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Football Training Center Conveys Sense of Strength

By T.R. Witcher

The new University of Oregon football training center uses its darkly tinted facade and blocklike structure to let opposing teams know that its team means business.

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The Hatfield-Dowlin Football Performance Center at the University of Oregon is designed as a series of stacked boxes with few columns and large cantilevers. Jeremy Bitterman Photography

October 8, 2013—In recent years, the University of Oregon football team has proven itself as a powerhouse in the Pac-12 Conference. As of early October, the Oregon Ducks were the number two team in the country. Now they have a training facility worthy of their status.

In August the university opened the Hatfield-Dowlin Football Performance Center, its name derived from the maiden names of the mothers of Phil and Penny Knight, the primary donors toward the construction of the center, which was budgeted at $68 million. The 145,000 sq ft complex is a tribute to collegiate football. It features meeting rooms, a 25,000 sq ft weight room, a 170-seat two-story theater, and plush locker rooms—the coaches' locker room includes a hydrotherapy pool and TV sets embedded in the mirrors above the sinks. There's even enough room for players of specific positions, like receivers and linebackers, to have their own meeting rooms.

Hatfield-Dowlin also features a new dining facility. The Ducks' former arena had inadequate kitchen facilities, and food had to be trucked in. Now, with a full kitchen, the university's sports program can offer a comprehensive nutrition program to all student athletes at the university, not just the football team. This has the added benefit of enabling athletes from different programs, male and female, to get to interact and learn from one another.

The project is the latest in a series of buildings meant to upgrade the university's athletic facilities. Like the recently completed Jaqua Center, an academic center for athletes that was named for a World War II pilot, Hatfield-Dowlin is meant to challenge and encourage students to make the most of all of their talents. The university leased the site of the facility to the Knights' foundation, which then developed the building and then gifted it back to the university. "The short story is it basically keeps the vision pure, it keeps the design intent from getting watered down," explains Robert Snyder, AIA, LEED-AP, an associate partner of ZGF, the center's architects.

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The football facility includes a 25,000 sq ft weight room as well as a 170-seat two-story theater, office space for coaches, and a dining facility open to all of the university’s athletes. Jeremy Bitterman Photography

The building is designed, he says, as a series of stacked boxes that are meant to reflect the unity of a team—the idea that very different players can come together to form one large, cohesive unit. The complex forms meant that the structural engineers, with the Portland-based office of KPFF, were faced with engineering a building that contained few or no columns, but large cantilevers. One of the main elements of the design is a 233 by 33 ft three-story section—referred to by the designers as a bar—that houses coaches' offices. The section is supported by two concrete stair cores with a 120 ft span between them and 40 and 50 ft cantilevers on either end. 

In addition to the office bar, there's a two-story concrete weight room building, which is located below the southern half of the office bar, and a large, five-story section containing classrooms and theaters. This latter section has its own two-story, 28 ft long cantilever. "The three buildings are interconnected through skybridges and stair cores, and through the continuous basement containing parking under all three buildings and much of the site," explains Chris Pitt, P.E., S.E., LEED-AP, M.ASCE, the lead design engineer on the project for KPFF, who responded in writing to questions posed by Engineering online.

For the office bar, KPFF went through multiple iterations of truss configurations before settling on a floor-to-floor Warren truss system. A conventionally designed floor extends between those trusses, with limited framing beneath the floor itself. "We isolated all of the primary structure to the upper level, where the architect could accommodate it in terms of the look and the aesthetic of the interior," explains Stuart Finney, P.E., S.E., LEED-AP, M.ASCE, the manager of the project for KPFF. "We hung the levels below using high-strength rods, meaning we would have small members that would fit inside the curtain walls."

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The dark tinted glass of the training center helps convey an imposing presence meant to put opposing football teams on the defensive. Jeremy Bitterman Photography

Pitts notes that the trusses are located "outboard of the concrete stair cores by up to six feet, six inches, and large continuous built-up steel outrigger beams between the trusses were cast into the concrete core walls to transfer the load from the trusses to the concrete stair core walls."

At the 24 ft wide skybridge that connects the east side of the office bar to the "teaching box" on the upper levels of the project, Pitt notes that "no diagonals could be provided along a significant length of the truss near the end of the central span," so engineers turned instead to a Vierendeel truss, which connects to the single story Warren truss system on each side. 

Vibration was a concern for this project, given the fact that the building is designed for football players who may average 250 lbs apiece. The floor-to-floor trusses helped here, as well, maximizing stiffness while being low in weight themselves. Additionally, the trusses enabled the engineers to minimize the structural depth enough so that they could run utilities and electrical systems in the ceiling space at the top of the long building.

Pitt says the engineers were also able to "make the structure disappear where [the architects] wanted it to, and [to] be very nice looking and presentable where they wanted to express it."

The complex engineering helps the cantilevers fulfill not only programmatic goals but rather symbolic ones, as well. The

cantilevers catch the "lightness of athleticism," as Snyder puts it, the idea of always being on the edge between being in and out of control of a situation. It's the idea, he says, that "you're always moving and in balance but you're never really standing solid."

Nevertheless the building was designed, Snyder says, to be imposing. "There's definitely an intention to put the fear into the opposing teams as they drive the bus up and see this thing sitting there," he says. The large cantilevers defy gravity. The dark facade, comprising granite on some sides and panels of darkly tinted glass on others—evoke a sense of armor, something sinister. "We want them to be afraid," he says.

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For the construction of a long and narrow office “bar,” the engineers utilized floor-to-floor Warren trusses, which maximized stiffness and minimized member weight. Jeremy Bitterman Photography

Architects don't use the concept of fear very often—usually that is the province of critics fretting over some bunker-like embassy buildings that have been constructed since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Snyder says those kinds of buildings are all about assuming a defensive posture—but this facility is meant to take an offensive position. "We want the competition to know that they are the ones in the defensive posture," he explains. 

While the game of football sometimes lends itself to war metaphors, Snyder says the architects kept in mind that this is a university facility, aimed at young adults. "It's healthy to take the imagery more toward the idea of the historical warrior—the samurai, the new Batman—[and] a little bit less militaristic," he says.

Yet the concept is still one of power, and the engineering works to reflect that concept. From the very beginning, Finney says, a key concept was for KPFF to deliver a "grounded design."

"Oftentimes with architects we're looking to make members skinny and slender and minimize structure," Finney explains. "But in this case the idea of a grounded design, [with] maybe stronger-looking elements of steel and concrete, were more acceptable."

"Where the structure was expressed," Pitt adds, "it was meant to really express strength and have a powerful image."

Yet the structure had to remain efficient to keep costs under control. "Yes, we have bigger, stronger elements, but the design is much more demanding," Finney says. Instead of 50 columns, for instance, there are just two giant columns.

Pitt notes also that the firm was also heavily involved with coordinating the design of the curtain wall. The exterior features "a thousand different conditions," he says, with an assortment of small cantilevered elements and fins.

Ironically, for all the brute strength the structure conveys, the building's success comes down to how precise the connections are among the structure's many parts. "They want to see elements that are sized appropriately for that intimidating design," Finney says.

Which is fine for KPFF. As cantilevers get longer and more complex, engineers get to dig deeper into their own playbooks. "Any time we get to expose structure, and push the limits of what we can do to make that something that architects can integrate in their designs," says Finney, "that's always a fun process to work through with them."


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