Eero's Rink Reborn, or... Adding to the Yale Whale
Saarinen designed a number of buildings that are freestanding, self-contained sculptural objects, such as the Kresge Auditorium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the swooping TWA Terminal at JFK Airport in New York. The genius of such a design is what you might call the "one big idea" — a work of architecture that can be comprehended in its totality at first sight.
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Ingalls is such a building. When you come around the corner and see it for the first time, it stops you in your tracks. Its streamlined hull appears organic, maybe even alive. It's easy to imagine Ingalls as a giant sea creature or some prehistoric ancestor of the armadillo, with its humpback shell and pronounced spine running from one end to the other. You either love it or hate it, but you can't ignore it.
What is amazing about Eero Saarinen's work is that his designs were very different from each other. Some were free-flowing organic compositions, others were tightly regulated boxes. As an architect, his search was for the most appropriate form for a given use.
Ingalls is a perfect form for a hockey rink. You need a large, column-free space, big enough to hold thousands of people, yet you want to give spectators an intimate sense of enclosure so wherever they sit they feel close to the action on the ice. Ingalls has this feeling.
There is a graceful yet dramatic 300-foot- (91-meter-) long concrete beam that bounds from one end of the building to the other, supporting the roof. That's the one big idea. Outside, steel cables extend from the exposed beam to the roof edges, where there are horizontal compression beams at the top of the rink's east and west walls.
Inside, it feels like you're inside a whale, or the within the framing of an ancient overturned Viking ship. The ribs of the roof support a wood plank ceiling, and the rows of seats are long but not very deep, so everyone can feel close to the ice. The concrete walls lean out and the roof seems to hover above them.
Restoration in the Spirit of Saarinen
Ingalls was completed in 1958. After nearly 50 years, it was showing its age, and its meager accommodations for the varsity team needed attention. Enter Kevin Roche and his firm, who designed the $23.8 million restoration and an addition to the building.
The restoration focused on cleaning and restoring of the concrete; restoring landscaping; replacing or refinishing of exterior wood doors and windows; planing and refinishing of the original wooden benches (with provision of spaces for wheelchairs) and new seating at the corners of the rink for improved sightlines; a new, larger press box; a new plaster soffit overhang beneath the roof; and a new roof that matches the original, but with the benefit of new insulation, which makes it easier to keep the ice nice and firm.
Over the years, two layers of concrete slab had been added to the original support of the ice slab. The restoration removed the multiple layers, and a new eight-inch (20-centimeter) slab was installed, returning the ice slab to the height that Saarinen had intended.
Also added were new, energy-efficient light fixtures that replaced the originals. Downlights were installed along the edge of the plaster soffit, near the interior's peripheral concrete walls, which are now washed with light; this helps lighten the soffit and makes it appear to float above the walls.
The original single-pane glass curtain wall was replaced with an insulated low-e glass curtain wall to improve thermal performance. New heating and cooling equipment includes a desiccant system that aids dehumidification in the rink. A sprinkler system was also installed.
An Addition That Disappears
The adjustments to the restored rink interior — such as new railings whose additional height now meets code — are great because they're virtually unnoticeable. But how do you add to a landmark, especially one with such as pristine form as Ingalls's?
Roche's solution was to bury the addition, making it practically invisible. The new facility contains 12,700 square feet (1,180 square meters) for varsity men's and women's locker rooms, team meeting rooms, coaching and staff rooms, an athletic medicine suite, and a strength-and-conditioning workout room.
All this new space is tucked under an existing parking lot on the rink's west side, which faces a residential neighborhood. The main views of the rink from the south and east are virtually unchanged.
On the west side, Roche created a new entrance to the addition by carving out a gently sweeping concrete wall and ramp that follow the curve of the original building. The wall is topped with glass block and a glass roof, which deliver daylight down the ramp and into the workout room and public areas of the facility. You're underground, but there's lots of natural light and textured concrete with sunlight raking across it.
The new underground addition and the sensitive renovation defer appropriately to the robust spirit of Saarinen's powerful original work. In this case, a quiet design is the best answer.
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Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, the chair of the University of Hartford's Department of Architecture, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek. More by Michael J. Crosbie