This project was spawned by Northwestern University’s goal of better integrating their student-athletes into the community of the academic campus by moving much of its practice and academic support facilities from its previous remote location to the northern end of its campus. The 40,000 sm athletic center provides training and indoor practice facilities for the athletic department, as well as supports the University’s recreation needs by layering on to its existing facility.
Given the opportunities of the site, with its adjacency to Lake Michigan and visible connections to both the University’s central campus and to the Chicago skyline, the goal was to maximize transparency and strengthen these connections while invigorating the student-athlete experience. Building functions are organized, both vertically and horizontally, to provide lake exposure to every space that could take advantage of it; from recruiting spaces to administrative offices to the spaces that the student-athletes will use most often.
Formal entries at opposite sides of the building provide a public access to the north, for Fieldhouse events, and a secured athletic entry to the southern campus side, for athletes, coaches and athletic administrators.
The fieldhouse is raised to the second level to allow an existing popular lakefront pathway to continue underneath its cantilevered northeast corner within the site limits. A sculptural 150m precast concrete coastal wall was calibrated and constructed to protect the building and the pathway from the waves and ice of Lake Michigan.
The fieldhouse dome maximizes the interior volume for the critical sport clearances, while responding to local zoning requirements on height – measured to the mean of the peak and the perimeter. Built-up steel plate arches span 80m to support the roof, from which a 120m long, 13m tall curtain wall is hung by tension rods. This custom façade delivers mullion-free panoramic views to the lake and adjacent beach and captures the natural light from the north.
Branding is a key element throughout, telling the storied history of Northwestern athletics. In the main athletic entry lobby, a three-story LED screen cycles through high-impact motion visuals of a student-athlete in action showcasing each of the program’s 19 sports. A ceremonial ‘All-sports Corridor’ features dynamic student-athlete graphics from each sport bringing them together in one place in the building- a high traffic corridor – for all to experience.
The Center is home to over 500 student-athletes. Spaces shared by all team sports, such as the dining hall, academic services suite, were placed in prominent, easily accessible locations to strengthen the community of the athletes.
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