For me, fall signals the arrival of hockey season. So what better way to bring together hockey, architecture, and preservation, than to muse about the Ingalls Hockey Rink? This building was designed by Architect Eero Saarinen between 1956 and 1959 for Yale University. Since its erection, the building has taken on many nicknames due to its figurative nature, from “Yale’s Viking Vessel” (from a 1958 issue of Architectural Forum) to the “Yale Whale” as it is affectionately referred to today. Although the design received criticism and opposition early on from detractors, who felt that the design was out of line from the traditional Gothic buildings that shape most of Yale’s campus, the project was eventually hailed as a success. Yale’s president A. Whitney Griswold stated that Saarinen was “the most influential spirit and voice in [Yale’s] site planning, and one of the most influential in [the university’s] building program.”
In the mid-century, at a time when most ice rinks were being constructed as simple shed-like structures, Griswold personally chose Saarinen and local New Haven associate Douglass W. Orr to design the rink building as part of his commitment to “ambitious architecture” for the campus. The exaggerated oval shape of the plan came from Saarinen’s interpretations of larger sports stadium design and functionality. This plan allows for all services and circulation to be arranged around the central ice rink, with seating rising up and allowing other programmatic needs such as locker rooms, showers, office space, and storage areas, to be located underneath and at the same level as the ice. The expressive form of the building was able to take shape through the guidance and skill of engineer Fred Severud. The architects and engineers agreed to use reinforced concrete to build the parabolic arch, also known as the central “spine”, that supports the roof structure over the rink. The roof is subsequently supported on cables slung in catenary curves and anchored laterally into the curving and sloping side walls around the arena. The interior, which takes its shape from the exterior structure, is defined by the boards of oak wood that lie suspended from the roof structure and extend over the 288’ by 183’ column free area underneath the structure.
In 2009 a major renovation and addition project commenced to bring the impressive modernist building into the 21st century; because of the building’s status as an iconic architectural landmark and due to the building’s unique sculptural mass, the rehabilitation work required sensitivity to the original fabric and design and the addition design required acute understanding of what would be complementary to the existing building. Kevin Roche John Dinkaloo and Associates were commissioned in 2009 to lead the rehabilitation and addition project. Goals for the project included updating building systems, bringing the building to modern building, structure, energy and ADA codes, restoring key features of the original design (such as the wooden ceiling), and building a new addition onto the original structure to house additional programming needs of the ice rink facility.
One of the main goals of the rehabilitation was to retain as much of the original fabric where possible and if needed to replace with in-kind material, much like a traditional preservation project. Cosmetic restoration work included replacing or refinishing exterior wood doors and windows, refinishing the wooden benches on the interior, and restoring the landscape around the building. The concrete, both of the building’s structure and underneath the ice rink, were in dire need of repair. The board-formed reinforced concrete was suffering from staining and spalling due to the rusting rebar. Not only was the concrete thoroughly cleaned, the composition of the concrete and the method of board form was carefully matched to the original when replacing sections of the concrete. The concrete beneath the ice rink also required attention. Before the 2010 work, two layers of concrete slab had been added to the top of the original rink slab. All layers were removed and replaced with a new supporting slab that featured new surface ice making and climate control systems and brought the rink back to the original intended height of the rink.
Many other new structural or mechanical systems were discreetly built-into the building and employed as part of the rehabilitation work. A new roof was installed, retrofit with new insulation and waterproofing membranes to better insulate the interior space and provide greater energy proficiency. New energy-efficient light fixtures, a new sprinkler system, and new heating and cooling equipment including a desiccant system for dehumidification in the rink were installed. The single-pane plate glass in the curtain wall was replaced with new low-emissivity insulated glass to improve thermal performance and meet code. Lastly, new spaces for wheelchairs in the audience seating was provided and new wheelchair access lifts were installed.
For the addition, Roche’s design solution was to bury it beneath an existing parking lot on site to the west of the original structure. Interestingly, Kevin Roche worked under Saarinen from 1950-1961, was a part of the original design team on the Ingall’s Rink, and was partner in the formation of the Saarinen’s successor firm following his death. Roche was not only able to use original drawings as a resource but could rely on instinctual and first-hand knowledge of Saarinen’s design sensibilities. A defensible claim could be made that the successor firm had the original intentions in mind when designing the new addition.
The underground expansion of the building allowed for an additional 12,700 square feet of program including locker rooms, strength-and-conditioning workout facility, training areas, offices, lounges, an athletic medicine suite, and other facilities. The only visible portion of the addition from the exterior is on the west side where the ramp into the facility extends above ground, showing off its glass block façade. The views from all other sides of the rink remained virtually unchanged since the original construction. While seemingly kitschy, the new stainless steel gate at the entry ramp with stylized hockey sticks, was meant to celebrate and refer to the ornamental iron gates common at Yale.
Overall, the work was determine a success. The renovation and addition received awards such as the Civic/Institutional Design Award of Excellence from Docomomo US on the basis that “the addition was masterfully integrated into the surrounding landscape and as a piece of architecture, stood on its own yet was subordinate to its historic context.” Many other sentiments and reviews from critics and the public were similar. The renovation work was respectful, retaining and improving upon key features of the original design. The system updates and adaptations for code compliance were understood as necessary for the continued use of the building. Finally, the discreet placement of the addition most likely added to the success and allowed for the seemingly uncontroversial nature of the project. I’d have to agree that the project was successful; renovating and adding to an iconic building is no easy task. Now, the puck can drop in this magnificent modern rink for at least another fifty years.
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“Yale’s New Skating Rink.” New Haven Journal-Courier. October 14, 1958.