Honorable Mention - Top 10 Finalist - Jason Saccoliti - Redesign Your School Athletic Pavilion | 2014 National High School Architecture Competition #135

What's the problem here? Getting started on your athletic pavilion design.

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Gerald Ratner Athletics Center at the University of Chicago

Design Challenge Background

The challenge is to redesign your high school’s athletic facilities into an athletic pavillion. With national organizations emphasizing the importance of regular phyical activity to combat obesity, these spaces are more important (and used!) than ever. They are becoming communty spaces and spaces for connecting, cheering, and improving lifestyles.

Design Challenge Brief

You may redesign the interior of the existing athletic facilities, expand on the existing spaces, or design a completely new addition on to your school building. Your design should contain all the spaces and functions required for typical school athletic facilities – locker rooms, athletic equipment storage rooms, concession stands, trophy cases, water fountains, offices for athletics staff, bathrooms, exercise and weight rooms, and, of course, gym spaces. The redesigned pavillion should include ideas for both old and new ideas for athletic facilities. You should also consider sustainability issues and the environmental impact of your design.

For your Overview, it is important to post a short, but clear, ‘success statement’ that communicates the goals you hope to solve and achieve through your design solutions. When you’re nearly finished with your design project, you can go back to this success statement to see if your design has met the criteria you first proposed.

History: Advanced Technologies Academy, one of the many magnet high schools throughout the Las Vegas Valley, and one amongst hundreds of others throughout the country has been awarded with many prestigious awards since it’s opening in 1994. From the beginning there has been no lack of students eager to take their learning experience to the next level by coming from all walks of life to attend this prestigious school voluntarily taking the extra step to a better education. Within the past 20 years A-tech has been expanding exponentially with a student body in the 2013-2014 school year exceeding well over a thousand students, leading to a facility bursting at the seams however, there has been one problem that has faced the school’s campus since it’s construction in 2002; the gym.

Design Problem: Where Advanced Technologies Academy excels in academia and prestigious awards from across the country, including a two-time Blue Ribbon award, it lacks in a respectable athletic complex suitable for even the most basic high school, let alone a school of such high magnitude. The standalone athletic complex that is currently at A-Tech is considered, by many to be an afterthought of the school’s design. Originally, the school was designed with only a weight lifting facility on the top floor, which was adequate for the school’s student body at the time. However, as stated earlier the school’s attendance rate grew rapidly, so much so that it became necessary to build a gym, along with two other expansions to the school to accommodate the needs of a growing student body; nevertheless, one of the worst problems at the current athletic complex is overcrowding. With students only required to participate in two years of Physical Education, it would appear overcrowding would not be a problem, yet the conditions in the locker rooms are deplorable. First year students are required to use a portable as a locker room because of the lack of lockers, and second year students have to share lockers, and in some more extreme cases use the showers as a changing station without a place to store valuables, rendering the usage of the showers after a workout completely impossible. Overcrowding does not only affect the locker rooms though, the Gym which is currently the only space large enough to house a large group of students is jammed every assembly, requiring the school to host two assemblies to have all students attend. Even worse is the fact of the gym’s acoustics – originally intended solely for indoor basketball, is greatly dampened by other noises within the building. Air conditioning units inside the building generate a lot of noise, which ruins the acoustics of the space while poor speaker equipment dampens the magnitude of the schools orchestra or notable presenters, which have included Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Laura Bush, and Jeb Bush. One of the more embarrassing problems generated, is that A-TECH, a school with a motto of “Academics Plus Technology,” has absolutely no integration of any technology in any of the athletic programs, even though integrating such technology would prove to be a great benefit to track student’s health and fitness. It is time A-TECH has a gym that is not only appropriate for the school’s needs but a gym that matches the school’s prestige -- a gym where students are excited to become healthy and promote fitness.

Design Solution: To accommodate for the school’s ever growing population it is necessary to expand the current building. This new design proposes two new buildings to accommodate for the student body, one for the everyday gym class and the other for special events such as assemblies, tournaments, and public speakers. The main building begins where the previous building left off, by adding extensions such as a second floor, aerobic and strength training wings, a pool, indoor running track, and rock wall students will be able to choose between a variety of exercise options that best fit their needs. The unique feature of this main building however, is the integration of the swimming pool that ties into the main areas of design within the first floor. Water is all around students on the first floor, a rock-climbing wall that surrounds a waterfall cascades down into an artificial river under a glass walkway enclosure that encompasses the hallways, simulating an environment similar to that of some natural rivers that appear in the desert. When students enter the building, they soon forget that they are in a desert – a place that many associate with dry, hot conditions and instead taken to a natural spring a much more encouraging place to exercise in. On either side of the pool two full curtain system enclosed workout environments are take advantage of both the natural movement of heat and Bernoulli’s principle to help cool the building. In the hotter months of the year these two wings of the building have the capability to open up glass panels on the roof hydraulically which allows hot air to rise out of the building and cooler air to sink in. Should there be a slight breeze hot air is then whisked out by means of Bernoulli’s principle quickening the cooling of the space, creating a natural and virtually free cooling system. Finally on the first floor two classrooms are added, one for physical education such as health and the other one for the school’s small, yet equally important orchestra which has been in a portable since the school’s opening. Moving on to the second floor students are again greeted with the rock-climbing wall as well an opening in the center of the floor, which leads down to the pool continuing the central theme of water. On either side of the opening, there are two table tennis and racquetball courts surrounded by an indoor running track. Finally, on the second floor there is an addition of two more locker rooms to ensure that space will no longer be a problem for any student in gym. The second building is mainly designed around holding events, which A-TECH does often, both academic and leisurely. The main façade of the building is a large hangar door put in place specifically for allowing viewers inside the building to view outside sporting events, or allow pleasant air to sweep through when the temperature is just right in the spring and fall. Inside the building visitors are greeted by two box offices and turnstiles on either side of the main gymnasium, which allow for easy sale and distribution of tickets for events such as the quarterly dodge ball tournament. Past that visitors are able to enter into the main gymnasium and take a seat amongst the generous distribution of bleachers more than capable of holding all the student body or go into yet another set of locker rooms. The main gymnasium, designed with acoustics in mind is equipped with sound paneling on either side of the walls and a curved back wall, which increases the audio quality of the space. By adding these two extensions to the current pavilion at Advanced Technologies Academy there is no doubt that students will be excited to exercise and promote fitness.


Your vivid description of the design problems and solutions is well-organized. It is especially effective because you included pertinent facts and insightful observations that enable those unfamiliar with the school (like me!) to clearly visualize the need for your proposed solutions.

You provided a good description of the current conditions and presented a compelling need for new facilities.

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In the Collect Info step of the design process, gather as much information as possible about your school's existing athletic facilities, both indoor and outdoor. You also want to learn as much as you can about the students and staff who will use it. You can't propose new solutions until you figure out and document what the existing problems are. 

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  • Take note of unsafe conditions or conditions that do not make sense (For example, not enough storage for soccer equipment; no place for fans to buy popcorn at events; no place for athletes to change clothes or store belongings).
  • Interview your school's athletic director, student athletes from various sports, and other staff and ask them what they like and dislike about the current facilities. What changes would they make to spaces if they had a choice?
  • Make a list of the features that you really like about how your athletic facilities look and function.
  • Make a separate list of all the ways your current athletic facilities are not so well designed.
  • Calculate the number of sports played at your school and the number of student athletes who play those sports. Consider how this information will affect your new athletic pavilion. How many teams will need to practice at the same time?
    • Do an analysis at different times of the day, week, or school year and create a chart or diagram with average usage and high / low points.
    • Do an analysis of the different types of equipment used by each sport. How much storage space is there currently? Is it enough? Too much?
  • Visit Flickr or another photo sharing site and search for other types of athletic facilities or gymnasioums to determine good and bad examples of how these can accommodate user’s needs.
  • Post images of buildings, colors, designs, textures, or other things that inspire you in this step. Make sure you give credit to your source!
  • Research other schools, universities, or public centers to determine good / bad examples of how athletic equipment and gear is stored and if anything is done to accommodate student athletes and the fans who use these outdoor facilities. What inspires you?

JSac97's work for the Collect Information step:

Throughout the various photographs the challenges are presented as they were in the problem section of the overview section.
With a more than ample amount of space it is easily feasible to build an indoor outdoor stadium to...
A demonstration of the almost deplorable conditions of both the freshman boy's gym and band...
In this almost full view of the current gym it is easy to see why there is such a problem in trying...
With the HVAC indoors there is a dampening of any noise, this poses an especially important problem...

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Columbia University Campbell Sports Center © Iwan Baan

In the Brainstorm Ideas step of the design process, you start to be inspired by new places and you put some early ideas down on paper that show what you've found in the Collect Info step. You also might take more photos to show specific new ideas you have. 

The simple diagrams you make here will help you understand how the existing library location and design compare with your new ideas.

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  • Draw a floorplan of your existing facilities. How are all of the different athletic spaces connected? What are the different pathways you can take through all of these spaces? Map all of these rooms and spaces.
  • Use Google Maps to view and print out an aerial photo of your school. Take measurements of the overall dimensions of your existing athletic facilities, both indoor and outdoor and use the aerial to map out the measurements.
  • Post this aerial map and sketch here so everyone can understand the relationship between your school building, the athletic fields, and the proposed site of your new pavilion. Describe the surrounding area and note existing structures such as the field, track, seating, storage, locker rooms, concession stands, and any fences. 
  • On a piece of tracing paper placed over the aerial photo of your school, sketch a diagram showing a large arc around the building to show the path of the sun throughout the day.  This drawing is called a site analysis diagram.  (Remember, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.)

Think About

  • Will your new athletic pavillion replace your school's existing athletic facilities or become an addition to a different part of the building? Will it be built in an empty lot or space?  Will it be underground or built on the roof?  You decide.
  • Spend some time looking at the aerial photo of your school.  What types of other buildings surround your school?  Homes, businesses, parks, parking lots, or an empty field?  How will these other buildings impact the design of your new athletic pavillion?
  • What types of streets surround your school? Are they busy or quiet?   
  • Based on the site analysis diagram you've sketched, where is the sun located throughout the school day?
  • How can the indoor and outdoor areas of your new athletic pavillion be positioned to take advantage of the sunlight for good lighting?

JSac97's work for the Brainstorm Ideas step:

The key concept that I wanted to convey was a design that resembled the school, yet was modern in design and one of the most unique athletic pavilions around.
By using glass facades and aluminum roofing, the design should be interesting to look at, yet not...
A conceptual idea as to how to improve on the school's lacking strength training center by...
Conceptual ideas as to how the additional stadium building would be laid out along with an...
A quick sketch as to how combining a rock climbing wall, pool, and exposed glass walkway would...
A collection of sketches that portray various design elements throughout the pavilion including...

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WMS Boat House at Clark Park © Steve Hall Hedrich Blessing

In the Develop Solutions step, your rough ideas come together with drawings and models that can show others your solutions for a new library.

Important! Since DiscoverDesign is about investigating the design process, the other people viewing your project - other students around the country, your teacher, and the mentors - want to see how your ideas have changed over time. This means that while you're working on your digital model, you’ll want to be sure to keep re-saving it with a new file name every few days as you work through the steps.

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  • Draw a sketch or use software such as Google SketchUp, AutoCAD, or Revit to illustrate your ideas.  You can upload photos (JPG files) from your SketchUp model, video fly throughs (FLV files) of your SketchUp model, or drawings (DWF files) from AutoCAD.
  • Determine the best location for your new structure. Make side notes of where new elements may go or how you would change what is currently in place.
  • Make a list of all the unique spaces and features you plan to have in your athletic pavilion. 
  • Your athletic pavilion can include any types of spaces and features you feel are most important for your particular school, but here are a few suggestions:
    • Locker or changing rooms for home and visiting teams
    • Athletic equipment storage rooms
    • Concession stand
    • Trophy cases
    • Water fountains
    • Offices for athletic director or staff
    • Bathrooms for fans
    • Exercise or weight rooms
  • Use cardboard to create a 3D study model of early ideas. Or, create a rough digital study model of your ideas. These models don't need to show detail, just the overall size and massing for your athletic pavilion.
  • Show your ideas to your teacher and peers for some feedback. You can also review your progress with the test group you may have interviewed and test whether your design would meet their needs or address their concerns. Learn from the feedback you receive and incorporate into your final design solution.
  • Be sure to check out and make comments on other student design projects.
  • Do not leave work for the last minute! Going through a detailed design process requires time to gather information, develop ideas, and make improvements. This is difficult or impossible if you try to pull everything together a week before your project is due. Projects that are researched, developed, and well executed will always stand out!

JSac97's work for the Develop Solutions step:

In these rough 3-D Models the viewer is able to get a glimpse into what it would be like to walk up to the facility, go inside, and travel around.
By using aluminum on the roof along with a concrete brick construction and large curtain systems,...
To reduce the monotony associated with staring at a wall or mirror while exercising large curtain...
Similar to the aerobics room, users are able to enjoy pleasant views through large curtain systems...
The pool, which is the centerpiece of the design, has many features that surround as well as...
The second floor is home to the running track, racquetball courts, and table tennis which all open...
In this rather rough rendering, the indoor/outdoor stadium is depicted. The main glass front facade...

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Williams Natatorium at Cranbrook Academy Flickr.com © All rights reserved by Doctor Casino

The Final Design step of the design process is to create more finished drawings and models that illustrate your ideas to others. Remember, your explanation text, and the types of drawings, images, and models you share need to tell the whole story of your project to someone who may or may not have ever visited your school.

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  • Review your design and test it against your original sucess statement that you wrote for the Overview. Does it meet this criteria?
  • Does your final design meet the expectations of the student athletes and athletic director that you interviewed?  If not, you may need to go back to the drawing board and revise your design.
  • For your final design, you will want to post a short but effective paragraph of your process and the unique solutions you found and developed. Tell us about your ideas and how they may or may not have changed over the course of the project.
  • You might want to share floor plans, elevations, renderings of your digital model, photos of a physical model, or a video animation of your model.
  • But you aren't done yet! Be sure to comment on other projects in the competition to foster, encourage, and build an online design community of learners in DiscoverDesign.  CAF will also recognize students that provide both encouragement and constructive criticism on students' work throughout the run of the competition.

JSac97's work for the Final Design step:

Final details and retouches of the rough ideas in the previous steps, enhanced with silhouettes and other objects for scale.
The final retouch of the rendering demonstrates the use of the space as it would be used for large...
The proposed exterior view of what the new main gym complex would look like. By using the same...
In this final depiction of the stadium floor plan the viewer is able to see the spaces and their...
By following the guidelines laid out in the design solution section of the overview, there is both...
Similar to the first floor, the second floor hosts even more space for lockers should it become an...