The University of Oregon's up-and-down campaign to generate funds for a new basketball arena has generated a lot of press over the last couple years. New athletic director Pat Kilkenny, a millionaire and longtime Ducks fundraiser, signed on with the new arena fundraising effort in mind. Beat reporters also inherently tend to follow the money in a story like this, with good reason: only with a sizable budget can the project go forward.
But I think for the long run there's a more important issue at stake: what this new arena is going to look and feel like.
The new arena will replace McArthur Court, a cherished old hall dating to 1926 - the second oldest on-campus gym in America after Fordham's Rose Hill Gym. In 2001 The Sporting News named "The Pit", as it's more commonly known, as the "best gym in America". A lot of that has to do with the fans, but it also has to do with the architecture. The crowd is very close to the action, with a balcony rising almost straight up. Mac Court can be very daunting for opposing teams, as #1-ranked UCLA was reminded this season.
TVA Architects of Portland has the job, in collaboration with Kansas City's Ellerbe Beckett, a major sports facility designer. TVA of course designed the Nike campus in Beaverton, so their designing the UO arena seems to testify once more with the athletic giant's strong connections to the school's athletic department. In terms of design, TVA and founding principal Robert Thompson unquestionably have a feel for the kind of crisp, modern but expressive and quietly monumental style needed. I also get the sense that the architects have a healthy respect for McArthur Court, and I think we're all in agreement that a similarly intimate environment should be replicated. For such a big public project, one could argue for a top international architect, but as a lifelong Duck fan I actually like the idea of choosing a local firm that has a deep, established sense for the university and its athletics.
As always, the attached rendering offers merely a small glimpse at what the arena will ultimately look like. But if we have to say goodbye to Mac Court (I'd actually have preferred rebuilding the original), it's tantalizing to see where Oregon will play basketball for the next century or so.
Incidentally, TVA has also recently unveiled its design for the new Tualatin campus of Laika animation studios, owned by Nike head Phil Knight. More on that soon.