Sunday, April 11, 2010

Matthew Knight Arena Sneak Peek

Update: For my review of the completed arena, check out my February 5, 2011 post by clicking the following:

Matthew Knight Arena under construction - April 10, 2010 (all photos by me unless otherwise noted)

According to the University of Oregon Athletics Department, construction of the new Matthew Knight Arena is on budget and on schedule. The 12,500 seat multi-purpose facility will be ready for the start of the next Pac-10 Conference basketball season in January 2011, when it will replace venerable McArthur Court.

I’m one of many Duck supporters who have resisted the siren song of progress. Yes, Mac Court is older than dirt (well, not quite; it hosted its first basketball game in 1927). It has obstructed views and cramped seats. It lacks adequate restroom and concession facilities. It has numerous barriers to accessibility. The structure’s antiquity and lack of amenities seriously inhibit its continued viability as a venue for NCAA Division 1 competition.(1)

And yet, there is no doubt that Mac Court is one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable. At its most raucous – shaking, rattling, and rolling – the old building itself is worth several points to our home team. Stacked tier upon tier, the crowd literally is on top of the court. It can be ear-splitting and intimidating. Crazed fans cheer wildly, jump up and down, and otherwise urge the Oregon Ducks to victory. Mac Court has (had) an atmosphere unrivaled in college athletics.

McArthur Court (photo courtesy of

I harbored serious doubts that the ingredients that together constitute the old gym’s character could be replicated in a larger, modern building. The last thing any Duck fan wants to see is Mac Court replaced by a cavernous, sterile, NBA-style arena.(2) So, it was with hope and anticipation that my wife and I attended the second of three open houses at Matthew Knight Arena co-hosted this past weekend by the Athletics Department and the project’s general contractor, Hoffman Construction.

View from the arena floor toward the northeast corner.

I’m pleased to report that the architects – TVA of Portland (design architect) and Ellerbe Beckett from Kansas City, MO (executive architect) – paid heed to the request for a design that matches the intensity and intimacy of “The Pit.” The new seating bowl is remarkably compact. It doesn’t appear that there will be a bad seat in the house, regardless of level or seating category. While there are only two distinct tiers, they’re very steep. Fans will be right on top of the action just as they seem to be in Mac Court. It’s hard to believe that the place will hold 3,500 more screaming students and fans than the old building does.

View inside the arena bowl toward the southwest corner.

It is still too early in the construction process to fully imagine the fan experience. However, I do expect to be blown away by a level of opulence and trend-setting design that $200 million and all of Nike’s savvy afford. The new arena will feature the same flash and sizzle that is the trademark of Oregon’s other lavish athletics facilities. According to the stats sheet handed to us at the open house, Matthew Knight Arena will include 22 restrooms (9 men, 9 women, 4 family), 8 elevators (is there even one in McArthur Court?), 45 concession points of sale, 2 Duck Stores, 201 flat screen TVs, and a 4-sided video board. When it comes to the U of O and especially the building named in memory of his son, Phil Knight wants nothing less than the best.

Site plan depicting Matthew Knight Arena, Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes, and the Ford Alumni Center (image from the UO Alumni Center website)

The new arena looms large on its east campus site amid smaller-scaled neighbors. Its sleek metal and glass exterior envelope is quickly taking shape. It contrasts markedly with the predominant collegiate brick palette, but alongside the Ford Alumni Center (essentially an annex to the arena) and the recently completed Jaqua Academic Center for Student Athletes(3), the landmark Matthew Knight Arena has become the de facto gateway to the campus when approaching from the east along Franklin Boulevard. In this capacity, the triumvirate of new buildings recasts the University as aggressive and forward-looking rather than mired in tradition.

View from Franklin Boulevard looking southeast.

The arena is on target for LEED Silver certification, which would make it among the first LEED-certified sports facilities in the nation.

I’ll withhold final judgment about the new arena until I actually see my Ducks play a game there. Even then, I may not be able to take its true measure until after many seasons worth of use, after Matthew Knight Arena has acquired its own brand of charm and the kind of patina that is only conferred by a long and storied history.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

There’s one more chance for the public to tour Matthew Knight Arena at this stage of its construction, next Saturday, April 10 from 5:00 to 7:00 PM. After that, those who attend the 2010 AIA Northwest & Pacific Region Conference this October here in Eugene will have an exclusive opportunity to tour the building just prior to its completion. We hope to have members of the TVA team on hand to discuss the design process and the shaping of this exceptional project. Just another reason to make your plans to attend the Conference!

(1) The future of Mac Court is uncertain. Whether it has a second life or not remains to be seen, but the University has completed a preliminary study that explored various options for adaptive reuse. One such option is to radically reinvent the arena as the new home of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, surely a challenging design problem. As Don Kahle wrote on his blog dkSez, the future is calling the AAA to reuse the past and preserve Mac Court as a place.

(2) I think that Portland’s Rose Garden sucks because, like many of the current crop of multipurpose arenas constructed for NBA franchises, it is simply too big for basketball. Plunking down serious money for the privilege of seeing 7-foot tall players reduced to looking like ants scurrying across a tiny swatch of maple flooring is not my idea of entertainment value. Ironically, the Rose Garden was also designed by Ellerbe Beckett.

(3) I’ll blog about the Jaqua Center after the June AIA-SWO chapter meeting, which will take place at the Center. Designer Eugene Sandoval of ZGF Architects will lead a tour of the building, which has been the subject of intense debate at the University because of its extravagance and exclusivity.


Anonymous said...

Think what you want of the Rose Garden, it is quite raucous environment even in the 300-level. As a season ticket holder for the Ducks and Blazers I know what both are like. It may not rattle like Mac, but it sure does send a buzz of chills when you hear chants for Mar-cus Cam-byyyyy

Anonymous said...

As a frequent attendee of both Ducks and Blazers games (and yes, I was in the 300 level for the Mar-cus Cam-byyyy chanting on Monday), I agree that the Rose Garden can be quite raucous. But I would argue that that is more due to the fans than the arena itself. While Portland fans are some of the most passionate in basketball, the arena is, in fact, a giant, open cavern with high ceilings and not much to add in the way of energy. 5 years ago when the Garden was sparsely populated on game nights, it was downright depressing to be in - especially the 300-level. Mac Court adds tons of energy to games, and my longtime dread with the new Ducks arena is that it would turn out to be some cavernous concrete monster like the Rose Garden. Hope the designers did better with Knight Arena!

Anonymous said...

The costs related to the arena are in the area of 330 million.