Award Winner - July/August 2003
Find a printable version here

Panther Paradise

John M. & Gertrude E. Petersen Events Center at the University of Pittsburgh

At the University of Pittsburgh this spring, the graduating class of 2003 was the first in years to receive their diplomas on school grounds. For the first time in its history, the university has an indoor venue on campus large enough to hold the ceremony, which in the past had to be held downtown in the Mellon Arena.


The move back home is thanks to the new 12,500-seat Petersen Events Center, an athletic and event facility that serves as a location for commencements, lectures and concerts, recreation and fitness spaces, as well as a new home for the Panthers basketball team.

"The university has had a need not only for basketball but also for special events for a long, long time," says Ana Guzman, associate vice chancellor for facilities at the University of Pittsburgh. "For many years, convocation was not held on campus, so the ability to hold convocation on campus has a lot of important meaning to our students, parents and faculty."

To make room for the new building, the school's old Pitt Stadium was torn down, and construction began in the footprint of the venerable football field. (Don't worry football fans, the Panthers now share home turf with the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Not a bad trade off.)

One challenge of the new event center was that it was positioned on a 90-foot slope that formerly deterred foot traffic through the center of campus. But planners turned this into an asset by creating a five-tiered corridor with a series of escalators with exits at the top and bottom, making the building a center link between the upper and lower portions of campus.


"Because the building is a sloped site, it has some features that are really outstanding, like the five-story, all-glass lobby that faces the campus," Guzman says. "It's a great gathering space. It's very unusual to find such a space related to an arena."

All that glass—42,000 square feet, to be exact, used on the building's exterior—boasts an important sustainable design feature. It has a technologically advanced coating that is barely visible but allows an abundance of sunlight to shine through while controlling heat loss and heat gain within the space.

While planning for the future was, of course, key to the design, so was paying homage to the past. The new building had to suit the rest of the urban campus.

"It fits in very well—we made sure that the materials the architects used were consistent with some of the materials of the surrounding buildings," Guzman says. "In general, the comments that I hear, people really like the architecture of the building. I think they also like the way the university's colors, blue and gold, have been used inside. For example, all the railings and metal in the arena are a metallic gold, which really gives it an elegant look."

"The architects hit a home run with this innovative urban design. This project is going to be broadly recognized for both its aesthetic and functional attributes."

—Paul Brailsford

"Nice interior spaces, use of natural light. Very striking form. Powerful. Very innovative; makes a major statement about the university."

—Philip Neeley

"Exterior of building is very bold and creative."

—Reed I. Voorhees

Submitted by: Rosser International in Joint Venture with Apostolou Associates

Size: 430,000 square feet

Project cost: $96 million

Quick tour:

  • 16,000-square-foot, five-tiered glass atrium-style lobby with 72-foot high ceilings and a marble floor emblazoned with a Pitt Panthers head and a big-screen video board that previously hung in Pitt Stadium
  • McCarl Hall of Champions, showcasing Pittsburgh's athletic achievements
  • Arena that seats 12,500 with sightlines designed for basketball
  • Courtside seating for 1,500 students
  • 17 luxury suites including six club level, six concourse level, four courtside and one special event courtside
  • Permanent wood basketball floor that extends into the courtside luxury suites and runways
  • Nine concession areas
  • 66 points of sale
  • Center-hung PantherVision four-sided video board as well as LED message boards circling the arena
  • Two-story Club lounge and Club seating with views of the campus
  • Outdoor roof terrace with skyline views of the campus and downtown Pittsburgh
  • Auxiliary basketball practice court
  • Ticket office
  • The Pittsburgh Panthers Team Store—World Headquarters for Pittsburgh Panthers Merchandise
  • Food court
  • Recreation and leisure lawn
  • Miller Athletic Administration Complex
  • Willis Center for Academics (open to all student athletes), including a computer lab, writing lab, math/science area, individual tutor rooms and career resource area
  • Training room and weight room for student athletes
  • Basketball coaches' offices
  • 40,000-square-foot Baierl Student Recreation Center featuring 50 pieces of cardiovascular equipment as well as a health assessment area, aerobics classroom and martial arts practice room

Associated Firms

Structural, electrical, civil, mechanical engineers: Brinjac, Kambic & Associates

Structural engineers: Walter P Moore & Associates (Long Span Structural Roof Design)

Sound engineers: BAi Austin

Masonry contractors: Cost Corporation

Food-service consultants: Cini-Little International

Flooring/sports surfaces: Connor Sports Flooring Corp.

Scoreboards: Daktronics Inc.

Bleachers/seating: Hussey Seating

Sports equipment: Schelde North America

Safety equipment: Hy-Safe Technology Fall Protection System

Food service: Sodexho Dining Services

Glass contractor: PPG Industries, Inc.

More award winners...