Ratner’s form and function awardedBy Peter Schuler
The Gerald Ratner Athletics Center, one year old and now heavily used seven days a week by students, faculty and staff, is not only a distinctive architectural addition to a campus filled with notable buildings—it also represents excellence in engineering and design, with awards from the American Council of Engineering Companies, the American Institute of Steel Construction and the Consulting Engineers Council of Illinois.
“This facility is an extraordinary combination of form and function,” said Tom Weingartner, Associate Professor and Chairman of Physical Education & Athletics, whose office is in the Ratner center. “It combines a unique use of natural light and glass that creates a bright, airy and attractive multipurpose space for work and play. It also has a functional muscularity that’s shown in the exposed structural elements designed to accommodate high-use physical activity.”
Cesar Pelli & Associates and their Chicago partner, OWP/P, designed the center and were responsible for its structural engineering. The center, which encompasses 150,000 square feet of space, is named for Gerald Ratner (A.B.,’35, J.D.,’37), who donated $15 million for the building’s construction.
From the outside, the building immediately catches the eye with long, tapered steel masts filled with concrete, which extend from the center’s base up the sides of the building and soar high above the roof. The masts are supported and stabilized by numerous, thick, steel cables. “The use of masts and cables in this way to support Ratner’s huge, S-shaped roof is unique,” said University Architect Curt Heuring. “That’s how Pelli and OWP/P successfully addressed the challenge to provide us with very large, column-free spaces inside the building.”
The American Institute of Steel Construction noted in its award citation, “the three-dimensional configuration of splayed cables at multiple levels makes this structure an engineering breakthrough. The structural solution adds a new classification of masted structures in the United States, providing a precedent for future structures with similar goals.”
Pelli, OWP/P and the other members of the project team also made environmental responsibility a high priority, using local supplies and recycled materials wherever possible. The steel that was used as the primary structural building material is 100 percent recycled and was fabricated at a plant chosen for its proximity to Chicago.
The award citation concludes, “the building’s structure is key to its architecture, and the Ratner Center offers a strong statement about the powerful architecture that can be created through mutual respect and collaborative efforts between architects and structural engineers.”