Inner Sanctums

To many, sport is a religion: its fans are the congregants; its coaches and players act as priests and acolytes. The task of crafting a suitable team sanctuary therefore comes preloaded with layers of aspirations and symbolism beyond the ordinary build. These things not only must be acknowledged, they must be celebrated and elaborated upon. It’s a tricky proposition, but something two Prairie architecture-design firms have handled deftly, albeit through quite different approaches to recent sport-franchise retrofits.   

The Forward Pass 

James Youck is partner and principal architect with Regina-based P3A, the compliance architects for the city’s new Mosaic Stadium. The company had an in, then, when it came time to pitch the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Saskatchewan Roughriders on fitting up their organizational space within that building. The ask was for three levels comprising approximately 67,000 square feet, filled with state-of-the-art facilities for players, coaches, operations staff and business support staff, as well as a flagship retail store. P3A partnered with major U.S. sport architecture firm Populous for the interior design concepts. 

Saskatchewan Roughriders, P3A
The Saskatchewan Roughriders reception area draws subtle design cues from the original ‘S’ logo and emphasizes the relationship of the team to the Rider Nation.

Youck, born and raised in Regina and thus, by osmosis, a big Roughies fan, felt it was a dream project. Still, as well as he knew the team and its stadium, he did his homework, investigating other Canadian team facilities, as well as those of several American ones. The result, he says, was “a space as good if not better than any in the CFL.”  

Saskatchewan Roughriders, P3A
The locker room’s open design allows all Roughriders players to see each other as well as the coach. Glowing green jewel boxes theatrically house the players’ helmets.

The three levels are organized around a trinity of themes. The business office on the fourth floor represents Rider Nation. The Roughriders, along with the Edmonton Eskimos and the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, are the only community-owned clubs in North America, so everyone in the province is literally invested in the team. The design accordingly downplays the corporate and upsells the co-op, via a wide and welcoming reception area, main offices located directly off the elevator, and a glass-walled boardroom overlooking the stadium field. 

Saskatchewan Roughriders, P3A
A feature staircase between the mezzanine and event levels puts the user in the midst of a pumped-up celebratory Roughriders huddle.

The at-grade flagship Riders store, says Youck, is very much a feature area. “We were fortunate that its volume of space was high. With so much glass and light, it’s very visible from street to fans as they come to the games.” 

Saskatchewan Roughriders, P3A
Oversized graphics and a huge digital clock counting down to the next Roughriders game dominate the event level’s reception area.

Below-grade, the mezzanine houses the football administration offices, an auditorium, player position rooms, and a training room. Like the business office above and the team event level beneath, its overall colour scheme is strong on the Roughriders’ signature green and white, yet tempered with the black, grey and silver tones that are also a part of the team uniforms. Then, too, little graphic touches from the logo are introduced here and there – stylized chevrons in the carpeting and repeating heads of wheat on several wall panels; an “S” curve in the upstairs reception desk and mezzanine hallway layout; shelving units with lines that thicken at each end, like those running through the logo’s centre. Larger graphic panels along the walls represent the team’s legacy: detailing its history, the Grey Cup championships and the fan experience.   

Saskatchewan Roughriders, P3A
Dark shades, angled lighting, and a metal ceiling grid add to the Armoury’s drama. Stylized wheatsheaf graphics and chevroned carpeting reference the Saskatchewan Roughriders logo.

The private mezzanine and event levels are connected to the business office by an express elevator, but the real link between the two lower floors is a stunning feature staircase. Here, black glass and tile allow colourful photographic panels depicting a celebratory Roughriders huddle to pop out, metaphorically pulling stair users into the middle of the game.   

Saskatchewan Roughriders, P3A
The layout of all spaces, including the gym, introduces Roughriders players and reinforces the idea of the “Team.”

The event level’s focus is on the team itself, on the players and their relationship with each other. It starts with a trip through the dramatically lit Armoury, which showcases the latest team uniforms, shoes and caps. This passage leads like an aorta directly to the heart of the space: the locker room. This large, rectangular area has seating along the periphery, so players can face each other and the coach in the centre of the room. A huge logo hangs overhead. All equipment is stored away in cupboards above and below (ventilated to the outside, to relieve typical locker room odour). Only the helmets are visible – and highly visible at that, islanded in glowing, green-lit jewel boxes that speak to the holiness of The Game.   

The theatrical sense of the Armoury and locker room was a conscious move by P3A. “One of the overarching ideas,” says Youck, “is that these places are very much a recruitment tool. The intent is to put yourself in the shoes of someone thinking about joining the team.” An impactful design, yet one that is still welcoming, helps attract and retain great players, staff and coaches, building the franchise’s strength and bonding disparate individuals and into a single, powerful unit.  

The Deke Around 

In 2014, the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Medicine Hat Tigers commissioned Philip Vandermey and Jessie Andjelic, real-life partners and co-founders of Calgary’s Spectacle Bureau for Architecture and Urbanism, to refit its operations space in the city’s new Canalta Centre. The pair then sat on their hands for nearly three years, while the city, the arena’s owners, jostled over leasing agreements with the hockey team. Eventually, the city itself picked up the commission, slated to include spaces for the coaches’ offices, a video conference room, therapy, fitness, equipment maintenance and first aid areas, the players’ lockers, showers, washrooms, and a dressing room. 

Medicine Hat Tigers, Spectacle Bureau for Architecture and Urbanism
The locker room’s warm birch benches merge into an integrated overhead grid, with nary a visible join in sight – a symbol of team unity.

Of all these spaces, crafted to relate seamlessly to each other, Vandermey says three carry the most significance. The first is the symbolically and functionally essential dressing room, a component whose rituals, as Spectacle says, “traditionally assume quasi-religious significance.” Birch is used throughout, to create a neutral but warm aesthetic. Each individual stall adjoins the next, creating a continuous grid-like frame that extends across the ceiling. There are no visible joins, a metaphor for the “no ‘I’ in ‘team’” attitude. For privacy’s sake, sliding doors can separate the dressing room from the adjacent corridor; they are likewise used in the front of the room to conceal whiteboards, media devices and other equipment. 

Medicine Hat Tigers, Spectacle Bureau for Architecture and Urbanism
Rather than a simple passage from here to there, Spectacle created a darkly dramatic corridor designed to clear players’ heads and focus them on the game.

 When players leave the dressing room, suited and skated for battle, they walk down a stunning darkened hallway constructed from black, shimmery, high-density polyethylene sheets and a black rubber floor, lit solely by recessed overhead lights angled like theatrical spotlights to mark the path towards the rink. The design purposely references the gladiators’ tunnels leading to the arena in Rome’s Coliseum; it also provides sharp contrast to the brightness of the ice surface as the players emerge from the arena’s depths.    

Medicine Hat Tigers, Spectacle Bureau for Architecture and Urbanism
Everything is either black or white, as the threshold from the washroom to the arena corridor demonstrates, a visual metaphor on the thin win-lose scenario of sports.

“We reinterpreted the corridor from a programmatic activity to a kind of a headspace,” says Vandermey. “It’s about putting your worries away — your play that day, the chance of injury, your future — and getting ready to perform. There is zero degree of detail, because if you strip away the extra stuff, you’re really able to focus. So often sport involves too much colour, movement and noise. The players need to be apart from all that distraction when they’re trying to prepare, to turn inwards and focus.”  

Medicine Hat Tigers, Spectacle Bureau for Architecture and Urbanism
A linear progression from the players’ lockers through to the showers connects each washroom area component while still keeping the spaces separate.

Halfway along the corridor, a polycarbonate wall and door lead to a separate video conference room. Less expensive and less translucent than glass, this wall provides a little light into the mostly windowless, below-grade operations area, yet provides complete privacy and lack of distraction to coaches and team members sitting inside, so they can concentrate on strategy and game footage.  

Verging off the blackness of the corridor is Spectacle’s third significant space, the washroom. This is clad completely in white, right down to the difficult-to-acquire white rubber flooring. Accents of stainless steel appear in functional adjuncts such as seats, showerheads, ice baths, urinals and privacy screens. 

“The concept behind the threshold — a black corridor bordered by a white washroom — is that sports is a black-and-white entity,” Vandermey says. “We wanted to play on that aspect, that razor-thin line of the puck being either in or out.” The other concept at work here, according to the firm, is the idea of “purification both before and after performances.” Rarely has a washroom achieved such symbolic importance. But then again, rarely has a sports team embraced such radical design. One would expect to see Tiger logos and a lot of orange everywhere. How did Spectacle manage to avoid that trap?  

“Getting clients interested in our way of challenging the typical way of doing things isn’t always  easy,” says Vandermey. “I think we were fortunate because the team focused more on functional and technical requirements that they needed to make things work for the team. In general, they were fairly receptive to our ideas. And the team loves it. They’re excited for a space that’s carefully considered and made for them.”   

Head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston gave the new space his personal blessing in a 2017 article in the Medicine Hat News: “When you’re putting your gear on, [the dressing room] feels almost sacred in there with the lighting and the wood. I think it’s a special place.” 

Amen, brother. 

Photography by: Kristopher Grunert / Jamie Hyatt