March 2, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 11

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    Trustees approve Pelli’s design for University’s first new athletics center in 68 years

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    The University Board of Trustees recently [south elevation]approved architect Cesar Pelli’s striking design for the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center, a major component of the University’s plan to create new centers of activity along Ellis Avenue, the campus’ central corridor.

    “Cesar Pelli’s architectural plan for the Ratner Athletics Center is a triumph,” said President Sonnenschein. “The energy and movement that characterize his design resonate with the dynamism and innovation that have always been our University’s trademarks.

    “At the same time, 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.”

    Pelli’s design incorporates a richly detailed surface of muted shades of multicolored brick and areas of frosted and clear glass. The walls will slope outward, separated from the ridged, metal roof by a band of glass, or clerestory. 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.

    The University’s first [ground plan]new athletics center in 68 years, the complex will enhance the University’s existing recreational/athletics facilities, which are used by approximately 9,500 people each day.

    “We had a continuing conversation with Cesar Pelli about the form and function of this building,” said Thomas Weingartner, Associate Professor and Chairman of Physical Education & Athletics 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.”

    Pelli centered the building’s visual focus on a circular, sky-lit atrium lobby with a juice bar and seating that will overlook a 50-meter swimming pool, the first new pool on campus since 1904.

    He also extended the open space to a centrally located, double-height arcade overlooking the first floor, which leads visitors from the lobby to other areas of the facility. A competition gymnasium, which is projected to seat between 1600 and 2000 spectators, will [east elevation]convert into two practice gymnasiums when the bleacher seats are retracted.

    Additional elements of the complex include practice gymnasiums, a fitness center, workout rooms, dance classrooms, locker rooms, a rooftop sun terrace and offices for athletics staff and physical education faculty.

    Named in recognition of alumnus and varsity baseball player Gerald Ratner, whose $15 million dollar gift in 1998 made the new facility possible, the athletics center also will house the University’s Hall of Fame for those student athletes who have contributed to sports history at Chicago.

    “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, University Architect. “Pelli has created a design that will be a notable addition to Chicago’s rich architectural heritage and an almost certain landmark.”

    Cesar Pelli & Associates, in conjunction with the Chicago-based firm of O’Donnell, Wicklund, Pigozzi and Peterson Architects Inc., will complete the interior design, including the interior finish, furniture and equipment choices during the next year. Both firms also designed the parking structure at Ellis Avenue and 55th Street, which is expected to open next winter.