Award Winner - May 2011
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Campus Recreation & Wellness Center, University of Iowa

Iowa City, Iowa

S U B M I T T E D    B Y

RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines, Iowa

Size: 215,000 square feet

Project Cost: $69.2 million

Quick Tour:

  • Climbing tower
  • Jogging track
  • Wellness center
  • Fitness & weights
  • 50-meter competitive pool
  • Diving pool with 10-meter platform
  • Leisure pool
  • Multipurpose gymnasium
  • Spectator seating
  • Group exercise areas
  • Lockers
  • Support spaces

The new 215,000-square-foot Campus Recreation and Wellness Center (CRWC) at the University of Iowa supports a wealth of programs, including student fitness and recreation, aquatic recreation and athletics, and university wellness.

At a cost of $69.2 million, the facility boasts a climbing tower, jogging track, wellness center, fitness and weights, a 50-meter competitive swimming pool, a diving pool with a 10-meter platform, a leisure pool, multipurpose gym, spectator seating, group exercise areas and more. The center, which was funded through self-imposed student fees, provides students with drop-in activities, such as individual fitness and aquatics.

"I went into this project very optimistic about the impact that the new Campus Recreation Wellness Center would have on our campus. I am pleased to say that the results have even exceeded my expectations," said Harry R. Ostrander, director of recreational services at the University of Iowa.

The design of the center also addressed environmental site issues by incorporating natural daylight into the facility, and using spaces in the building that limit east/west solar heat gain.

The center's north and center sections accommodate student fitness and recreation activities over three levels that are open to one another. The openness provides a feeling of being connected in a vertical arrangement.

The north portion of the building encompasses a series of transparent interlocking "boxes" that are set on a fin-like columnar structural system. The transparency allows for views into and from recreation activities throughout the daytime hours. The transparent boxes are arranged in front of a masonry mass backdrop, which houses the aquatic and multi-activity spaces. The masonry mass—in addition to providing isolation from the western sun—acts as a buffer, both in scale and program, to an adjacent railroad track and power plant facility. In addition, a jog/walk track glass box on the third level projects outward to the south for expanded views of the facility.

"The most challenging, and also the most rewarding, design aspect of the CRWC was the user's desire to make the facility as transparent as possible," said Paul Klein, a partner with RDG Planning & Design. "This guiding desire for transparency resulted in the dynamic interconnection of interior activity spaces, as well as the connectivity with the outdoor environment. The transparency also promoted the use of natural lighting to greatly reduce the necessity of artificial lighting during most of the day."

The center's aquatics facilities replaced a deteriorating pool, which will be renovated into a new and improved Field House dedicated to scheduled recreation activities.

"We anticipated that the students would heavily use the facility, and that has certainly been the case. We have averaged over 5,000 students a day entering the facility. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise has been the number of faculty/staff that have joined the new facility," Ostrander said. "We had hoped for a 10 percent penetration rate and have actually over a 22 percent penetration rate of faculty/staff who have joined. Even though we have over 20,000 square feet of fitness space for free weights and cardio equipment, it could have been bigger. We have already expanded the free weight area.

"All in all I would have to say that we have been extremely pleased with the results and the amount of participation," he added.


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

"Strategically planned and stacked on one campus block, the transparency between activity spaces connected by the horizontal thread of the jog track is impressive!"

Steve Blackburn

"The designers effectively integrated large features, such as the natatorium and climbing wall, with the rest of the recreational areas. The three stories of glass overlooking the natatorium provide an immense, stadium-like feel. The exterior of the building is very playful, with the combination of transparency and three-dimensional pattern along the elevation. The integration of colorful murals on the floor add to its playfulness."

Jeff Bartley

"Great handling of interior transparency to create visual and programmatic links. Nice interior palette and sense of scale. Exterior has a very urbane street presence—rare for this typology!"

Daniel Heuberger

A S S O C I A T E D    F I R M S

Structural: Charles Saul Engineering

MEP: Alvine & Associates

Aquatics: Counsilman Hunsaker

Civil: Shive-Hattery

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