VLK Architects

Designing by Experience: Ryan High School Field House

Growing up, I knew I wanted to be an architect. Designing spaces and doing technical drawings always piqued my interest. I also grew up as an avid sports fan, going to games whenever possible, but it wasn’t until college when I realized I could combine my two passions into a career of designing athletic facilities. My experiences as both an athlete and a fan, along with my love of architecture, fueled my passion for athletics and locker room design. Great design is not just about creating something that looks nice, it’s about designing a space that is pleasant to be in, functions properly, and evokes positive emotions for its users.

In high school, I was on the baseball team, and while it was overall a very enjoyable experience, the facilities we used posed some challenges for our team and coaching staff. One thing I vividly remember having to change clothes in a crammed locker room during a passing period in order to make it to practice on time. The entire baseball program had one locker room for all teams: varsity, junior varsity, and freshman. There was no toilet room and we also had to share that space with the football team. If it was raining, and we couldn’t go out to the fields to practice, we attempted to have meetings in the locker room, but it was too small for everyone to fit. Players had to share lockers, which meant climbing over one another to access our gear, all while trying to get ready for practice.

While the locker rooms and field didn’t directly prevent us from winning games, I felt like squeezing into a small locker room after a win quickly stifled our sense of unity and comradery. As athletes, time spent off the field is just as important as playing the game. It is crucial to bond with your team and coaches – and more often than not, those bonding opportunities occur in the facilities used to prepare for the game. After all, it’s the lessons learned after a win or a loss that have a significant impact on an athlete’s next performance. The time spent watching film and learning about your teammates’ abilities helps everyone function cohesively when it’s game time. It’s easy to lose that direction in the chaos of a cramped locker room without adequate space. Using my personal experiences, I am able to ensure that with each athletic facility I design, these issues are remedied.

The combination of the Ryan High School coach’s ideas and my personal experience was an integral part of the design of the new field house. Ryan High’s expanding athletic program demanded additional space for their growing student population and updated facilities that promoted safety and security. The district’s design called for the integration of a new field house with the existing campus. It needed to provide adequate space as required for safety standards within the indoor training facility, introduce as much natural light as possible, offer hygienic locker room facilities, and create new coaching spaces that maintained proper player supervision.

With the addition of a new field house, and the renovation of the existing building, every athlete at Ryan High School now has access to suitable locker room space. This means more room to change, ample room for meetings, larger training rooms, and updated coaches’ space.  Different sports no longer share locker rooms, making it significantly easier to prepare for a game or practice. Some of my favorite features are the accessibility of the field houses to the athletic fields they serve and the flexibility of the locker rooms, which can become meeting spaces simply by lowering a projection screen.

Successful athletic design can eliminate a multitude of challenges that many student athletes face. It was rewarding to be able to apply my own experience as an athlete while working alongside the design team on this project. My hope for this facility is that the athletes at Ryan High School never feel that their athletic spaces inhibit their ability to perform on the field, but instead become a place where lessons are learned, friendships and bonds are strengthened, and memories are made.