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Athletics center design
makes waves in more ways than one

image: Campus NewsThe University's first new athletic facility in 68 years, the Gerald Ratner Athletics center promises to draw attention for its form as well as its function. Intended to provide the University with first-class athletic facilities and a new hub of activity along Ellis Avenue, the center was designed by Cesar Pelli, who also designed the world's tallest building in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In February, the Board of Trustees approved Pelli's design for the center, to be located along the west side of Ellis Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets. 

image: College scholars (Photo by Lloyd DeGrane)
Cesar Pelli's design for the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center looks modern but echoes Gothic architecture with its use of light.

Pelli has divided the center into three major sections: the gymnasiums to the south and the natatorium to the north, connected by a center section incorporating a fitness center, classrooms, locker rooms, and offices. The two-story building's exterior will feature multicolored brick in muted shades, as well as frosted and clear glass to let in light and create a busy, inviting look. The glass curtain wall on the east will slope outward and upward, separated from the north and south ends of the ridged, metal roof by a band of glass. The roof, a flattened s-curve, will appear to float in the air, suspended by cables attached to five masts that peak 100 feet from the ground.

"I believe the athletics center's fluid forms will both convey the vibrancy of its functions and help create a new and fresh entry gate to the campus," said Pelli.

"It's a building of the 21st century, not the 14th century," John Syvertsen, president of O'Donnell, Wicklund, Pigozzi and Peterson Architects Inc., told the Chicago Tribune. The Chicago-based firm is working with Cesar Pelli & Associates on the project. "This wasn't an attempt to dismiss Gothic architecture. In fact, with its masts pulling the roof and the massive light that will come in, it's a tribute to the Gothic style."

President Hugo F. Sonnenschein called the design a "triumph," adding, "Pelli has thoroughly considered the various practical needs of our students, faculty, and staff, and he has envisioned a building that elegantly addresses those needs. The Gerald Ratner Athletics Center promises to be a proud addition to the magnificent architectural traditions of our University."

Visually, the building focuses on a circular, sky-lit atrium, which will house the University's student-athlete Hall of Fame and a juice bar with seating. An Olympic-size swimming pool sits to the north. Just west of the pool will be the women's recreational and staff locker rooms, as well as two family locker rooms and those for the varsity athletic teams. The laundry area, team equipment storage, and physical-therapy rooms will be nearby. The floor plan for the ground level also includes a weight-training room, offices for center staff and physical-education faculty, a conference room, a video-viewing room, and a recreational gymnasium. The competition gym to the south should seat 2,000 spectators and will convert into two practice gyms when the bleacher seats are retracted.

Upstairs, another set of bleachers overlooks the pool, with the men's recreational and staff locker rooms behind them. Plans for the second floor also include a cardiovascular fitness center, more offices, and a multipurpose room to be used for dance and martial arts. The center will have a rooftop sun terrace, too.

"We had a continuing conversation with Cesar Pelli about the form and function of this building," said Thomas Weingartner, chair of the physical education & athletics department and director of intercollegiate athletics. "And we believe our community will benefit from this building both because of its architectural elegance and the huge contribution it will make to the quality of our programs."

The center is named for former varsity baseball player Gerald Ratner, PhB'35, JD'37, whose $15-million gift ("Chicago Journal," October/98) made the $35 million new facility possible. Construction is scheduled to begin at the end of 2000. The architectural firms will design the interior, including the interior finish, furniture, and equipment choices, over the next year. The building should open in summer 2002.

"There is an abundance of motion and energy in this design--and what could be more appropriate for a physical education and athletics center?" said Curt Heuring, the University architect. "Pelli has created a design that will be a notable addition to Chicago's rich architectural heritage and an almost certain landmark."

To view all of the architectural drawings, peruse the floor plans, and learn more about the project team, visit the Web site at www.uchicago.edu/docs/mp-ite/construction/ratner/rat-index.html. --K.S.


  APRIL 2000
  > > Volume 92, Number 4


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