By Rick Herzer
Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. is a liberal arts university that is growing, in their words, through “strategic growth that powers the region.”
But as enrollment has swelled, the facilities for athletics and physical fitness have become overburdened.
The design team at SLAM was challenged by the university to re-energize a plan for facilities devoted to student recreation and fitness, which would download pressures on the main sports facility for the many athletic teams.
As the lead designer of the recently completed Bobby Valentine Health & Recreation Center, I was inspired by the university’s commitment to both design excellence and the focus on fitness as a vital factor in overall student health and well-being.
A particular design challenge for the $23.2 million, 56,000sf, three-story building was that town approvals had already been secured for an oddly shaped building site ideally located at the north end zone of the campus stadium. The university required that the new rec center be built on this site, to the previously approved building footprint and dimensions.
The soaring prow of the building and panoramic views of surrounding sports fields were inspired by this geometric “constraint.” Set at the western edge of campus, the boldly cantilevered roof shelters the glass skin that creates transparency towards the rest of the university community. At dusk, the building glows against the campus skyline, with the 50-foot beacon of the glass-enclosed climbing wall inviting students from nearby residence halls.
The building is designed to be both a social and fitness hub for student recreation, club sports, intramurals, and the fitness department. The interior design is visually open and flooded with daylight, allowing for an uplifting workout experience.
On approach to the center, visitors enter beneath the deeply cantilevered roof that protects the glass prism from sun and weather and serves as an architectural metaphor for bold structural gymnastics and dynamic “athletic” forms. The interior design largely exposes the underlying building structure, revealing, in a sense, the bones and muscles of the building.
The main floor features a multi-purpose sport court, 50-foot climbing wall, and 7,000sf fitness center for cardiovascular workouts, strength training and functional fitness activities that anchor the center of the building. The top floor features dedicated small group studios, a juice bar, and a suspended track that overlooks the court and climbing wall. The lower level has an 18-bike spin room, an HD golf simulator, six-lane NCAA bowling alley, both athletics and recreation training rooms, locker rooms and staff offices.
On game days, an outdoor balcony – itself a shading element that springs from the juice bar – provides end zone spectator seating and sheltered gathering for students, alumni and guests.
What’s the next Sacred Heart project? Currently in design, the university is planning a new 4,000 seat, state-of-the-art hockey arena with an anticipated opening in 2022.
Rick Herzer, AIA, is a design principal at The S/L/A/M Collaborative.