise Center or TREC. TREC began as a metal building erected to create swing space for fitness activities during the renovation and expansion of the main complex. As the main project concluded, TREC was outfitted with synthetic turf for indoor field sports—a 60,000-square-foot bonus.