Award Winner - May/June 2006
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Campus Connection

University of Alabama at Birmingham Campus Recreation Center
Birmingham, Ala.

S U B M I T T E D    B Y:

Cannon Design in Grand Island, N.Y.

Size: 152,275 square feet

Project cost: $21.3 million

Quick tour:

  • 10,000-square-foot leisure pool
  • 9,300-square-foot multipurpose aerobic rooms
  • 24,100-square-foot, four-court gymnasium
  • 7,900-square-foot multipurpose court
  • 18,000-square-foot weight and fitness area
  • 2,200-square-foot climbing wall
  • 8,500-square-foot running track
  • 4,100 square feet of racquetball courts
  • 1,800-square-foot wellness center
  • 1,000-square-foot game room
  • 1,000-square-foot juice bar
  • 7,600-square-foot locker complex
  • 1,800 square feet of outdoor recreation

When officials at the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) decided to build a campus recreation center, they envisioned something more than just a health club. They wanted a building that would unite the student body.

"Because we're an urban campus, one of the real challenges has been to start an actual community here," says Brian Cooper, campus director of recreation. "Our goal was to provide a space where you could see somebody and recognize them."

The school, without question, met that goal with a 152,275-square-foot facility that serves as a vibrant activity hub. The facility is also the cornerstone of the future "campus green," an initiative aimed at helping the university become a more traditional, residential campus.

The center, which is being funded through student fees, has encouraged existing programs to grow while allowing for the creation of aquatic, wellness and informal programs. The building also serves as a major marketing tool for the campus, helping to attract new students through rentals for summer camps, health fairs and new student orientations.

In short, UAB officials have seen a strong return on their $21.3 million investment. On average, 2,100 people pass through the center's doors each day.

"The response has been phenomenal," Cooper says. "We couldn't have asked for a better reaction."

Upon entering the center, sight lines allow visitors to see virtually every activity space housed within the building. The facility boasts 18,000 square feet dedicated to weight rooms and cardio fitness, as well an aquatic center with both leisure and lap components. Guests can play basketball and volleyball on a four-court, wood floor gymnasium, while indoor soccer, badminton and special events take place in a separate gym with a synthetic floor.

The center also offers a climbing wall, expressed as a tower at the northwest corner of the building and signifying a gateway to the future campus green. Other features include five racquetball courts, four fitness studios, a game room, child-care area, juice bar and wellness suite.

The defining architectural feature, however, is a running track that circumscribes the multipurpose rooms at the upper level and passes through every major activity space. The design engages runners in activities throughout the recreation center, giving them a glimpse of the various programs offered. It penetrates the north and west facades, affording runners views of the surrounding campus and the mountains that bracket the city to the south.

"It's the architectural feature of our facility that is extremely unique," Cooper says. "Our track is one of the only oval tracks that goes in and out of activity spaces the way it does."

Finally, exterior glazing is employed to reveal activity inside the building and reciprocally animate the campus surroundings. Large expanses of glass are predominantly north facing, allowing for significant harvesting of daylight without incurring major solar heat gain loads. In these ways, the building's design uses its interior functions and elements to convey its meaning and purpose.

The features, combined with top-shelf finishes, all come together to produce the community-creating facility campus officials initially envisioned.

"We wanted to create spaces where everyone would interact, including the faculty and staff with the students," Cooper says. "And we've done that."


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

Well-balanced palette of exterior materials, strong sculptural quality.

Frank G. Beans

Very interesting arrangement of spaces. Split-level viewing down to pool is nice—the central volume is the best space.

Chris Kastelic

Great use of simple materials—spatial flow. Soothing yet exciting colors…Very graceful, exciting. Almost has a spiritual quality.

Kenneth J. Ogden

Play organized around track works well and creates interesting focal point.

Jason Tramonte

A S S O C I A T E D    F I R M S

Architect of Record:

Williams Blackstock Architects

Structural engineer:

MBA Structural Engineers, Inc.

Civil engineers:

The Sommerville Group, Inc. and Walter Schoel Engineering Co.

Natatorium planners/designers/engineers:

Counsilman/Hunsaker & Associates, Inc.

Natatorium design/build:

Water Technology, Inc.

Strategic planning/education:

Brailsford and Dunlavey


CRS Engineers, Inc.


B. L. Harbert International, LLC

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