In the fifth episode of “Hidden Wonders,” individuals from ZGF Architects explain how they managed to fit the new Wasserman Football Center into what was previously just a walkway into campus. They also discuss how the design of the building underscores the values of the football program while fostering a greater sense of community among its members.
Savannah Tate: This is “Hidden Wonders,” a podcast that discovers hidden stories, details and effects in the architecture of our everyday spaces at UCLA. I am your host, Savannah Tate.
The designers of the recently opened Wasserman Football Center faced a challenge. The football program wanted to consolidate coaches, athletes and staff into one building that would include offices, training facilities, a locker room and various other amenities. And they wanted it in the small space adjacent to the training field. A space that at that time served as a mere walkway into campus.
Braulio Baptista: That in itself posed a really high challenge for us because no one thought to begin with that there was a site there. There was the edge of the field, there was a wide path and there was a will to put a building there. And that led to the development of the scheme as essentially a four story building — basement plus three above great stories. And the synergies that came from that, from putting the building as an edge condition right next to the field, actually turned what seemed like challenges at first into an incredible opportunity.
TATE: This is Braulio Baptista.
BAPTISTA: I’m a design partner at ZGF Architects, and I was the lead designer on the Wasserman Football Center.
TATE: Baptista said that the building’s position benefitted the weight room in particular because it could open up completely and serve as an extension of the field itself. He added that southern California’s sunny climate makes this unique setup possible.
But consolidating the football program into one space was not the only objective of the center. ZGF Architects also designed the building as a way to build and brand the football community. This starts on the exterior, with the building’s modern take on the classic UCLA mix that features beige and black brick.
David Alf: We’re just trying to push the boundaries a little bit on the typical vocabulary that was on UCLA’s campus … And the program itself likes darker, more aggressive features so they actually include a lot of black on their current marketing stuff, and we sort of were playing into that aesthetic … The interior is a fairly stark contrast … Most campus buildings are really white or beige-heavy but ours has a lot of black in it. Again, kind of referencing the different culture they have for the football program.
TATE: This is David Alf.
ALF: I’ve been a designer on the UCLA football performance center for the last four years now.
TATE: Alf said that the graphic components of the interior solidified the branding of the building.
ALF: You know, even in the lobby, for instance, one of my favorite moments is looking at the floor. You don’t really see it right away but you see maybe these little inlaid pieces of brass, and then you get closer and you maybe see it a little bit clearer. And you actually read every single player who’s lettered at UCLA has their name CNC, (or) water-jet cut, out of the tile. So it’s actually engraved into the tile surface itself.
TATE: Baptista said the building honors not only its contributors but the ideals of the football program itself.
BAPTISTA: It’s about efficiency, it’s about strength, it’s about community and it’s also about reinforcing Bruin values … The most effective and most aesthetically pleasing way of incorporating that into the building is in an integrated fashion where the development of the architecture in the interior of the building tell stories about what it means to be a football player, what it means to be a Bruin, what it means to carry on that challenge and accept that opportunity as well.
TATE: Throughout the Wasserman Center lie the fragments of this story. The graphics of the interior honor past achievements, contributors to the program and notable players. The transition between the lobby and the weight room, for example, features a perforated metal panel wall. Alf calls it the “beach to bowl wall” because its design depicts a day in the life of a typical UCLA football player — from the sunny shores of Santa Monica to the iconic Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
ALF: Ultimately it’s part of the recruiting pitch. You know, that we’re not really pitching to the players there although it does reinforce it. But a lot of what we were doing is part of the recruiting pitch. So trying to give them an idea and highlight what’s the benefit of UCLA which is being near the beach.
TATE: Another symbolic graphic is the Bear Wall, which you may glimpse at night through the glass. The wall features thousands of pixels that make up the image of a bruin. Again, Baptista.
BAPTISTA: The overall image that you see, not only does it reinforce the culture of the bear and the bruin, but when you get close to it each one of those squares can be removed and can be engraved to recognize a donor or someone who has contributed to the program in the past. So the building in a way is a continual tool for recognizing achievement, recognizing contributions and also helping with their fundraising efforts.
TATE: By honoring each contributor to the football program, the bear mural reflects the sense of community within the program. And Baptista said that this feeling of community is embedded in the planning of the building. One example is the east facing terrace on the upper floor.
BAPTISTA: The terrace is a moment in the building where it opens up and leverages the beautiful climate of southern California to create a moment where players, coaches, staff can all congregate … One of the missions the architecture endeavors to perform is helping to bring people together to reinforce a sense of community.
TATE: Coming together is the primary purpose of the all-player auditorium that connects the second and third floor, where the coaches’ offices reside. Baptista said the room functions as a metaphor of the importance of coaches and players coming together for the success of the program.
He added that the design of the building also promotes the health and wellness of the players. The structure uses materials that minimize toxic content, a ventilation system that increases the amount of oxygen in the indoor air, and plenty of windows that allow natural light to illuminate the space. These features also contributed to the Wasserman Center’s certification as a LEED Platinum structure.
BAPTISTA: It’s interesting because in architecture what creates a better environment for the well-being of the users of the building a lot of the time also helps mitigate demand for energy consumption or other natural resources.
TATE: The building also offers plenty of facilities for the enjoyment of the players — including a barbershop, a nutrition center and a set of hydrotherapy pools. There’s a hot pool, a cold plunge pool for reducing inflammation and a treadmill pool that allows players to undergo therapy in a weightless environment.
But one of the most important spaces is the recruiting lounge on the top floor that opens up to a smaller terrace. Here prospective players can view the team in action as they consider becoming a part of the program. Alf said that the building itself also functions as a major recruiting tool.
ALF: You know, they have everything else. They have the weather, they have great coaching staff, they have location. But to really have a facility that can also compete with some of the other ones and even surpass the other ones would be a real huge boon. And it already sounds like it’s playing out with their current recruiting status.
TATE: Baptista added that the image of the building as a whole represents the elements that come together to create an effective football program. Although simple in its design, the powerful form of the building expresses a sense of strength.
BAPTISTA: And it’s really a metaphor for the values that drive a successful program like UCLA football: efficiency, camaraderie, strength. It’s a coming together of physical prowess with strategy, with planning as well from a game strategy standpoint. So the building has a very palpable sense of dialogue with the practice field … And most of the spaces look out onto the field. It’s where we have the most glass. So that’s one of the things that the architecture itself expresses – that sense of connection to the action on the field.
TATE: The analogy between the building and the program continues when you examine its form. While the lower tiers are dedicated to training and building strength, the top tier is dedicated to offices where athletes learn and study game strategy.
BAPTISTA: And so it’s really an expression of both the body and the mind coming together to make a successful program like this possible.
TATE: With its clever use of a limited space, the Wasserman Football Center epitomizes the winning combination of mind and body that has become a hallmark of the football program and community. Walking by, you can almost hear the roars of the Rose Bowl, the echoes of every football player that has lent their name and their talents to make UCLA football what it is today.
For Daily Bruin Radio, this is Savannah Tate. Join us next month for another episode of Hidden Wonders.