University of Illinois-Chicago West Campus Sport and Fitness Facility
To put it simply, the old recreation center at the University of Illinois-Chicago didn't have much to write home about.
After an impressive expansion and addition, however, students should have plenty to say about it.
The original facility was built in 1981 and served its purpose at the time. But as fitness trends changed, the facility could not keep up. There were just two treadmills and two elliptical machines, forcing patrons to sign up for a cardio machine and wait for one to become free.
School officials approved a renovation, which called for an addition of about 25,000 square feet. In the existing facility, the plan called for a major overhaul to the locker rooms, circulation spaces and building mechanicals to help blur the division between the old and new areas.
Such an endeavor, however, would require a unique design solution given site constraints and challenges entering the building. The structure faces open green space and is surrounded on all sides by university buildings. Entry to the fitness center, however, occurred underground from the adjacent student union and dorm through an indoor corridor at the lowest level of the building.
The design challenge evolved into an attempt to locate the required square footage of new recreation space as sensitively as possible to the existing public outdoor spaces. The plans also called for a new entry and control point at a more public level one floor up. At the same time, the new entry needed to remain connected to the existing lower-level entry points.
After an extensive study, it was determined that the most viable solution would be to build two new floors above the existing pool, which sits under a portion of the outdoor campus quad and immediately in front of the bulk of the existing recreation center. Attaching to the building in this way creates an L-shaped structure out of what was previously a rectangular box. And, perhaps more important to budget-conscious school officials, it offered savings to maximize recreational programs by not requiring any new foundations.
"What's so unique about this project is that we took a windowless box and turned it inside out," says architect Mark Bodien of Moody-Nolan, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. "We let you see the activity inside."
By using the existing foundation walls of the pool to locate the new structure, the design yielded the correct square footage and location for a new entry, control desk, multipurpose room and lounge. A diagonal glass wall at the entry continues back and attaches to the existing structure, visually connecting the upper quad space to the lower inner courtyard and maintaining the continuity of multiple public circulation paths.
"I think it's a very user-friendly design, with the way things are spaced out," says Brian Cousins, facility manager. "Using glass adds a lot of external and internal light."
Once inside the building, patrons discover a new 8,000-square-foot fitness floor that more than triples the previous space. The footprint from the new entry level was not large enough to accommodate the required new space, so the second floor cantilevers out in three directions over the first floor creating a floating box that is juxtaposed against the predominantly brick, "grounded box" appearance of the original facility.
Clad in glass and metal panels, this fitness space with a track above is its own self-advertisement, visible from anywhere in the quad. Conversely, students using the new fitness equipment and track enjoy sweeping views of the busy public outdoor spaces below, creating a dynamic exchange between the interior and exterior.
"We have everything you could ask for in a fitness center," Cousins says. "Our memberships are soaring. People just love it."