Toronto's new tennis stadium serves the fans first

September 01, 2004 |

Great sitelines. Intimate views. Close encounters with the best players in the world.

As a self-proclaimed "tennis nut," architect Richard Young focused on these qualities when he designed the 12,500-seat Rexall Tennis Centre, centerpiece of a new $38 million, 17-court tennis complex at York University in Toronto.

Completed in June, the stadium saw its first action mid-July, hosting the annual Tennis Masters Canada tournament — a precursor to the U.S. Open. The stadium's owner, Tennis Canada, hosts the Masters and other professional tournaments to generate revenue for the development of tennis throughout Canada, including clinics at the Rexall complex year-round.

In an effort to create a fan-friendly facility, Young and his design team from Robbie/Young + Wright Architects, Toronto, took cues from several of the world's top tennis venues.

The stadium's parabolic-shaped seating bowl, for instance, was adapted from the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, a 14,000-seat facility in Key Biscayne, Fla., that plays host to the NASDAQ-100 Open tournament each spring. The configuration provides all seats with unobstructed views of the court and run-out area.

"We did not want the stadium to be too large," says Young. Larger venues, such as the 22,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing, N.Y., can compromise ideal viewing distances for capacity, he says.

The stadium also incorporates several unique features of the previous tennis facility, which has been decommissioned by the university for academic use.

"While relatively decrepit, the old facility had great ambiance," says Young.

The most notable holdover feature is a concourse within the seating bowl, 35 rows above center court, that allows patrons to circulate or stand and watch the action without disturbing the players.

"This circulation pattern was created by accident in the old stadium when temporary seating was erected above the lower bowl," says Young. "It's nice because people can get up, stretch their legs, watch a couple of games from the concourse, and then return to their seats."

Built by PCL Construction Canada, Edmonton, with Toronto-based Adjeleian Allen Rubeli Ltd. as structural engineer, the stadium is comprised of a cast-in-place concrete structural system clad with precast concrete panels.

The design is meant to be simple and functional, says Young. "There's nothing frivolous about the facility."

Offices on the ground floor of the stadium house the headquarters of Tennis Canada and the Ontario Tennis Association.

Young says schedule delays kept work hectic within minutes of the Masters tournament. "Construction crews were literally backing out of the the site while patrons were coming into the front door," he says.

Delays resulted from a rain-soaked spring/summer season in 2004 and complications in obtaining approvals from a "number of jurisdictions," including the city, university, and Federal government, says Young.

A creek alongside the stadium, for instance, drew the attention of a government environmental group, while the university raised concern over stadium's height. The Building Team appeased both parties by preserving and enhancing the creek and adding temporary seating to the stadium's upper bowl that will be disassembled at the conclusion of tournaments.

A planned second phase will add a second tier of skyboxes and seating on the outdoor courts, and will include a feasibility study on replacing the temporary seating with a permanent structure.

Further down the road, Young envisions a roof for the stadium. "It would not be a sealed building, more like an 'umbrella' over the top," he says. Of course, "somebody has to cough up about $25 million or so to pay for it."

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