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Penn Squash Center, University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA

Project Category : College/University

Total Construction Cost : 18.7M

Total Gross Square Feet : 27,000

Approximate Cost Per Square Foot : $692

How was the facility funded? : Private donations

Project Description:

1) Functional Planning

Plan efficiency; functional relationships of key facility components; location of control points; measures taken to maximize use of space The project presented both aesthetic and technical design challenges. The existing building, dating to the 1960s, was strictly utilitarian, and insufficient for the way squash is played and viewed today. Structural steel columns impacted views, floor-to-floor heights were extremely low, and there was little space for spectators to watch the game, limiting the usability of the venue as a tournament venue.

A key challenge was creating a highly tuned but still flexible facility. The new Penn Squash Center needed to accommodate vastly different functions and occupancy levels, whether hosting team practices, tournaments, or recreational play. The design response offers a radical reinterpretation of what a collegiate squash facility can be by incorporating novel solutions to meet the needs of the client. The structural frame was heavily modified including the demolition and reconfiguration of entire floor levels to allow for a dynamic, spacious interior. This had the benefit of improving views (by getting columns out of sightlines) and creating a much more open environment within the main tournament hall, while also simplifying circulation and providing accessibility to all spaces within the building.

Spectators can enjoy the tournaments from above as well as the ground level. To improve circulation and movement throughout the facility, EwingCole designers reconfigured the floor levels, creating a second-floor mezzanine which provides a birds-eye-view of the action in each of the courts below.

2) Interior Design

Innovative use of materials to achieve desired aesthetics; interior finishes, detailing and color schemes used; use of natural and artificial lighting; building materials used. Upon entering through a new glass curtainwall vestibule between Hutchinson Gymnasium and the Penn Squash Centers newly patterned brick exterior, visitors are greeted by a dynamic, solid maple reception desk, backlit by linear floor-to-ceiling recessed light fixtures and flanked by a hall of fame display. The lobby immediately opens onto the Tournament Hall, the main attraction of the facility.

The entry hall features an angular wood ceiling and reception desk, clad in the same maple as is used on the court floors and featuring a dynamic lighting installation. In the center of the tournament hall, rather than create conventional seating structures, which would have had the look of an empty arena when not in use and physically filled up the space, the design team created a tiered seating island. This element keeps the tournament hall spatially open, brings warmth to the edgy, industrial space, and supports a variety of events and uses.

Finishes fluidly transition from a predominantly dark gray palette at the glass courts to light-colored wall, ceiling, and floor finishes at the regular courts. Designers relied on a darker interior palette accented with Penn’s traditional red and blue colors to optimize the courts for players while still creating a distinct sense of place. One of the most complex challenges was the inclusion of glass tournament courts (glass wall, white ball and regular courts (white wall, black ball) within the same space. These fundamentally different types of courts typically require very different lighting conditions and room finishes outside of the immediate court for visibility and playability.

Lighting, and A/V played another key role in the design. Enlarged exterior windows provide views into and out of the facility, giving the building a renewed presence on campus, while automated daylight mitigation and lighting controls offer a highly-tuned playing environment. Each court now has a fully integrated A/V and lighting system allowing streaming and broadcast capability.

3) Exterior Design

Integration of the design with surrounding area or buildings; exterior finishes, images and color schemes used; innovative solutions to massing problems. The exterior expression of the original building was a non-descript brick masonry box. Only a modest expansion of the footprint was necessary to accommodate a new entrance vestibule and the additional width of 4 side-by-side courts in the tournament hall. However, the envelope was heavily modified to recreate the identity of the facility and open it up to campus.

New window openings were cut into the brick facade, with a nearly 40 wide expanse of curtainwall facing a key pedestrian thoroughfare running adjacent to Franklin Field and connecting to Penn Park. Additional windows placed along the east facade provide expansive views of downtown Philadelphia. The additional glazing was carefully placed to provide transparency into and out of the facility, which was little known to passers-by, while preserving the controlled lighting environment required for squash to be played competitively.

To blend new construction with fifty-year old brick, a unique pattern was developed which used both salvaged and new masonry in a graduated, projecting pattern on the facade. This feature, taking inspiration from the patterns of wear typically seen on squash court side walls, changes dramatically throughout the day as sunlight grazes its surface.

4) Site

Relationship of building to site; site constraints or other problems encountered. The Penn Squash Center is nestled into its site, located between two historic athletic facilities, Franklin Field and Hutchinson Gymnasium. Because there was limited area to work with, the project leveraged the existing building volume to the greatest extent possible, and included only a minor expansion of the building footprint. The approach to the facility was re-envisioned and landscaped, providing a completed edge to the adjacent Shoemaker Green and a focal point for pedestrians as they traverse this part of campus.

5) Cost

Cost of construction for value received; funding or cost-saving measures utilized; innovative capital and operations financing and funding strategies; energy-conservation measures used. The cost of replacing the original Ringe Squash Courts facility was overwhelming, with burdensome logistics and myriad site constraints, leading the client and the design team to consider an extensive renovation instead. Working closely with an independent cost consultant as well as the construction managers estimating team from the outset of the project meant that EwingCole was able to assess construction costs against the client’s project priorities with real-time feedback during the course of the design process. The CM carried multiple alternates and variations to provide flexibility to the design team and client as the project advanced, giving the greatest impact for the university’s $18.7M budget. The building, which was heated but never before fully conditioned, features state-of-the-art HVAC systems with energy recovery, as well as LED lighting systems and advanced controls and occupancy sensors to reduce overall energy use and substantially improve occupant comfort.

Floor Plans