Nov. 2, 2000
Vol. 20 No. 4

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    Architect Pelli, donor Ratner join celebration for new athletics center

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    After an overcast, gloomy morning sky hung over Stagg Field on Saturday, the clouds began to part as members of the University community assembled for a groundbreaking ceremony for the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center. Cesar Pelli, the building’s design architect, shared his delight, noting as he spoke from a podium on Stagg Field, that the sun certainly wanted to shine on the ceremony and its participants.

    Gerald Ratner (left) joined Cesar Pelli (right) and a crowd of more than 600 students, alumni, faculty and staff who gathered on Stagg Field Saturday to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center, the University’s first new athletics facility in 68 years.

    This sense of optimism was reflected in the crowd of more than 600 students, alumni, faculty and staff who have worked collectively on the organization, design and fundraising for the University’s first new athletics facility in 68 years. Construction of the 145,000 square-foot, $43.2 million building will begin this January after the new parking structure opens. The athletics center is scheduled to open in December 2002.

    At the ceremony, Pelli joined President Randel and Tom Weingartner, Chairman of the Department of Physical Education & Athletics, in giving special thanks to Gerald Ratner, an alumnus of the College and the Law School who made the building possible with a $15 million gift. Randel also expressed the University’s gratitude to Helen Myers McLoraine, who has given in excess of $5 million to fund the planned center’s 50-meter swimming pool.

    McLoraine, who was unable to attend the ceremony, has kept her gift anonymous until now. In recognition of her gift, the pool, which is the University’s first new pool in 84 years, has been named the Myers-McLoraine Pool.

    An artist’s rendering of the Myers-McLoraine Pool, shows the pool’s nine swimming lanes, which will represent each member of the University Athletic Association. The pool will be 50 meters long by 25 yards wide and will have two 1-meter and two 3-meter diving boards. The 24,700 square-foot natatorium will seat approximately 400 spectators, and a moveable bulkhead will divide the pool in a variety of ways for multipurpose use.

    McLoraine attended the College in the 1930s and has since continued her relationship with the University, generously supporting the Annual Fund, the Ida Noyes renovation and the College with the Helen Myers-McLoraine Fund Scholarship Endowment among others, said Randy Holgate, Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations.

    “Mrs. McLoraine’s gift is enormously generous, and for us not to be able to associate her name would have been a shame,” said Holgate. “Since the 1970s, when the University first said a new pool would be a priority, she has been interested in the project. Now that the pool is becoming a reality, she is so pleased to be part of a landmark of the University’s progress into the 21st century.”

    Soon after the groundbreaking ceremony, Pelli discussed the functional and aesthetic qualities of the Ratner Athletics Center in the context of his past and future work as a speaker at the University’s 28th Humanities Open House.

    Pelli said the building has diverse requirements, functioning as a University indoor and outdoor gathering place and athletics facility, as a northern border of campus and as an entrance to the University from the north.

    Providing the basic needs of the athletics center was easy, said Pelli, because the University community had clear and simple requirements such as a pool and a basketball court. Designing the building’s form, on the other hand, presented a subtler challenge because Pelli had to interpret the University’s “aspirations” for the building––something he said he does with each client.

    “Everyone we spoke with at the University wanted a place that would be not just functional, but exciting––exciting on the inside and from the outside,” said Pelli. “So this will be a pleasant and lively place to be.”

    Pelli said he decided on a design that consisted of a waved roof with masts and supporting tension cables, which serve two important purposes. Aesthetically, the roofline will make the building instantly recognizable and exciting. Pelli said the masts also provide a conceptual, intellectual link to the Gothic architecture that has informed many of the University’s early buildings.

    A bay-window view of the natatorium in the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center is one design element of the facility’s 6,000 square-foot lobby, which also will include a new Athletics Hall of Fame and a juice bar and seating area. The fitness center will overlook the playing fields and will feature cardiovascular equipment, weight machines and free weights. Also overlooking the playing fields will be a dance/martial-arts studio, which will open onto a deck and will accommodate a variety of club sports, classes and other activities. A multi-use auxiliary gymnasium will host a variety of traditional sports and feature rounded corners for indoor soccer and floor hockey. Cesar Pelli’s exterior design includes roof masts that will rise 120 feet from the ground, and the roof itself will be “tuned” by tensioning cables until it meets the designed shape.

    “Gothic architecture developed as the most daring use of stone construction. The flying buttress is perhaps the most recognizable element, which takes the structure from the interior to the exterior and expresses it as flying through the air,” said Pelli. “In a contemporary way, we are taking this attitude into the construction of our building. We are not repeating any of the forms of Gothic architecture––which would have been inappropriate for its function––but the spirit of the original creators of Gothic architecture is recaptured in our design.”

    Pelli said the Ratner Athletics Center will be immediately recognizable from the street as a gathering place and recreational building not only by its dynamic shape, but because of glass walls that will allow glimpses of the swimming pool and basketball court. The anticipation of activity will carry into the lobby, Pelli said.

    “Typically in most gymnasiums you enter a hall and then go directly to the locker rooms. But here as soon as you enter, before you go to the locker rooms, you will have a view of the swimming pool, of the fitness center and juice and coffee bar with easy access to the competition gymnasium,” said Pelli. “The locker rooms will be very accessible, but we have relegated them to a support function and made the athletic activities the stars of this place,” said Pelli.

    Although plans are not complete, Pelli envisions the vertical motion of the building’s eastern wall matched by vertical poles, possibly with banners, flanking the east and west sides of Ellis Avenue, to signify a symbolic entrance to campus from 55th Street.

    Pelli said he looks forward to returning to campus “to celebrate the opening and to jump in the pool!”

    In the meantime,’s sports enthusiasts celebrated the University’s football team.

    The team added to the excitement of the day by winning the 2000 University Athletics Association football championship by defeating Washington University, 12-9, in their homecoming game with a dramatic goal-line stand in the final seconds of the game.