Payne Whitney Gymnasium at Yale University is one of the largest athletic facilities in the world with more than twelve acres of indoor space. The building houses many varsity teams, including basketball, fencing, gymnastics, squash, swimming, and volleyball.
Pirie Associates provided Yale’s athletic department with a program and masterplan for the Payne Whitney Gymnasium (PWG) and Ray Thompkins House (RTH) site. This study provided a framework for future design efforts, and the tools required to implement those future efforts, including a flexible masterplan that could be enacted in phases, digital program tracking files, and a complete building scan and 3D model of this massive building.
We analyzed five scenarios in response to the institution’s mission and aspirations to help them prioritize and establish reachable goals while meeting budget constraints.
We helped Yale Athletics establish six priorities that drove this study:
Location and Accessibility: The lifestyle of student athletes needs to be accommodated by providing dedicated, consolidated spaces where they can gain easy access to coaching, administration, and practice.
Athletic Offices: Office space needs to be organized and adapted to better serve the department’s collaborative, impromptu, meeting-based working style, while providing the required level of administration oversight.
Pool and Multi-purpose Practice Facilities: In order to remain a recognized competition destination in the Northeast, Yale Athletics requires an Ivy League regulation pool with dedicated seating and a diving well, as well as a turfed indoor practice facility for varsity and intramural team use.
Use Legibility and Consolidation: Decades of ad-hoc expansion of PWG to accommodate all athletic programs, students, alumni, and visitors has resulted in one of the largest and most labyrinthine buildings on campus. An imperative part of this study was improving legibility and ease of use for all users.
Desired program uses were distilled and organized into a series of documents- maintained and refined by PAA until the completion of our report- that could be utilized by Facilities and design professionals. An audit of RTH and PWG was performed to determine if enough space could be found or created to accommodate all Athletic offices within the existing RTH and PWG footprints.
Then, an intensive design effort was undertaken which involved several collaborative design conversations with Yale Facilities. Five Master plan options were developed, each prioritizing and balancing the key programmatic elements in different ways. PAA worked with Yale to evaluate phasing and costs for each scenario.
Our team reached consensus and published a list of design decisions with Yale Facilities that would be foundational to future efforts. We found that a new office structure would be required to accommodate their current aspirations, but that some program spaces could move to underutilized spaces within the PWG facility to become more accessible to athletes- even offering appropriate levels of privacy for various functions. We determined which pool configuration would best balance amenity and cost implications, and that a multi-purpose practice facility housed in the existing Kiphuth volume of PWG proved to be the best adaptation of the space.
Finally, our conclusion was that Payne Whitney Gym stands as a “temple of athleticism,” and will remain as such for many years. Yale leverages its strong historic and architectural character as unique branding for Yale Athletics and the university. The gymnasium’s identity will be celebrated and its position as the student hub for athletics reiterated and retained.