Saturday, June 14, 2014

From Concept to Reality

Members of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects tour the University of Oregon Student Recreation Center Expansion project work site, June 10, 2014) 

My coworkers at Robertson/Sherwood/Architects (RSA) and I recently took advantage of a perfect late spring day to tour the University of Oregon’s Student Recreation Center (SRC) Expansion jobsite. The $50 million project is currently the largest our office has under construction. As always, the opportunity to visit a construction site to see a building we’ve designed emerge from concept to reality is a special treat. This is especially true for the younger members of our office who may be less familiar with the realities of construction and the consequences of decisions made during the design process. I likewise found the visit informative since I am not one of the members of the SRC project team.

Rendering of the University of Oregon Student Recreation Center Expansion project

Carl Sherwood, AIA is the RSA principal-in-charge for the SRC project and also our firm’s primary liaison with the builders and the university during the construction period. Carl led our tour of the jobsite, along with Dave Quivey, project manager for Howard S. Wright Construction.(1)

Carl Sherwood, AIA (left) of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects and Dave Quivey of Howard S. Wright Construction discuss a point during our tour of the Student Recreation Center Expansion project.

The students of the University of Oregon approved the renovation and expansion of the SRC primarily because of how much they value its importance to campus life and their well-being. The center was previously designed to accommodate only 2,500 people per day but daily usage had increased in recent years to between 4,500 and 6,500 students, faculty, and staff. This resulted in tremendous overcrowding and user frustration. Also, barriers to accessibility existed and, because of obsolete building systems, large portions of the SRC were functionally inefficient and costly to maintain.

The following are some of the key highlights of this student-funded project:
  • 110,000 square feet of new space
  • 40,000 square feet of renovated space
  • An expanded fitness space (weights and cardio space will double in size)
  • New group exercise and yoga studios
  • A new cycling studio
  • An additional 3-court gym (more capacity for basketball, volleyball, and badminton)
  • A 12-lane lap pool (used for lap swimming, water polo, water aerobics, and instructional classes)
  • A 3-lane recreational pool (water volleyball & basketball, and instructional classes)
  • 1 whirlpool spa
  • New and expanded 2-story locker rooms with private showers
  • New social and lounge spaces
  • A target of LEED Gold certification
For more information about our team's design for the SRC, check out this video tour of the future facility:

Presently, construction of the SRC is about halfway complete. Howard S. Wright (HSW) initiated work onsite late last summer, and promises to have the facility ready for its grand opening early next year. HSW has finished erecting all of the structural steel framing for the additions, so it was easy for us to envision the various spaces, including such volumes as the new gymnasiums and the new natatorium. With the major structural work now in the rearview mirror, HSW has ramped up the level of construction activity considerably, with many dozens of skilled tradesmen and women now working side-by-side on the crowded site. Overall, the construction progress is impressive and the project is looking good!

To ease referencing of documents during construction, employees of Howard S. Wright Construction can access hyper-linked, always updated, electronic drawing files and specifications at an onsite computer workstation .

Like several of our most significant projects, our design for the Student Recreation Center Expansion is the product of a collaboration.(2) RSA may be the Architect-of-Record but we share credit for the facility’s design equally with RDG Planning & Design of Des Moines, IA and Poticha Architects of Eugene. RDG is one of the nation’s leading designers of campus recreation facilities. The firm boasts an impressive portfolio, including student recreation centers for the University of Florida, Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, Montclair State University, and the University of North Carolina. The eponymously named Poticha Architects is headed by the curmudgeonly Otto Poticha, FAIA, who needs no introduction to readers of this blog.

The smiling crew of Robertson/Sherwood/Architects at the conclusion of our construction tour. Standing out in his orange vest is Carl Sherwood, AIA, principal-in-charge for the SRC project.

I’m always surprised by how builders translate our abstract visions with such fidelity into very real, brick and mortar buildings. Every line we draw (or more accurately these days, every virtual component we model) is ultimately executed as a fabricated or assembled element that must perform as we intended it to. Each design decision we make is consequential. It’s this point that is perhaps the most valuable lesson every young intern must learn.

Want to ensure a design concept is faithfully translated into reality? Don’t be cavalier about your duties as an architect or designer. The devil is in the details. Make sure your design documentation is clear, concise, complete, and correct. Doing so will always pay dividends once construction begins.

(1)  Howard S. Wright’s role is as the project’s Construction Manager/General Contractor. The University of Oregon favors the CM/GC project delivery method (also known as “CM at Risk”) for its largest projects for a number of reasons. These include the collaborative nature of the CM process, the potential to accelerate the design and construction phases of the project, and because the CM provides the university with a guaranteed maximum price.

(2)  The Eugene Public Library and the Lane Community College Downtown Campus are two other noteworthy examples of projects in which we partnered with other architects. We thoroughly enjoy opportunities to collaborate with notable, talented firms. We learn from these experiences, bolster our own portfolio, and win commissions we otherwise would have little chance of securing by ourselves.

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