Facility Profile - March 2009
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A Natural Fit

Recreation Complex at University of California, Santa Barbara

By Dawn Klingensmith


The university now uses insulated pool covers at night, for a savings of $100 a day in energy costs. This year, UCSB will install solar thermal water heaters to maintain its outdoor pool at 81 degrees, which, in tandem with the covers, will reduce natural gas consumption by 80 percent for an annual savings of $160,000.

It's fitting that UCSB's recreation department be mindful of the earth, because the original designs for Rec Cen I were more or less revised by nature. Rec Cen I opened as the UCSB Student Recreation Center in 1995, and the $15 million expansion was completed a decade later, adding an additional weight room, a multipurpose gymnasium, a climbing wall, locker rooms, a pottery studio and classrooms.

Plans for Rec Cen I called for one large gymnasium; however, soil testing revealed that the intended site had a fault line running through it. To comply with California's code, nothing could be built within 50 feet of the fault line on either side. The eventual solution was to build two smaller gymnasia with duplicate amenities split between them. The division turned out to be advantageous because "students are guaranteed whenever they walk in here, whatever time of day or night, they can recreate," Spaventa said, because if a class is taking place at one facility, the other one is available for walk-ins.

The revised plans also cooperated beautifully with nature. "I'm convinced God is a planner because when we pulled the buildings apart, it allowed us to get a lot more sunlight," said principal designer Scott Smith of the architectural firm Sasaki Associates, San Francisco.

Just inside Rec Cen I is a sunny atrium with chandelier-like lighting fixtures suspended from a 30-foot ceiling. "We call them Madonna lights because of their shape," Spaventa said. (He means the pop singer, not the religious icon.)

The floors are green slate outlined in hardwood. Other materials include massive timber framing, maple wall panels and glass walls. Sustainable features include operable windows and clerestories that save money on electrical lighting. In addition, the building's orientation provides for unimpeded views of the mountains and preserves mature oak trees and a eucalyptus grove.