Award Winner - May 2007
Find a printable version here

Campus Oasis

The University of Texas at Austin, Gregory Gymnasium Aquatic Complex
Austin, Texas

S U B M I T T E D    B Y:

RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines, Iowa

Size: 16,143 square feet (water surface), 33,258 square feet (exterior deck), 16,000 square feet (renovated and new building)

Project Cost: $15.29 million

Quick Tour:

12-lane heated outdoor lap pool
2,100-square-foot heated outdoor event pool
5,500-square-foot heated outdoor leisure pool with waterfall
20-person outdoor spa
Seven-lane indoor lap pool
1,200-square-foot indoor recreational pool
Outdoor fountain
Water sprays
Shade structures
Turf and grass-covered areas
Restrooms and changing rooms
Extensive landscaping

Like No Place Else on Campus" is the slogan that the recreational sports department at the University of Texas at Austin has come up with to describe its new aquatic complex, and the description definitely fits.

The Gregory Gym Aquatic Complex was designed and built to fill a void on campus by offering new opportunities for students and others to get involved in recreation, socializing and community building. The facility transformed an existing parking lot and several underutilized building into an incredible amenity that attracts students to campus and keeps them there.

"Here we are as an institution of 52,000 folks in the south, and we had a natatorium built in 1930 and a competitive swim facility built in 1970, and given the climate of Austin, here we were without much pool space," said Pete Schaack, associate director, facility operations for UT RecSports. "We'd been looking for an opportunity to renovate the natatorium, and we took a look around at other universities and talked to a whole lot of students to find out what they wanted. What kept coming across was the philosophy we've always had of making our construction projects quality projects. We try not to compromise on quality, and that led to this resort-like feel to the complex."

"One of the lifeguards at the university in 2006, when the building opened, heard one student comment to a friend, 'Why do we need to go to Padre Island for Spring Break? Why don't we just stay here?'" related Jack Patton, principal with RDG Planning & Design, the Des Moines, Iowa-based architectural firm that worked on the project. From a recruiting and retention concept, the university scored in regard to creating something that really attracts students."

Randy Mendioroz, a principal with Aquatic Design Group, which provided aquatic consulting on the project, agreed that the complex is resort-like and said that with all of the attention given to details, the facility goes far beyond what one would expect to see on a college campus.

"One of the most unique aspects is that total and complete attention to detail," Patton said. "Another compelling component is its compactness within the building site, and although it has seven different neighbors, it has a strong relationship to each of them. It's multi-faceted in that way."

Its seven neighbors all have differing aesthetics, which makes for creative design solutions. To relate to Waller Creek, the facility includes native plantings and opens its arms to vegetation on the hillside. On the west end of the complex, Gregory Gym's strong architectural forms and rigidly articulated detail serve as the border of the complex. Built with a large quantity of exposed limestone and native natural materials, the facility fits well into its urban campus setting.

"Given that we're an urban campus, to maneuver and find the space to build this thing attached to Gregory Gym was difficult," Schaack said. "We've got 12 palm trees in the middle of campus. The fact that there's sort of this oasis, if you will, right in the heart of campus when so much of what you see is brick and concrete makes it really unique."

The facility also incorporates technology throughout to provide a wired (and wireless) experience for students. The entire deck is blanketed with Wi-Fi connectivity, and seating areas include Ethernet connections and duplex power to provide access to campus networks. The entire also includes multiple sound system zones to distribute background music. Beyond that, the deck includes multiple locations to support live music platforms with sound reinforcement.

Creative spaces throughout the facility provide plenty of opportunities to get active, or to relax at poolside. The "Lounge Ledge" provides a popular spot for socializing. A large pool area with a 6-inch water depth makes a great spot for partially submerged lounge chairs or semi-immersed pool bathers. A Reception Garden uses crushed limestone aggregate as the finished "deck" surface to create a soft and comfortable environment, surrounded by multi-trunk trees and a bamboo forest. The Poolside Café offers a meeting spot as well as a quiet place to study beneath a beautiful cedar trellis.

The facility was innovatively designed to support multiple active and passive recreation activities all day long and well into the night, with lighting provided for evening activities. The various water features and large deck space accommodate water aerobics, water polo, water basketball and volleyball, as well as dive-in movies, poolside concerts and receptions.

"It's a wonderful outdoor experience, and it has the ability to host an enormous number of concurrent events," Patton said. "At any one time, there might be open-water kayaking in the pool, which will also have water volleyball, dry-land activities, a concert on the state and preparations for an evening movie in an adjacent pool. It provides an abundance of opportunities in a wonderful outdoor setting."


W H A T   T H E   J U D G E S   S A I D

This is a stunning, spa-like, feel-good place to see and be seen at UT.

Daniel Atilano

A classic design, which fits the design fabric of this university like a glove—well done.

William Yarger

Very strong sense of place created by the dynamic open space, choreographed lighting, contextual building/landscape materials—students will remember this college experience.

Troy Sherrard

Beautiful exterior design—very clean and inviting and truly adheres to goals as stated relative to master plan. Simple traditional architecture fits nicely into context of campus.

Richard Fawell

Raises the bar for leisure aquatics in the university sector. An impressive investment.

Stephen Springs

A S S O C I A T E D    F I R M S

Aquatic Consultant:

Aquatic Design Group

Landscape Consultant:

SWA Group

Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing Consultant:

Tom Green & Company

General Contractor:

Emerson Construction Company

More award winners...